'Nerves are back': Reds' big week starts right

Suárez hits pivotal homer to back Castillo's gem (6 2/3 IP, 1 ER, 9 K)

September 22nd, 2020

CINCINNATI -- The Reds haven't been involved in any pennant-race games in seven years, when they earned a National League Wild Card berth. Following six consecutive losing seasons, the players know they're close to securing a return to the postseason.

Not only are they savoring the opportunity, they're rising to it. Monday's 6-3 victory over the Brewers at Great American Ball Park was the Reds' biggest win of the season.

"Man, these games are fun and stressful. I haven’t been in games like this probably since college. Some of the best times of my life," said Reds catcher , who hit an important leadoff home run in the bottom of the eighth inning. "Being in the playoff race is something that I haven’t experienced yet as a Major League Baseball player, and it’s something that I can’t describe. The nerves are back. It just makes me really sad that the fans in Cincinnati can’t see this right now, because I’ve been dying to play in front of them."

Getting hot when it matters most, the Reds have won eight of their past nine games and nine of their last 11. Now 28-27, they are above .500 for the first time since Opening Day. Most importantly, Cincinnati has overtaken Philadelphia (27-27) for the top NL Wild Card spot by a half-game and vaulted one game ahead of Milwaukee (26-27). In the NL Central race, the Reds moved into a virtual tie with second-place St. Louis (26-25), but the Cardinals hold the tiebreaker advantage.

"It brings out a different level of competition from everybody on this side and the other side," said , a veteran of two World Series appearances -- and one win -- with the Royals. "When you’re playing against a team that is in the hunt as well, the emotions are high, every pitch is meaningful, every out is meaningful. To see these guys rise up to the occasion and see the passion and joy that we’re playing with right now, it’s been a lot of fun. We’ve still got some games left. We still have a fight ahead of us. We have to go out there and take care of business tomorrow."

On Monday, a pair of sixth-inning battles against the Brewers -- one for Reds starting pitcher and the other for third baseman -- initially appeared headed to negative outcomes for both. But the result of their surprising successes could prove monumental if Cincinnati can complete its mission to reach the postseason.

With the Reds trailing 1-0 with two outs in the sixth inning, Suárez quickly found himself in a 0-2 count to Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff. He stayed alive when he chased a low changeup to foul it off, and he did not offer at the fourth pitch, a sinker that missed up and in for ball one.

Woodruff then fired a 95.8 mph fastball that got up and over the plate. Suárez got all of it and then some for the clutch two-run home run that gave Cincinnati the lead. According to Statcast, the drive left the bat at 108.6 mph and traveled 417 feet to left-center field.

"Woodruff has got a hard sinker. You just got to be ready for that pitch," Suárez said. "He missed that one right in the strike zone. I hit that one very good. I’ll take that mistake. But yeah, I was ready for the fastball.”

The homer turned the game around for the Reds.

"When Geno hit the home run ... it gives you life," Reds manager David Bell said. "Obviously, the Suárez home run was important, but then we were able to keep going and score runs. Just a good game, all around.”

Suárez made a winner out of Castillo, who pitched 6 2/3 innings and allowed one run on four hits and three walks against nine strikeouts. After he retired a string of 10 in a row, Castillo opened the fifth inning by watching his 0-2 pitch to Jedd Gyorko sail into left for a leadoff home run that broke a scoreless tie.

Opening the top of the sixth at 70 pitches, Castillo dueled Christian Yelich in an 11-pitch plate appearance. Yelich fouled off four pitches and worked a walk. Castillo rebounded by using only two more pitches to get out of the inning. Ryan Braun flied out to left field and Daniel Vogelbach grounded to second base for a double play.

"You have to give [Yelich] credit for what he does, and he’s really good," Castillo said via translator Jorge Merlos. "After that Yelich at-bat, I focused on getting better pitches over the plate and getting those next outs, so that’s how it worked."

After going winless over his first seven starts, Castillo is 4-0 with a 1.26 ERA over his past four games and 4-5 with a 2.86 ERA overall.

"Every year I come to this club and I tell myself, 'OK, I'm going to pitch the best that I can,'" Castillo said. "But even this year, it's even more important because we're trying to get that Wild Card [berth] and get into the playoffs."