Two words summed up Friday night for the Reds: “Respect Cincinnati.”
Major League Baseball provided T-shirts for the Cincinnati Reds after they clinched a playoff berth with a 7-2 victory against the Minnesota Twins. Those two words were on every shirt, and every player wore the shirts as they posed for a team photo on the mound at Target Field after the game.
The Reds had little respect from either their fans or the baseball world 13 days earlier on Sept. 12. A little more than three quarters of the way through the 60-game season, they were 20-26. They had never been worse than six games under .500, but they had not flirted with getting back to .500 or over it either.
The only thing keeping hope alive was the expanded playoffs. With eight teams in each league advancing to the postseason, the Reds knew even a .500 record might be good enough.
It still might be. The Reds improved to 30-28 on Friday, and they will play in the wild-card series no matter what happens in their final two regular-season games against the Twins. They clinched a postseason berth — and the respect they sought — by winning for the 10th time in the last 12 games.
The players talked a good game before the season when hopes were high, saying the goal was a world championship. They never wavered in their optimism. Their words Friday night as they spoke to the media on a Zoom call — that’s how all interviews are being conducted this season because of the coronavirus pandemic — continued to paint a picture of a team that believes it can win it all.
“I think we’re a (bleeping) nightmare,” first baseman Joey Votto said. “I think everyone knows that. I can’t wait.”
The Reds will be a nightmare of sorts in the first round. They are the team the higher seeds — the Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres — would like to avoid. With starters Trevor Bauer and Luis Castillo, who are pitching as well as anyone in baseball, the Reds can beat anyone in a short series.
If the Reds advance, it will be the first time they’ve won a postseason series since 1995. Votto played for playoff teams in 2010, 2012 and 2013. Those teams combined to go 2-7 in the postseason.
The Philadelphia Phillies swept the 2010 Reds in the first round. The 2012 Reds blew a 2-0 lead in the division series against the San Francisco Giants by losing three straight games at Great American Ball Park. The 2013 Reds lost a wild-card game to the Pittsburgh Pirates on the road.
“I like this team more than those teams,” Votto said, “and I really liked those teams.”
The Reds will start play in the wild-card series on the road Wednesday. Their opponent is to be determined. Through Friday, the Reds were the No. 7 seed and would play the No. 2 seed Braves, though the Reds could still climb as high as the No. 5 seed if they can pass the St. Louis Cardinals and finish second in the National League Central Division.
For now, talk of the postseason can wait. The Reds were reveling in their improbable run Friday night in Minneapolis. Manager David Bell, who grew up in Cincinnati, will manage in the postseason for the first time. He banged a gong held by catcher Tucker Barnhart after the game in the clubhouse as the team celebrated.
“Oh man, I’m just really grateful for all the work and everything that everyone has contributed to our team,” Bell said. “Just so happy for our players and our staff and everyone throughout the organization. So much goes into something like this. Even though we continue on in the season and have a lot left to accomplish, it’s important to stop and recognize all the work that’s been put in. You don’t get a lot of opportunities like this. Hopefully, we get a bunch more but you just never know. It’s important to enjoy every moment of it. I’m just really proud of our team.”
The Reds beat the Twins thanks in part to a two-run go-ahead home run by Mike Moustakas in the fourth inning, a home run by Freddy Galvis in the fifth and then another home run by Moustakas in the ninth.
On the mound, Tyler Mahle, Michael Lorenzen, Amir Garrett, Lucas Sims, Raisel Iglesias and Wade Miley combined to strike out 14 batters.
Miley, who returned from the inured list Wednesday and pitched a scoreless ninth inning against the Brewers, pitched a perfect ninth against the Twins. The game ended on a groundball back to MIley, who threw to Votto at first for the final out. The Reds celebrated in a mob on the mound. There were many hugs, many high fives and countless smiles.
A team that had a 17.1 percent chance of making the playoffs on Sept. 12 suddenly had a 100 percent chance thanks to not only their victory but to losses by the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers. Everything the Reds needed to happen for them to clinch on Friday happened.
"Every season, every team goes through tests and challenges,” Bell said. “We had a lot of them. Our team never gave up. It’s easy to say that. When you live it and watch it happen, it’s pretty special. You stay after it and continue to believe in it and believe in each other. Our players and coaches deserve a ton of credit. Our players showed so much toughness. We couldn’t get it going, and they just stayed after it. It takes a lot fo toughness, and they absolutely passed that test. It was so much fun to watch the smiles and the happiness and celebration. There’s nothing like it in baseball.”
While the Reds have players with playoff experience — Mike Moustakas won a World Series with the Kansas City Royals, for instance — they also have a number of veterans who came up through the organization and have never even experienced a winning season.
One of those players is Lorenzen, who debuted with the Reds in 2015. His turnaround this season mirrors the team. He had a 16.88 ERA on Aug. 9. He had made six appearances by that point. He has made 10 appearances since then and lowered his ERA to 4.45.
“Nothing was given to us,” Lorenzen said. “We’ve earned it each and every single game. We haven’t played very many games where the game was given to us. We had to earn this playoff berth. We’ve been grinding five or six years all together this group of guys. It’s unbelievable to be going into the postseason with the momentum we have. We feel like we’ve built momentum at the right time. The team that builds momentum is a dangerous team.”