CINCINNATI -- After a month of August filled with tough times, the Reds are already finding adversity coming at them hard and fast on multiple fronts one day into September. And it's all happening while trying to hang on in the postseason chase.
Three pitchers -- including two starters -- went on the seven-day COVID-19 injured list Friday, while a third starter, Graham Ashcraft, left Game 1 of the doubleheader vs. the Cubs after five-plus innings with a toe injury.
Amid that were the games themselves, and the young Reds scraped out a big win they absolutely had to have. A 3-2 Game 2 victory came after Nick Martini hit the game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth inning before Noelvi Marte hit a two-out walk-off RBI single. It came after a 6-2 loss to Chicago in Game 1.
Magic number: The elimination number for the Wild Card is 26, and it's 21 for the NL Central crown.
Games remaining: vs. CHC (2), vs. SEA (3), vs. STL (3), at DET (3), at NYM (3), vs. MIN (3), vs. PIT (3), at CLE (2), at STL (3)
“I think it was massive, especially against a team like that, that’s been playing well," Martini said. "To be able to come back in the ninth hopefully gives us a big boost.”
The Reds have no way to know the source of the COVID outbreak that struck Hunter Greene, Ben Lively and Fernando Cruz. But it likely didn't help that the team was forced to sit in close quarters on its charter plane through a delay of more than eight hours on Sunday in Arizona because of mechanical issues.
To get through the current crisis, rookie Lyon Richardson was recalled from Triple-A Louisville to start Game 2 while another starter, Carson Spiers, was added from Double-A Chattanooga as a substitute player. Due to the current COVID IL rules, Spiers did not have to be added to the 40-man roster prior to his callup, and he can be sent down without repercussions when Greene, Lively or Cruz return. Reliever Tejay Antone, who has been out since 2021 after receiving Tommy John surgery, was activated from the 60-day IL.
“I think it’s tough any time you lose guys," Martini said. "I think a lot of guys just put it to the side and kind of bonded together this game and ended up having a good one.”
The news came after a 10-17 month of August that saw four key offensive players go on the IL in Jonathan India, Joey Votto, Jake Fraley and, most recently, Matt McLain. Fraley returned from the IL ahead of Game 1 on Friday.
“In this game, you’re prepared for anything, and you have to make adjustments," manager David Bell said between games. "Every single team, every World Series team, everyone goes through challenges. I’m proud of how our team and our players have handled all those challenges to this point. It’s that simple. Beyond that, you can’t control anything.”
Cincinnati trailed, 2-1, with one out in the bottom of the ninth against Cubs closer Adbert Alzolay when Martini slugged his game-tying solo home run to right-center field. Christian Encarnacion-Strand followed with a single to left field. As Will Benson struck out, pinch-runner Stuart Fairchild stole second base and took third on catcher Yan Gomes' throwing error.
On the first pitch from Alzolay, Marte sharply lined a single to center field for the game-winner. He had spoken to teammate Elly De La Cruz before Game 2 about wanting to do something significant after a tough day, and he didn't waste his moment.
“It keeps you hungry when you go up to the plate, and it gives you that motivation to go up there and get a victory any time that you can," Marte said via translator Jorge Merlos.
The Reds might not have even had a meaningful end to the game had Richardson not survived a 37-pitch top of the first inning that included three of his five walks allowed. The right-hander hung in there to pitch 4 2/3 innings with two runs and two hits.
“If he gives in there or shuts down, the game is over right there in the first inning," Bell said. "He continued to pitch and to make pitches and battled.”
The Reds realize they are in survival mode for the final month of the regular season.
“We don’t want it to be easy. We haven’t asked for it to be easy," Bell said. "It’s definitely built up the strength of our team, and it paid off tonight.”
“This team has been competing all season long," closer Alexis Díaz, who pitched a scoreless top of the ninth for the win, said through Merlos. "There’s no backing down on this team.”