'It’s a special, special team': Reds eliminated from playoff chase

October 1st, 2023

ST. LOUIS -- Any mystery left on whether the Reds could reach the playoffs was flattened by the Cardinals on Saturday like a soda can under an 18-wheeler. Elimination from the National League Wild Card race came hard and fast upon Cincinnati during a 15-6 defeat to St. Louis.

The definitive end of what was in many ways a magical season for a young club was painful to absorb. Several players remained in the dugout long after the final out to think about what they’ll be missing in October.

“There’s a lot of emotions, you know? It really kills me; I don’t know what to say,” said Reds second baseman and team leader Jonathan India. “It’s a special, special team. A special season. It’s very tough and it brings me to tears because of how much I love this team and how much I love this city.”

The Reds, who needed to sweep the three-game series at Busch Stadium and get outside help, faced a 10-0 deficit after two innings as the Cardinals batted around twice. By then, how fellow Wild Card contenders like the Marlins or D-backs were doing in their games no longer mattered as much.

“It hurts,” manager David Bell said. “It’s, I guess, a privilege to feel like we do right now because you put everything you have into it from Day One. This team should just be incredibly proud of the way we played, the effort. Just proud of themselves. Every single person.”

Reds rookie starting pitcher Connor Phillips demonstrated immediately that he didn’t have it. Phillips threw 12 pitches -- all balls -- to issue three walks to open the game before Bell gave him an early hook.

According to Elias, the last starting pitcher to throw 12-plus pitches without a strike was the Padres’ LaMarr Hoyt vs. Houston on Sept. 13, 1986. Hoyt threw 13 balls with three walks and a hit batter.

“We’ve asked so much of our guys. We pushed [Phillips] back a day,” Bell said. “He was having some soreness. It’s not a serious thing or a long-term thing. But it could have affected how he warmed up or the start he got off to. Any other day, he pitches through that and finds it out there.”

The Reds’ bullpen, which was well-rested following the club’s 19-2 win on Friday, was pressed into action quickly to get 27 outs.

Reliever Fernando Cruz had to warm up in a hurry and had no trouble throwing strikes, but he was hit hard. Back-to-back doubles by Jordan Walker and Ivan Herrera and a one-out double by Luken Baker made it a 5-0 game.

Cruz didn’t record an out in the second inning, giving up three hits, including Lars Nootbaar’s three-run homer to right field. Against Buck Farmer, José Fermín’s two-run double stretched the deficit to 10 runs.

The bullpen finally stopped the barrage, until St. Louis scored four more runs in the eighth inning, as the hole proved too deep for the Reds. They scored one run in the fourth inning and five more in the fifth that included Nick Senzel’s solo homer, Tyler Stephenson’s RBI double and Noelvi Marte’s two-run double.

Marte, who extended his hitting streak to 15 games in the second inning, added a solo homer in the seventh to make it a five-run game. At one point, they were a grand slam away from making it a one-run game before Stephenson grounded out with the bases loaded to end a rally in the top of the eighth.

“We tried to battle as hard as we can the whole game,” Marte said via translator Jorge Merlos. “We were all trying to come back in that game to give us an opportunity to win.”

By the bottom of the seventh, Miami defeated Pittsburgh to secure an NL Wild Card berth. The Reds’ defeat assured Arizona of the other playoff spot.

At some point, the Reds will look back and see inflection points that carried consequences towards this outcome. During a 10-17 month of August, the club dropped back-to-back one-run losses to Miami to drop a series and ultimately lose a tiebreaker. On Sept. 23 against the Pirates, the Reds had a 9-0 lead before blowing it and losing, 13-12. They also owned a losing record at home (38-43) and have a losing record against their NL Central rivals (21-30).

Yet, the Reds were in it until almost the very end.

“We were so bought in. We knew we had it,” India said. “We just had to win two more, that’s it. We had the team to do it. Just keep thinking back to that game [tonight], we got down big and then we fought back. That’s the motto of our team. We never give up. Every single one of us fights every at-bat. We just keep going and going. We came up short. It hurts. It really does hurt.”