CINCINNATI -- Reds rookie utility player Josh VanMeter hit 14 home runs over 49 games for Triple-A Louisville this season. But heading into the seventh inning vs. the Cardinals on Saturday night, he was still waiting for his first drive to clear the fences in the big leagues after 49 at-bats.
Finally, it happened. VanMeter’s two-run home run was the key to a 3-2 Cincinnati victory over St. Louis at Great American Ball Park.
“You hit so many in a month in Triple-A and you get up here and you don’t hit one for 49 at-bats, you kind of think, ‘Man, am I ever going to hit one?’ It finally came,” VanMeter said. “Kind of a weight off my shoulder. You don’t have to think about it anymore. You just go up there and hit. Hopefully, there’s more to come.”
Coming in as losers of four in a row and eight of their last 10, the Reds could not afford to go down quietly, as they were being held in check by Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas for much of the evening. In some ways, their season depended on finding a way to rally.
Both teams had exchanged zeros through five innings and they had combined for five double plays. But in the top of the sixth, the Cardinals finally broke through, scoring off Reds ace Luis Castillo when Matt Wieters led off and hit a full-count fastball to right-center field for a homer and 1-0 Cardinals lead.
Otherwise, Castillo delivered a stellar performance in a no-decision with one earned run, five hits, one walk and four strikeouts over six innings. Reds manager David Bell lifted him for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the sixth despite Castillo having thrown only 88 pitches.
“It was all about trying to score a run,” Bell said. “You have to score to win the game. That was the decision.”
Yasiel Puig followed by slugging a double to the wall in center field, with Suarez motoring around to score from first base. Then, on a 1-0 Mikolas fastball, VanMeter delivered with a drive to right field. What a moment for his first Major League home run.
“Honestly, just trying to move the runner, trying to play baseball and move the runner. Got a pitch elevated and hit it out of the park. Did it feel good, man,” VanMeter said. “That was the other cool part of it is that I kind of knew I got it. When I hit it, I usually don’t show a lot of emotion, and the emotion just kind of took over. Obviously, it was a big home run to give us the lead.”
Reds teammates were waiting for VanMeter in the dugout and he received the perfunctory dumping of the water cooler over his head after the game.
“I’ve kind of caught some crap around here. You hit 13 homers in a month and then you come up here and you don’t hit one in forever, it’s like, ‘Man, where’s the power?’” VanMeter said. “I finally got it. It was really cool for those guys to be so excited for me. Just shows what great guys we have in this clubhouse. For everybody to be genuinely happy for me was really cool.”
Getting the lead was one thing, keeping it was another -- especially after the Reds blew a 7-0 lead with a 10-run sixth inning and took a 12-11 loss on Friday. Bullpen woes have plagued the Reds but Amir Garrett's return provided a boost. Pitching for the first time since July 2, before he went on the 10-day injured list with a left lat strain, Garrett worked a scoreless top of the seventh with two strikeouts. He got the win to raise his record to 4-1.
Michael Lorenzen notched a six-out save, though he gave up a one-out walk and a double to Tommy Edman in the eighth. He escaped that jam, allowing just one run on a groundout to Jose Martinez. Despite his activation from the paternity list, closer Raisel Iglesias was given an extra day to return and the Reds played with a 24-man roster. Lorenzen returned for the ninth and completed a 1-2-3 inning for his sixth save.
With the first-place Cubs also winning on Saturday, the Reds' deficit in the National League Central remains at nine games.
“Just a well-played game against a good pitcher for the Cardinals,” Bell said. “We got enough offense. The first career home run for Josh VanMeter was a big home run, obviously. We’re really happy for him. He’s been swinging the bat well, having good at-bats and it’s nice to see him contribute in a big way like that.”