ST. LOUIS -- Elly De La Cruz might be the only Major Leaguer who can turn an infield single into must-see TV.
The Reds’ 21-year-old phenom beat out a high chopper to short in the eighth inning of the team’s 7-4 loss to the Cardinals on Friday night at Busch Stadium.
The ball took a turf-like hop on the natural grass of Busch Stadium thanks to a 98 mph exit velocity off the bat and into the dirt in front of home plate. De La Cruz sprinted down the line at 31.9 feet per second according to Statcast, the fastest sprint speed on an infield single this season, and he was already at the first-base bag by the time the ball came down to Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong.
“As soon as you saw the hop, you just knew there was no play,” Reds manager David Bell said. “I caught the tail end of him running past first base, and it was fun to watch him even run those last 20 feet.”
Reds first baseman Spencer Steer had a prime view of the play from the on-deck circle.
“He's just a guy that's able to get on base in so many different ways,” Steer said. “That's really lethal when you got a guy like that in the middle of your order.”
But Cincinnati couldn’t complete its third comeback win in four games.
“Over the course of the year, to be a good team, you have to win a lot of games like that,” Bell said. “They're not always going to be like that, but lately we've needed to do that. And even though it may not be ideal, it's also good to experience that.”
De La Cruz, playing in just his fourth Major League game, had struggled until the infield single. He struck out in each of his first three plate appearances and stranded runners in scoring position in the first and third innings.
The hit snapped a string of six straight strikeouts for the young shortstop, who had high strikeout rates to start out every level while moving up through the Minors.
“Elly will adapt, and that was something he made an adjustment to in Triple-A before he got here,” Bell said. “He's going to be learning the league every single day, but when you can hit a fastball, it gives you a really good chance. He'll be fine.”
Starter Ben Lively also struggled, giving up season highs in runs (seven), hits (10), and, most damaging, home runs (3). He did manage to go 6 2/3 innings while tying a season-high eight strikeouts.
Unfortunately for Lively, the Cardinals capitalized on early mistakes with two-run homers by Nolan Arenado in the first and by Jordan Walker in the second. The two homers landed well over the left field wall and had a combined distance of 860 feet. Nolan Gorman added another homer in the seventh.
“It was the home runs tonight, there's no question about that, and then throw strikes,” Bell said. “Obviously three homers is never ideal, not what you want to do, but him throwing strikes did allow him to get deep into the game, and really we did [start to] come back, it was just too little too late.”
The Reds broke a 15-inning scoreless streak by plating a pair of runs in the seventh. Fairchild’s RBI single got the rally started, and Kevin Newman followed with a sacrifice fly.
But the rally ended when Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras caught Will Benson trying to steal second with two outs. The Reds challenged the call, but the out call was confirmed on review.
“Stealing bases has been a big part of our game,” Bell said. “It's led to a lot of runs, especially when we have guys that get a lot of base hits, put the ball in play. Now, you don't want to get thrown out there, but at the same time, we knew going into the series that [Contreras] might be a guy that we can run on, and we've done that quite a bit and it's worked out quite a bit. But you always try to learn from every situation. Next time, we'll be even more sure that we can make it.”