'Da Wink' earns MVP chants after 3-HR night

Bell on Reds outfielder: 'He wants to be great'

May 22nd, 2021

CINCINNATI -- Jesse Winker put himself back in the lead for the National League batting title Friday. By the time the Reds had a 9-4 victory over the Brewers, fans at Great American Ball Park were also chanting "MVP."

Winker went 4-for-4 with his first career three-homer game to power the Reds. After his third long ball, he received the first curtain call of his career and the experience left him feeling emotional.

"I’m really at a loss for words right now," Winker said as he held back tears. "It was really, really cool. … It was special. It was very special to me. I’m very thankful. I have amazing teammates. And the fans, they packed it out, man.

"It was an honor. And a moment like that, it’s what you dream of as a kid, really. I’m very thankful and very honored and I just appreciate everything."

The Reds' left fielder and usual leadoff hitter, Winker came in 4-for-21 in his previous six games, having lost his grasp on the NL batting lead to teammate Nick Castellanos, who usually hits right behind him in the order. It proved to be just a loan, however. Winker’s average jumped from .338 to .356 for the season ahead of Castellanos, who went 1-for-5 on Friday and is now batting .342.

Cincinnati's 1-2 spots in the order combine to lead the Majors in most offensive categories, including batting average, homers, hits, total bases, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS and extra-base hits.

"I think we’re just having fun playing baseball. I really think so," Winker said. "To be honest with you, I'm not really paying attention to statistics. I just want to help the team win."

Not only was Winker back in business, so were the Reds (20-23) in an important rebound after they had been dealt a four-game series sweep by the Giants at home that included a 19-4 blowout loss Thursday.

"The focus of our team today was to come out, and we knew it would take everything we had, to come out and beat the Brewers tonight," Reds manager David Bell said. "The only way to do that is forget the past, forget the future and enjoy going out and trying to win a baseball game tonight. That focus is what it takes. It is a big game. A lot of contributions."

Cincinnati built a 3-0 first-inning lead for pitcher Jeff Hoffman when Tyler Naquin hit a booming three-run home run to the top of the moon deck in right field. According to Statcast, the ball hit against Brewers starter Adrian Houser traveled a projected 459 feet with a 112.6 mph exit velocity.

“I hit that one pretty well," said Naquin, who has 10 homers this season. "Who knows? Maybe a firmer fastball with a little bit better swing, we could get some more [distance]. It was a good one.”

Leading off the bottom of the third, Winker crushed his own tape-measure drive against Houser. The 3-2 pitch was hit 431 feet to center field for his first homer of the night. Leading off the fifth inning, Winker got Houser again when a 1-0 pitch was driven to right-center field.

"After the second one that Jesse hit, we were kind of like, you've kinda gotta hit three now, right?" Hoffman said.

A sacrifice fly later in the fifth inning by Tucker Barnhart gave the Reds a 6-1 lead. The advantage was 8-4 when Winker returned for his final at-bat to begin the bottom of the eighth. A first-pitch cutter from Josh Lindblom was driven to center field to give him his third homer of the game, No. 11 overall on the season. Winker's feat made for a unique night in baseball. The Yankees turned a triple play and the Braves hit two grand slams, making Friday the first time in MLB history that all three of those feats occurred on the same day, according to STATS.

All four hits by Winker on Friday had exit velocities of more than 102 mph.

"He continuously repeats and sticks to his plan," Naquin said. "If you make him look bad one at-bat, I am willing to bet a lot of money on the next at-bat, he won’t do that again."

A crowd of 17,234 fans screamed for a curtain call -- and chanted "MVP" -- after Winker returned to the dugout; he obliged.

"Tucker looked me right in the face and said, 'Get out there.' I didn’t get to see it, but [hitting coach Alan] Zinter told me [Castellanos] was waiting for me to come out, which is really, really cool by him," Winker said. "I’m thankful for the fans in Cincinnati. I’ve said this my whole time here, ever since I’ve been drafted here, is that they’re the best fans in baseball, and I mean that."

In his fifth big league season, the 27-year-old Winker has come into his own. In 37 games, he is one homer shy of his 2020 total over 54 games. He had a career-high 16 homers over 113 games in 2019.

"This has been an evolution of a guy that has always had a reputation that he can hit, and that’s great," Bell said. "Once he has established himself as a Major Leaguer, in his mind, he has continued on in an effort to become great at this level. There’s so much work and preparation that has gone on in the offseason when no one is looking, year round. He wants to be great."

Fans in the left-field seats repeated the MVP chants when Winker went out to his position in the top of the ninth inning.

"Pump him up, blow it up and make it as big of a scene as you can, because it doesn’t happen all the time, and it was special," Naquin said.