Friday, October 1, 2010

The Promised Land: Bruce lights Reds' way

First of all, I don't know how people find the time and energy to keep a blog going. I fear that this experiment is hanging by the thinnest of threads, going by the time it takes me to start on one after an event and the steady dwindling of posts since it all started back in June.

But I can't let the events at Great American Ball Park from a few days ago pass by without mention.

Every now and then, you have the opportunity to attend a game and come away exhausted, saying, "Good Lord ... that one had it all!"

And then you have a game like Tuesday's.

Going into this particular game against the Astros, the Reds needed only a win or a Cardinals loss to clinch the National League Central. But before we get into what happened that night, with Aaron and I in attendance from Section 134, we need to at least acknowledge the intricacies that allowed us to be in the right place at the right time.

From a more direct standpoint, the Cardinals were playing the Pirates the night before, with the Reds idle. If the Pirates beat the Cardinals, the Reds would have clinched that night without even having to play. Since we were planning to go to the game on Tuesday, we obviously wanted to see a clincher, so we had to subtly root for the Cardinals to stay alive one more day.

They did. But that's a very dangerous game to be playing if you're a Reds fan. The only clincher I saw in person was the Marlins clinching a World Series berth in Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS at Wrigley Field ... not something I care to remember, but something I still think about quite a bit to this day. We had the opportunity to see the Red Sox clinch against the Twins when we went to Fenway Park for the first time a few years ago, but they lost. So, I justified our actions by merely being a "fan of the game." Aaron, on the other hand, tested the jinx gods to a somewhat alarming degree being the die-hard Reds fan that he is.

But when you go back throughout the season, you think of the countless tight wins or losses by all the teams involved that, had they gone a different way, would have caused the stars to align differently.

Keeping it Reds-centric, Travis Wood's near perfect game that Cincinnati went on to lose comes to mind, as does Joey Votto's game-tying homer against the Phillies in the bottom of the ninth that nearly brought them all the way back. You remember that Brooks Conrad grand slam that Laynce Nix nearly caught at the wall that erased an eight-run Reds lead. If Cincinnati won any of those, this would not have happened for us.

And those are just off the top of my head ... I also don't think I've had a Tuesday night off work all summer. The infinite amount of scenarios that allowed for us to be at that game and have a chance to see the Reds clinch is mind-boggling.

In other words, everything had to come together perfectly.

Jay Bruce, having no idea what he's going to do a few hours later,
chats with Scott Rolen before the game.
But there we were. And as the Reds were in a tight one early, our attention started to wander to the Pirates/Cardinals scoreboard. With the Reds struggling to get any sort of traction, we were hoping for a little assistance from the Pirates so that we could at least celebrate a clincher in some form that night ... with Aaron even starting a "Let's Go Pirates!" chant when they promptly took an early lead.

Then, there was a singular moment that seemed to set in motion the extraordinary events that followed. With the Astros up, 2-1, in the third, Carlos Lee tattooed a pitch from Edinson Volquez to straightaway center field, a certain two-run shot that would've given Houston a daunting three-run lead.

But just before everyone gave it up for gone, Drew Stubbs began to measure the ball at the wall ... he leaped ... and erased those two runs from the scoreboard with an unbelievable catch over the wall. "That was like a Reds two-run homer," Aaron said.

From then on, there was a buzz the rest of the night ... as if everyone was waiting for the Reds to uncoil and strike -- as they have all season. And when Brandon Phillips tied it up on a grounder in the sixth, it intensified. When the Reds got to the Astros bullpen after being mystified by Wandy Rodriguez all night, you could feel a weight being lifted ... and a sense that it was only a matter of time.

The time was three innings later, marked by the ninth-inning entrance of Aroldis Chapman -- he of the 105-mph fastball. This was our first time seeing him pitch live, and it was pure electricity. He topped out at 101 mph that night -- nearly giving us a shot at a screaming foul ball that bloodied the mouth of a kid a few rows in front of us while we braced ourselves to play the ricochet and attempt to grab the souvenir -- and he seemed to inject the crowd with a B-12 shot, personally shifting the growing momentum completely over to the good side. He retired the Astros 1-2-3, to set the stage for the bottom of the ninth.

Now, if you go back to the Votto post above, Aaron and I tend to have some prophetic powers when we're at these games. All night, when Stubbs made that catch, or when Jay Bruce grounded into a double play with the bases loaded in the sixth inning, for example, we said that it's cool, it keeps the walk-off intact. And before Bruce stepped into the batter's box to lead off the ninth, Aaron took it a step further, saying that Bruce should just hit the first pitch for a walk-off shot to end it.

Well, what happens next is a true story, and since there are no words that exist to describe what happened, please refer to the following video to experience for yourself ... with the help of Marty Brennaman and another Bruce.

A truly remarkable moment.

To put it in perspective, Bruce is only the fifth player in Major League history to hit a playoff-clinching home run, joining Bobby Thomson, Hank Aaron, Alfonso Soriano and Steve Finley. To accomplish this, he had to overcome a tough night in which he had been 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and the crucial double play. He had to face Tim Byrdak, who does not give up homers to left-handed hitters.

But he was waiting for a fastball.

He got one.

And, buoyed by Stubbs' catch, Volquez's gritty start, Chapman's heat and clutch contributions from the players -- like Phillips, like Scott Rolen, like Arthur Rhodes -- who have gotten them to this point, the Reds quenched their 15-year playoff thirst with their 22nd final at-bat win on Bruce's 22nd homer of the season.

In other words, everything came together perfectly.


A.M.Smith said...

Incredible, man ... that game will stay with me for a while. Great post; still can't believe it went down that way. We've seen Votto's game tying 3-run clout against the Phils, and now Bruce's division-winning blast. Care to come with me to a World Series game ?? :)

Monica E. Smith said...

glad you posted the event here. great account, and one worth remembering down the road...again, the video is awesome and never fails to move me when I watch it. moments like this in life are too few. it's important to note/remember our successes and achievements and the moments that excite us and make us feel alive. you've captured all this well.