CES, Law lift road warrior Reds to series win

September 17th, 2023

NEW YORK -- If the Reds were to secure the third and final Wild Card spot in the National League, they would spend much of the postseason away from Great American Ball Park.

The three-game Wild Card Series are hosted entirely by the higher seeds, while the NL Division Series gives home-field advantage to the league’s top two teams, who secure first-round byes.

Fortunately for the Reds, they’ve felt right at home on the road this season.

They showed it once more on Saturday night at Citi Field, as launched a go-ahead two-run homer in the fourth inning and pitched his way out of a dangerous situation in the ninth to guide Cincinnati to a 3-2 win over the Mets, sealing back-to-back series wins for the Reds on this road trip.

  • Games remaining (12): at NYM (1), vs. MIN (3), vs. PIT (3), at CLE (2), at STL (3)
  • Standings update: The Reds (78-72) lead the D-backs (78-72) for the third NL Wild Card spot. The teams have the same record, but Cincinnati holds the tiebreaker after winning the season series 4-3. The Reds are a half-game ahead of the Marlins (77-72) and 2 1/2 games ahead of the Giants (75-74). Miami and San Francisco hold the tiebreaker over Cincinnati. The Reds are also a half-game behind the Cubs (78-71) for the second Wild Card spot, a matchup in which Cincinnati holds the tiebreaker.

“We kind of joke about the close games that we play -- and they’re never easy -- but there’s something to be said for having the experience of knowing how to get it done in the really tight games,” said manager David Bell, whose Reds are now 34-26 in one-run contests this year. “That’s one thing our team has been really good with. We’re serious, we have a job to do, but at the same time, it hasn’t become a pressure thing. It’s just the same approach that got us here.”

Encarnacion-Strand’s deep drive carried a Statcast-projected 428 feet to center field -- the longest home run of the rookie’s big league career -- and Cincinnati was in control from there. With closer Alexis Díaz unavailable after securing a five-out save in Friday’s 5-3 win, the Reds turned to Law, who entered with only one save to his name this season, to hold the one-run advantage.

After Law recorded the frame’s first out, the Mets brought in pinch-hitter Daniel Vogelbach, who singled to left field. Another out later, Francisco Alvarez singled to the same spot, putting a pair of runners on with Pete Alonso coming to the plate in a walk-off situation.

With the Citi Field crowd getting back into it, the 33-year-old right-hander had to tune out the noise and focus on the task at hand.

“At a certain point, I think it just becomes static in your ear,” Law said, “and you kind of have the tunnel focus of what the next pitch needs to be and executing that next pitch. And making it so hopefully they get out.”

Law quickly got ahead of Alonso 0-2 with a pair of sinkers, but four pitches later the count was knotted at 2-2, with Law unable to put Alonso away with either his fastball or his cutter. He returned to the sinker with a high-and-tight seventh pitch of the at-bat which Alonso grounded to third baseman Nick Senzel, who tossed it to Jonathan India at second for the game’s final out.

It was, perhaps, a preview of what playoff environments could be like for the Reds.

“He’s been through it before, which gives you confidence but never makes it easy,” Bell said. “You have a choice to make: Do you succumb to the pressure or find a way to embrace it and be in the moment? And that’s exactly what Derek did. He didn’t back down at all. He trusted his ability to get a really good hitter out.”

Law’s escape act ensured that Cincinnati improved to 42-33 on the road in its penultimate stretch away from home this year. The club will finish its regular-season slate with five games against the Guardians in Cleveland and the Cardinals in St. Louis.

Dating back to May 26, the Reds are now 35-18 over their last eight road trips, spanning 17 series, which is good for the best road record in the Majors during that span.

Law’s second save capped another standout performance from Cincinnati’s bullpen, which combined to toss 5 1/3 scoreless innings. Daniel Duarte, Sam Moll and Fernando Cruz teamed up with Law in that effort, the sixth time this season that the relief corps has tallied at least that many scoreless frames in a game. Only Law allowed a hit.

It’s a formula that has been working for the Reds, and it will come in handy if they’re still playing in October.

“These guys have just been called on day in and day out. I mean, everybody’s tired at this point. Every team, especially the teams that are in the hunt, you’ve got to do everything you can to win,” Law said. “This is playoff baseball. This is what it’s about. I know we keep saying it, but when you’re called upon, you’re ready and you get the job done. That’s it.”