CINCINNATI -- All six division leaders in baseball have something in common besides knowing they’re headed for the playoffs. They all have .500 or better records in one-run games this season. The Reds lead the Major Leagues this season with 56 games decided by one run. They also lead the league with 32 losses in those games, but Saturday’s tight contest vs. the Mets was not one of them.
Instead, Cincinnati pulled off its 24th one-run win with a 3-2 victory over New York at Great American Ball Park. Christian Colón, who was called up on Monday, made his first hit for the Reds a big one. Pinch-hitting with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, Colon knocked an RBI single grounded through the middle that scored José Iglesias with the go-ahead run.
This wasn't Colon's first big hit to sink the Mets. He also had a go-ahead knock as a pinch hitter for the Royals in the 12th inning of the decisive Game 5 of the 2015 World Series, as Kansas City went on to win the Fall Classic with a 7-2 victory in 12 innings.
“They’re fun games to play. We’ve talked about it being a good experience for our guys,” Reds manager David Bell said. “It’s also a good experience to win. The more we can get used to that, the better.”
Unlike the playoff-bound clubs, the 73-82 Reds won’t be playing in October again for the sixth straight season. But they are now assured of ending a four-year streak of 90 or more losses.
After many offseason moves, the Reds hoped this would be the year the rebuild ended and contending would begin. They aren’t there quite yet and those one-run losses have a lot to do with it. Had they won more of those, they might be contending for the National League Central lead, which the Cardinals hold with only 88 wins.
Being battle tested can help but that can only happen in real games. It can’t be simulated in practices or Spring Training. Colon, as a member of the Royals during the 2014-15 seasons when they won the American League pennant twice and World Series once, is familiar with what it takes.
“Slowly we kept figuring out how to win those games [in 2014] and it gave us confidence going into the next year,” Colon said. “Then all of a sudden the guys that were out there -- Lorenzo Cain, Moose [Mike Moustakas], Hos, [Eric Hosmer] – they figured out a way to win those games. The experience of going through those games like this year here is going to be good. It’s going really good for next year. You know how to handle things, the pressure, how loud it gets and things like that. It’s definitely beneficial to go through them.
Kansas City was 22-25 in one-run games in 2014 and 23-17 in them during the championship ‘15 season.
In his previous start at Arizona on Sept. 14, Reds starter Anthony DeSclafani had the ultimate of hard luck when he allowed one hit over eight innings and lost a 1-0 decision. Cincinnati became the first team in the modern era to ever lose a game when only one baserunner reached.
Against the Mets in a no-decision DeSclafani delivered six innings and gave up two runs -- one earned -- with three hits, one walk and seven strikeouts. It was DeSclafani’s fifth consecutive start of at least six innings with three or fewer hits. Over his last seven starts, he is 2-2 with a 2.05 ERA.
“It just shows how close we are as a team,” DeSclafani said of the one-run decisions. “We just have to get over that hump and it can be a completely different story next year.”
After DeSclafani, the bullpen provided three scoreless innings from Amir Garrett, Joel Kuhnel and Raisel Iglesias. In a big spot with the game tied in the eighth, Kuhnel faced only one batter and got home run leader Pete Alonso to ground out to earn his first big league win. Iglesias struck out the side for his 34th save.
There was one out in the decisive inning when José Iglesias drew a one-out walk from lefty reliever Justin Wilson and José Peraza blooped a single to right field. After pinch-hitter Curt Casali struck out against right-hander Seth Lugo, Colon worked a full count and hit a breaking ball on the ground that brought in the game-winning run.
Strong starting pitching plus air-tight bullpen work plus a clutch hit or two equals better chances to win a one-run game like Saturday’s. Going into 2020, the Reds appear to have a formidable front four of the rotation in Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer and DeSclafani. Garrett, Kuhnel, Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen form a dependable bullpen core. The club will still need to look for more relievers and offense to have a better chance at contending next season.
“It just seems like almost every game is close,” Bell said. “I think the more we can win like that -- and it seems like we’ve been doing that more so recently -- there’s something to be said for learning how to do that. Today was a good example of that.”