CINCINNATI -- The 2023 Reds will never be afraid to run. Never.
Not against Mariners catcher Cal Raleigh after Elly De La Cruz got thrown out trying to steal second base in the second inning. Not when Noelvi Marte met the same fate in the third inning.
“It doesn’t matter if they get me out 20 million times, I’m still going to be aggressive any time I go out there," De La Cruz said via translator Jorge Merlos.
- Games remaining: vs. SEA (1), vs. STL (3), at DET (3), at NYM (3), vs. MIN (3), vs. PIT (3), at CLE (2), at STL (3)
- Standings update: The Reds (73-68) moved a half-game ahead of the Marlins (71-67) and a full game ahead of the D-backs (71-68) for the third National League Wild Card spot. Cincinnati has the head-to-head tiebreaker over the D-backs (4-3 in 2023), but it must rely on intradivision record for the tiebreaker with Miami after going 3-3 in the season series.
De La Cruz reached on an infield single to open the bottom of the ninth inning, stole second base and scored the decisive run on Christian Encarnacion-Strand's RBI single for a 7-6 walk-off win over the Mariners on Tuesday night at Great American Ball Park.
“Elly has something special. It’s a God-given talent that he has. He’s been able to demonstrate that here on the field," rookie third baseman Marte said via Merlos.
Despite a COVID-19 outbreak and injuries that have ravaged their roster, the Reds have won four of their past five games.
“We miss them so much," De La Cruz said of the players on the IL. "They’re an essential part of this team, but the rest of the team that’s here, we’re going out and competing and trying to get a victory every day. That’s why I love this team so much.”
Tuesday's victory was the Reds' Major League-leading 44th come-from-behind win of 2023 as they took the first two games of the series. They've also won 10 games in walk-off fashion, including three of their past five.
“Guys on this team always believe something special can happen," said Nick Martini, who slugged a game-tying three-run home run in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter.
The 16th player to make his Major League debut for the Reds in 2023, Connor Phillips worked 4 2/3 innings and allowed five runs on a pair of home runs that had Cincinnati down, 5-1, in the top of the fifth inning.
In the sixth inning, Encarnacion-Strand led off with a homer to left field against Seattle reliever Dominic Leone. With two outs in the inning, Marte connected on a 1-1 pitch from Leone for a long ball to left field, his first big league homer, to make it a two-run game.
Against Reds reliever Derek Law in the seventh, Julio Rodríguez led off with his second homer of the game -- but the game wasn’t out of reach for the home team.
One inning later, Martini, a lefty pinch-hitter, lifted reliever Justin Topa's 0-1 pitch over the right-field fence for a game-tying three-run homer.
“I knew when they put him in to pinch-hit, he was going to hit a home run there. That dugout just went on fire," De La Cruz said.
In the bottom of the ninth against reliever Andrés Muñoz, De La Cruz chopped a 3-0 pitch for a soft grounder to shortstop J.P. Crawford with only a 66 mph exit velocity. But running at 32 feet per second, according to Statcast, De La Cruz was able to beat Crawford's throw for an infield single.
“I think everybody is thinking the same thing: 'He’s going to create some havoc here,'" Martini said. "We were just kind of waiting for him to go. He’s unbelievable.”
With Encarnacion-Strand facing an 0-1 count, De La Cruz took off and stole second base with a headfirst slide ahead of Raleigh's throw. That forced second baseman Josh Rojas to move closer to the bag to hold De La Cruz ahead of the next pitch.
Encarnacion-Strand got an 0-2 fastball and hit a grounder through the open right side of the infield. De La Cruz scored easily with a headfirst slide to punctuate the moment.
Despite being caught on the basepaths earlier, manager David Bell knew De La Cruz would be running again once he reached first base. The aggressive Reds lead the Majors with 161 steals after having only 58 stolen bases in 2022 (tied for 24th).
"It’s such a big part of our game that you can’t lose your confidence," Bell said. "You have to continue to stay with it and look for the next opportunity. You cannot be afraid to fail after something doesn’t go right. I think it has a lot to do with our success."
De La Cruz is batting .195 in 49 games since the All-Star break, but he has demonstrated he can still beat opponents with his legs.
“It’s always good when you have other things that can help the team get a victory," he said.