India's homer lifts Reds in razor-thin Wild Card race

September 16th, 2023

NEW YORK -- In a postseason race as tight as the one for the third and final National League Wild Card spot, the Reds -- one of the youngest teams in the Majors this year -- are going to have to learn how to take a punch. And give one right back.

They proved they could in Friday night’s series opener at Citi Field, as smashed a go-ahead two-run homer in the seventh inning to lead the Reds to a 5-3 win over the Mets. An elder statesman on this roster at the age of 26, India’s Statcast-projected 411-foot blast to left-center field came just a half-inning after Pete Alonso launched a game-tying three-run homer -- his 45th of the season -- off Cincinnati starter Hunter Greene.

“It’s the best. This is what I play baseball for,” India said. “I love winning. I'm a winning player. It's just such an honor to be in this position, to be able to be on the field with my guys and have a chance to make the playoffs like this.”

  • Games remaining: at NYM (2), vs. MIN (3), vs. PIT (3), at CLE (2), at STL (3)
  • Standings update: The Reds (77-72) lead the D-backs (77-72) for the third NL Wild Card spot; the teams have identical records, but Cincinnati has the tiebreaker after winning the season series 4-3. The Reds are a half-game ahead of the Marlins (76-72) and one game ahead of the Giants (75-72). Miami and San Francisco hold the tiebreaker over Cincinnati.

Greene, who didn’t allow a hit until Jeff McNeil’s leadoff double in the fifth, knew as soon as Alonso made contact that the drive would do damage. He had lobbied to stay in the game to face the three-time All-Star, and manager David Bell allowed it.

Though it didn’t work out, Greene counts it as a learning experience, knowing “that situation is going to come up a lot more in the future” for these Reds. Bell turned to reliever Lucas Sims for the ensuing matchup against McNeil, and he induced a groundout to first base to put an end to the frame.

India promptly shifted the momentum back in the Reds’ favor with his 16th home run.

“We’ve been doing that all year,” Greene said. “Guys being able to come up clutch ... in those situations later on in the game when we get kicked in the teeth, we’re able to bounce back. It’s really exciting to see him go out there and do that for our team and for himself. I gave him a big hug when he came into the dugout. … That hit right there was huge for us.”

Before the homer, India had gone 0-for-3 with a trio of strikeouts against Mets starter David Peterson. But matched up with reliever Grant Hartwig, India took a down-and-away 82.1 mph sweeper and lofted it into the seats.

It was Cincinnati’s second of the game and the second-most by a Reds player this season. Spencer Steer came before him in both of those instances, as the first baseman smacked his team-leading 22nd homer and extended his RBI lead among MLB rookies to 81.

“[India] has the confidence now where you just keep going and keep grinding it out,” Bell said. “It’s easier to do that when we're playing important games, and every at-bat could be the difference not only in the game, but the season. There’s no better way to play the game [than] that.

“I think guys like Jonathan are going to shine in those situations.”

India, who grew up a Mets fan and attended games at Citi Field with his diehard fan of a father, couldn’t help but crack a smile at the thought that his big moment also came against his boyhood club. Though his dad didn’t make this trip to New York, India had already heard from him after the game, sharing that he was “very happy” with the result.

“I love playing here,” said India, who now owns a .938 OPS in 16 career games against the Mets. “It’s pretty cool to be playing on this field now, and doing some cool stuff.”

There could be a lot more moments like that on the horizon for the Reds.

They established a new franchise record for home runs in a season by rookies with 55 after Steer’s long ball against the Tigers on Thursday. And with 16 players who made their MLB debuts this season -- the most of any big league team -- the Reds will be counting on a wide range of contributors down the stretch.

As the 2021 NL Rookie of the Year, India is in many ways a fitting leader for them.

“I just tell them to play loose. We’re all on this field for a reason,” India said. “We don’t really treat our rookies like rookies. They play, they start; they’re just like us. So we tell them to go out there, have fun, play hard -- that’s what we really care about. And do your job.”’

Just like he did his.