CINCINNATI — Dusty Baker leaned forward in his office swivel chair early Monday afernoon, scribbled some very small notes on a piece of paper, and said, “This is a very big game for us.”
It was before Monday’s game against the New York Mets and he added, “A big day because we can get back to 500, know what I mean. We can get back over the first 102 games to where we started - even.”
And it wasn’t to be. After winning two straight for the first time in 29 games, the Reds coiuldn’t make it three in a row, losing to the Mets, 4-2.
Mike Leake pitched sixth scoreless innings, guarding a 1-0 lead, but when he encountered difficulties in the seventh the bullpen had a breakdown, giving up two of Leake’s runs and added two of their own during a four-run Mets uprising.
Over his last two starts, Leake has given up three runs in 12 1/3 innings and his record is 0-2.
Instead of pulling into .500, the Reds fell back two games under .500 and dropped back to four games out of first place as they continued their Tennessee Two-Step — one step forward, one step back, one step forward, one step back.
Other than Leake’s six scoreless innings, one bright spot was the return of Paul Janish to shortstop and he contributed three of the Reds eight hits.
Drew Stubbs poke a run-scoring single, but when the Reds had runners on second and third with two outs in the fifth he took a called third strike - just for old time’s sake. And for emphasis, with a runner on first and one out in the ninth, Stubbs went down swinging against Mets’ closer Jason Isringhausen.
After the Reds fell behind, 4-1, in the seventh, the Reds scored a run in the bottom of the seventh and had two on with two outs. Jay Bruce faced left-handed Tim Burdyk and struck out on three straight low-and-away breaking pitches.
Bruce arrived in the ninth, again with two on and two outs (he was the winning run), and walked on five pitches to load the bases for Brandon Phillips.
Phillips fell behind 0-and-2, took ball one, then went down swinging to end another night of teases.
The Reds left 11 men standing helplessly on the basepaths, nine over the last four innings and they were 2 for 10 with runners in scoring position.
“We had our chances two or three times,” said Baker. “They got the hits when they needed them, we didn’t. We didn’t put the ball in play in crucial times. When you put the ball in play something has a chance to happen.”
But Stubbs, Bruce and Phillips all struck out instead of putting bat on ball.
“These guys (the New York Mets) pose some interesting problems because they have a lot of speed and quite a bit of contact in their lineup,” said Baker. “They have some guys supposedly on the trade block (Carlos Beltran, for sure) so they are going to be at their best, at the top of their game, because they know everybody is watching them.”
INTERESTINGLY, DURING the three-game weekend series with the Atlanta Braves, not a single scout was in attendance. On Monday there were at least eight teams represented by scouts.
“If the Mets were in another division, they’d be in the thick of the race,” said Baker, referring to New York’s third-place standing in the NL East, one game under .500 (like the Reds before the game), but 14 ½ games out of first place (while the Reds were only three games out of first place).
“Just because they are X number of games (14 ½) behind doesn’t mean they don’t have a good team,” he added. “It just means they are in the same division as the Phillies and the Braves.”
TO ANYBODY WHO has even casually watched, Joey Votto is not himself these days and his production has plummeted like factory workers about to go on strike.
In his last six games, he has only two hits in 17 at-bats and both hits came in one game. And he has only two RBIs.
His defense, which he works so hard to maintain and improve, has been slip-shod, especially his throws.
Perhaps it is no surprise. As much as he sometimes looks as if the game comes easily to him, his body is made of the same stuff as every other player and it wears down.
BEFORE MONDAY NIGHT, Votto started every game at first base but one — 100 of 101.
On Monday, manager Dusty Baker finally resisted the always-pressing temptation to put Votto’s name on the lineup card. He gave him the night off.
“We’ve all seen Joey lately, haven’t we?” said Baker. “He has been struggling, so today was a good day to give him off. You have to give him off sometime, as much as you hate it. You can tell by his concentration and his quickness and his legs look heavy when he runs.”
Baker told Votto not to come to the park until 5:30 Monday and said, “This is a day where he has to force himself to eat, eat, eat and get his strength back.”
Votto did pinch-hit in the eighth inning with one on and one out, the Reds down, 4-2. He flied to left field.
IT WASN’T NECESSARILY because of his aches and pains, but Chris Heisey was not in the lineup Monday night.
Heisey and Drew Stubbs collided on a fly ball in the ninth inning Sunday against the Atlanta Braves. Stubbs made the catch, the two crashed together, and Heisey hit the grass.
“He’s sore, but he’s OK,” said Baker. “He went for an MRI and things are OK. I’d rather have that (a collision) than both of them pull up and have the ball fall in. That’s two guys who want to catch the ball.”
IT WAS MENTIONED that Monday probably was a good day to give Votto and Heisey off because New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey features the fluttering and frustrating knuckleball. When the St. Louis Cardinals faced him last week, Albert Pujols asked out of the lineup because he didn’t want to mess up his swing against knuckleballs.
“He is not your prototypical knuckleball pitcher,” said Baker. “He throws a high percentage of fastballs, too, and some sliders and some changeups. If I’m facing him, I look for the fastball because there is a good chance you might not get to the knuckleball. But it is a good one (knuckleball).
“I’ve only seen him on TV, but Dickey had a lot more success last year than this year,” Baker added. “He is a good athaete. He can hit, field his position, he is quick to the plate. You can tell the way he handles the bat — he can slug bunt — that he was probably a pretty good position player at some point, a guy who just happens to throw a knuckleball.”
Knuckleballs are not only death to hitters, but equally homicidal to catchers. Catcher/broadcaster/humorist Bob Uecker was once asked how he caught Phil Niekro’s knuckleball.
“It was easy,” said Uecker. “I waited until it stopped rolling and then I picked it up.”
Dickey, 4-8 when the night began, was the winner with 6 2/3 innings, two runs, eight hits, one walk and seven strikeouts.Tweet