MINNEAPOLIS -- The biggest savior to bail out the Reds’ bullpen on Tuesday afternoon was not a reliever. It was their left fielder, Tyler Naquin, who saved Cincinnati from what could have been another demoralizing setback during a wild road trip.
Naquin had four hits and reached safely in all five plate appearances. But it was his three-run home run in the top of the ninth inning that gave the Reds a 10-7 victory and snapped their five-game losing streak as they split the two-game series.
"I think we’re all just a little bit gassed right now after that game," Reds manager David Bell said. "No matter what, guys just keep playing, keep competing. It’s not always easy to do when you’re playing games like this and you stay after it. I hope people notice that. We certainly do. Very happy and proud of our team for approaching it that way."
It's been a rough year for the Reds’ bullpen, which has the worst ERA (5.70) in the Major Leagues, but the group came through after Tejay Antone went on the injured list, and the relief corps was a big reason the club enjoyed a six-game winning streak last week.
But the past six games have really exposed the ‘pen’s vulnerability in holding down games. The group has a 7.84 ERA over that stretch -- including five games where runs scored against them in the eighth inning or later. In Monday's 12-inning loss, eight relievers were needed to cover 7 1/3 innings during a game that lasted over five hours.
"This isn’t an excuse, but it’s a fact: We talk about our team getting a little bit tired. We’ve asked a lot from our bullpen, and I think it started when we went on that winning streak," Bell said. "They were doing a good job. And fatigue sets in, it plays a factor. They’ve done everything they can to stay ready, stay available."
In the top of the eighth inning, the Reds scored three runs -- what should have been insurance, really -- to take a 7-2 lead. It was still not enough to put the game away.
Reliever Art Warren opened the bottom of the eighth inning by walking Jorge Polanco and then surrendered Max Kepler's two-run homer. With one out, Lucas Sims took over and his first batter, Trevor Larnach, lifted a long home run to right field. After a Ryan Jeffers single, Miguel Sanó just missed a two-run homer with a double off the top of the wall.
"If they're not able to get it done that day and we're able to pick them up, awesome," Naquin said. "If we're not able to get it done one day on the run side of it, those guys have picked us up many a time. We keep pulling for each other, playing hard, putting in the work and looking to come out on top."
Against Minnesota reliever Hansel Robles in the top of the ninth, Nick Castellanos hit a double to the left-field wall and Tyler Stephenson was hit by a full-count pitch.
Next up and in a 2-1 count, Naquin delivered a three-run homer to left-center field, his 12th homer of the season.
"It's always a good feeling in any situation like that," Naquin said. "But it's hard to take full credit for that. Castellanos led off with a hit, Stephenson grinded out an at-bat. Unfortunately he got hit and was all right. That opportunity doesn't come up without those guys on base."
A cascade of emotions filled the Reds’ dugout throughout the final two innings of the game.
"The way that eighth inning went was obviously not what we had drawn up," said catcher Tucker Barnhart, who hit a solo homer in the fourth inning and a two-run single in the eighth. "Naq put a beautiful swing on a pitch and hit it to left-center and out of the park. A sense of relief, for sure. But definitely excitement. We were confident that we were finally going to shut the door.”
Amir Garrett pitched the bottom of the ninth and gave up a two-out single but got his fourth save. The nine-game three-city road trip, which began with a three-game sweep of the Brewers, ended with a 4-5 record. The Reds are 36-36 overall.
"It’s huge, man. It’s picking up the boys. That’s what we do," Miley said. "There are going to be games that happen like that. We’ve done it, really, this whole trip. It’s huge. Right then and there, we knew we needed to answer back right there with a couple of guys down today, and we did. They were able to put together some good at-bats, and we answered. I was in the dugout for the Naquin homer. Just a big relief."