CINCINNATI -- It was a Thursday afternoon that saw the burgeoning superstar face the future Hall of Famer.
Reds rookie switch-hitter Elly De La Cruz's first foray as a right-handed hitter in the big leagues came against the Dodgers' great left-hander, Clayton Kershaw. Even though De La Cruz was challenged by Kershaw during Cincinnati's 6-0 loss to Los Angeles, De La Cruz still capped his first series with an infield hit to finish 4-for-11 with two walks in three games.
"That was good. He has such a long way to go," Reds manager David Bell said. "I know we'll be talking about him a lot, but that's a great start. It's good that it was here in Cincinnati."
During the second inning of his 1-for-4 day, De La Cruz softly grounded a 1-0 Kershaw fastball to the left side of second base. As the 21-year-old jetted his way to first, second baseman Miguel Vargas rushed a desperation throw.
“I knew I had that all the way," De La Cruz said via translator Jorge Merlos. "I knew that I just had to run hard and get to first base.”
There was no chance for Vargas to throw out De La Cruz, who reached with an infield single. The Dodgers were fortunate Vargas' wild throw didn't go into the Cincinnati dugout to give De La Cruz second base.
Two batters later, De La Cruz took it anyway.
As Tyler Stephenson batted and looked at an 0-1 curveball, De La Cruz bolted for second base and took it easily with a headfirst slide ahead of catcher Austin Barnes' off-target throw.
That made De La Cruz the second player in Major League history to collect a home run, a triple, a double, a single and a stolen base in his first three games. The only other time that was achieved was in 1953 by Bill Bruton of the Milwaukee Braves.
“What can I say? You just put all of your work in and try to see if it works out," De La Cruz said of his first series. "You just come out the next day and try to improve from the previous day.”
De La Cruz's remaining three plate appearances resulted in strikeouts, including two against Kershaw. In the fourth inning, he foul-tipped an 87 mph slider into Barnes' glove.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, with runners on the corners, De La Cruz took a pair of called strikes before striking out on a 74 mph curveball in the dirt. He was way out in front with his swing.
“I was looking for something up in the zone," De La Cruz said of his overall approach against Kershaw. "Obviously, he has a lot of pitches that he knows how to throw well, and he was executing them well. But hopefully, I can execute my swings better.”
The Reds still had their third series win in their last four. There was a noticeable increase in electricity in the atmosphere from fans at Great American Ball Park. While De La Cruz is partly responsible, there were also two big comebacks for walk-off wins in the first two games against Los Angeles.
"That is something we notice and appreciate," Bell said. "It’s something we can use to our advantage. Everyone loves being a part of an energetic experience."
Now the Reds will try to carry their momentum through a 10-day, nine-game road trip through St. Louis, Kansas City and Houston.
It's the first time that the De La Cruz show goes on the road, too. Cincinnati has certainly gotten a boost from its No. 1 prospect this week, but the trip will be a larger test for the surging third-place Reds, who have gone 22-19 since April 24.
Cincinnati, which is tied for second in MLB with 19 comeback victories and tied with three teams with the most walk-off wins (five), has gotten contributions throughout its lineup -- especially its younger players.
Matt McLain, another rookie and the organization's No. 5 prospect, is batting .354 with a .935 OPS over his first 22 big league games. Spencer Steer, the National League Rookie of the Month in May, leads the club with eight homers. Veterans like Jonathan India and Tyler Stephenson also produced during the series.
"We're at the very beginning of this," Bell said. "One of the things that happens when you're a good team is you show up to the ballpark and you really have this feeling that you're going to win the game. You don't know exactly how, but a lot of times, it's somebody different every day. That's a great feeling."