CINCINNATI -- Struggling all season but heating up lately, Yasiel Puig needed that, badly. But the Reds, they needed it even more.
Batting with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th inning, Puig delivered his first, and the club’s first, walk-off moment of the season with an RBI single over a drawn-in outfield for a 6-5 Reds victory over the Cubs on Wednesday at Great American Ball Park.
“You can just pick up on his energy. You could absolutely tell he wanted to be in that spot right there,” Reds manager David Bell said of Puig. “That’s the mindset you need in a situation like that -- aggressive, ready to hit. It’s like he saw it as an opportunity. He wasn’t defensive. He was aggressive. The pitcher is on the ropes there and had to throw a strike.”
The Cubs went to five infielders and intentionally walked Jesse Winker to load the bases and set the stage for Puig.
“I knew it was over, to be honest with you,” Winker said. “He looked at me in the on-deck circle and he said, ‘If they walk you, I’m going to win it.’ And he did it. It was cool.”
Puig lined a ball to right-center field that one-hopped on the warning track and off the wall to score pinch-runner Michael Lorenzen. As fans celebrated the hit, Puig did as well with a long bat flip, then he touched first base. It was Cincinnati’s first walk-off win since Aug. 17, 2018, vs. the Giants.
“All the time, every day, when I’m going out, it’s to do the best I can,” Puig said. “I don’t try to be the hero or try to do the best on the team. I try to help my team to win.”
Puig is batting .212/.262/.341 in 41 games this season but came in 6-for-20 with two homers in his previous five games. Before his hit, he was unable to get a ball out of the infield with three strikeouts and foul popout near first base.
In the end, Puig got the hit when it mattered the most.
“He looks good in those situations. We're happy to have him up to bat and to play the hero that day,” said Votto before making a joke. “He got a single though. That's kind of a big gap between a single and a homer or a grand slam and a single, but I think we'll take it and he'll take it.”
While Puig struggled much of the night, Suarez kept the team in the game. As Cincinnati trailed by a 5-3 score in the eighth after Kyle Schwarber hit a two-out solo homer against David Hernandez, Suarez came up big in the bottom half against Carl Edwards for a game-tying two-run homer to right field.
It was Suarez’s team-leading 13th homer of the season and his sixth in his last 11 games. He came into that at-bat 0-for-6 lifetime vs. Edwards. Suarez also had an RBI double in the first inning in his 3-for-5 night.
“Just the way we did with the toughness and competing, sometimes you have a favorite win and that’s right up there," Bell said. "That showed a lot.”
With a 19-24 record, the Reds are ahead of last season’s rough pace when they were already 14-29 and irrelevant from the division race. However, the super hot Cubs are still 8 1/2 games ahead of fifth-place Cincinnati in the National League Central standings.
“It’s good to beat these teams, it’s big for us,” Winker said. “We’ve been in a lot of close games and coming out on top is big.”
Adding to the urgency is the Reds’ record in one-run games -- 7-13 -- when no other club in the big leagues has double-digit one-run losses. They’ve also dropped 19 of 29 games decided by two runs or fewer this season.
It’s mid-May, but at just over a quarter of the way through the season, it’s no longer considered early.
“We just have to come out and win every single day,” Votto said. “For a bit there, the Cardinals were the best team. For a bit, the Brewers were the No. 1 team. Hopefully by the very end of the season, the Reds are the No. 1 team in the division. That's what we're focused on.”