Reds starting pitcher Sonny Gray admitted to feeling lousy before Wednesday’s game and not a whole lot better during it as he battled his way through the first four innings vs. the Royals. So Gray decided to dig into his bag of tricks.
“I came into the clubhouse and I got completely naked and I changed everything that I was wearing except for my cleats,” Gray said. “I tried to cool off. I changed my jersey, my pants, my underwear and my socks -- I guess that's all I was wearing -- and just tried to reset and start over.”
It clearly worked, because Gray retired the final 10 batters he faced. The Reds scored all of their runs over the final three innings for a 5-2 victory and a series win at Kauffman Stadium. Cincinnati has won six of its last seven games -- all in come-from-behind fashion -- and 10 of the last 15 to improve its record to 45-41.
Gray also resorted to a quick change in the midst of a tough outing vs. the Marlins on Aug. 26, 2019 -- another game he felt was difficult to get through. This time, before even getting to the ballpark, Gray wasn’t feeling 100 percent.
“I woke up this morning and I had this feeling in my stomach where I felt like I was going to throw up all day. I don't know why, but I just woke up and I was super nervous today,” Gray said.
Catcher Tucker Barnhart sensed something was off.
“After the first couple of pitches he threw in the bullpen, I was watching something that they were playing on the video board, and he yelled at me to pay attention,” Barnhart said. “So I kind of knew where we were from that standpoint and where he was.”
Gray allowed two runs on seven hits and two walks with seven strikeouts across seven innings. Until his final inning, the right-hander appeared headed to a tough-luck defeat.
It was a scoreless game in the bottom of the fourth inning with two men on and one out when Jorge Soler grounded to third base. After receiving the throw from Eugenio Suárez and tagging second for the inning’s second out, Jonathan India tried to turn a double play. But his throw to first base struck Ryan O’Hearn in the helmet at point-blank range while he popped up from his slide into second. The ball went into right field to let Carlos Santana score. It was ruled an error on India, who banged his hand on O’Hearn’s helmet but stayed in the game.
After a Hunter Dozier single, Michael A. Taylor made it a 2-0 game with a single to left-center field. Gray issued a two-out walk before finally getting out of the jam and a 28-pitch inning. Before reaching the clubhouse tunnel, he was already ripping off his jersey to make the big change.
“I feel like I definitely had an edge, maybe I was just trying to fake it until I could make it,” Gray said. “I don't know. I tried all my tricks to get my nerves gone and they just kind of, I guess they just slowly went away where I could just go. But yeah, I was probably a little angry. I was a little angry elf -- I don't know, some days just be like that, I guess.”
From there, Gray recorded five of his 10 consecutive outs via strikeout. That included him striking out the side in the bottom of the seventh just before a heavy downpour forced a 72-minute rain delay.
“It really does speak to, number one, how great of a competitor he is,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He found a way, and in that process of finding a way to kind of gather himself and get back out there again, he actually -- because he’s a good pitcher -- just kind of got better as he went. I shouldn't ever doubt Sonny, but there was a point around the fourth, I didn’t think there was a chance he would get through the seventh.”
Royals starter Brady Singer pitched very well into the top of the seventh inning, when Barnhart led off with a single. Kansas City summoned reliever Scott Barlow, but Shogo Akiyama hit a two-strike single to left field and Mike Freeman drove in Barnhart with a single to left field. India pulled a two-run double to left off Barlow to give Cincinnati a one-run lead.
“That guy competes his butt off every time he’s out there,” India said of Gray. “It’s so fun to play behind him because of the energy he has. It rubs off on us and it gives our team a lot of energy going into our at-bats. Sonny was amazing today as usual, and I’m excited for his next start.”
Following the delay, Akiyama slashed a two-out RBI double to left field off reliever Kyle Zimmer that scored Suárez in the eighth. A three-hit ninth featured Tyler Naquin’s two-out RBI single. It was a good bounceback win after the Reds lost a 7-6 game to Kansas City on Tuesday after having a 6-1 lead.
The Reds now head into the first of seven straight games vs. the Brewers -- including four at Milwaukee before the All-Star break.
“I think it provides a lot of momentum heading into this weekend,” Barnhart said. “It’s necessary for us.”