Reds gain ground in NL Wild Card thanks to De La Cruz (2 HRs, 4 RBIs)

September 27th, 2023

CLEVELAND -- It's already been a season full of dizzying comebacks and improbable rallies. But the Reds showed on Tuesday night that if there is even a speck of magic dust left at their disposal, they were going to find a way to make it work.

Cincinnati did it while battling back from two deficits and being boosted by five home runs to take a wild 11-7 victory over the Guardians at Progressive Field. It was the Reds' 48th come-from-behind win, which tied them for the Major League lead while keeping their hopes alive for a National League Wild Card berth.

Cleveland took leads of 3-0 through two innings and 7-5 through four innings against starting pitcher Hunter Greene, who exited in the fourth, but Cincinnati's offense bailed him out in a must-win game.

“It doesn’t matter if the game is close or if we have to come back so hard, that’s why I like this team. We’re never going to give up," Reds shortstop said via translator Jorge Merlos. "That’s why this team clicks so well as much as it does.”

  • Games remaining (4): at CLE (1), at STL (3)
  • Standings update: The Reds (81-77) are 1 1/2 games behind the Cubs (82-75) for the third NL Wild Card, after Chicago lost, 7-6, to Atlanta. Cincinnati holds the tiebreaker over Chicago. After a rainout, the Marlins (81-75) are one game ahead of the Reds and have the second tiebreaker based on intradivision record.

De La Cruz enjoyed his first career multihomer game, with a solo shot to center field in the fourth inning. The exclamation point came on his two-run home run to right-center field in the ninth that traveled a Statcast-projected 467 feet with an exit velocity of 119.2 mph. It was both the farthest and the hardest-hit balls of his brief big league career.

“That was sick," first baseman Christian Encarnacion-Strand said with a laugh.

Earlier in the day, the Reds revealed that infielder Matt McLain (right oblique strain) would not return for the regular season. Had McLain returned, it might have come at the expense of De La Cruz, who entered the game batting .157 (16-for-102) with three RBIs and 39 strikeouts in 28 games since his last homer on Aug. 23.

“It’s been a rough patch, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to still go out there with a positive attitude," De La Cruz said. “No matter what happens, you have to finish strong. That’s the mentality that you have to bring into it every time you go out to the field.”

In Greene's previous start vs. the Twins on Wednesday, he delivered one of the best starts of his career, as he had 14 strikeouts over seven innings. On Tuesday, it became clear quickly that he didn't have another gem at his disposal.

Greene gave up three homers while throwing 70 pitches over three-plus innings. Bo Naylor's three-run homer in the second inning put Cincinnati down, 3-0. After taking a 4-3 lead in the top of the third inning, Greene gave it up, as Kole Calhoun and Andrés Giménez hit back-to-back homers in the bottom of the third.

The worn-down Reds bullpen, which struggled mightily of late, banded together to quiet Cleveland's bats. Sam Moll followed Greene with two scoreless innings and Fernando Cruz also supplied a pair of perfect innings.

Lucas Sims worked a perfect eighth inning and Alexis Díaz handled the ninth. Combined, the bullpen allowed one hit in six scoreless innings.

“Tonight wasn’t [Greene's] best night," Reds manager David Bell said. "It’s a team game. He’s picked us up a lot. Our offense definitely was able to pick him up early. I thought the answer-back innings were really important. Our bullpen stepped in, starting with Sam Moll. He was outstanding. Everyone that pitched was able to stop the scoring.”

The first answer came from Luke Maile. He led off the top of the third inning with a homer to left field against Lucas Giolito. Maile's two-out, two-run single to left field in the fifth inning -- with De La Cruz's headfirst slide across the plate -- put the Reds ahead for good.

"The way our offense played tonight just felt free. It felt like we were on the attack, and I think we need that right now," said Maile, who tied a career high with three hits. "We’re playing with nothing to lose. That’s what got us here, and that’s what’s going to keep us moving forward.”

The power kept coming. Encarnacion-Strand homered in his third straight game (and sixth in the past eight) with a two-run shot in the third inning. TJ Friedl added a leadoff homer to right field in the sixth inning, which gave him a career-best four straight games with a long ball.

“Every game means a lot," Encarnacion-Strand. "It means a lot to come out with a win.”