CINCINNATI — Brandon Phillips looked at the interviewer as if he had just been told the world was ending in the next hour.
The question was something about what it feels like to be playing the second place Pittsburgh Pirates in an argument over first place and Phillips’ face took on a look of total bewilderment.
“Pittsburgh is what?” said Phillips. Told that the Pirates were second, only three games behind the Reds, Phillips said, “You’re lying. Slap me in the face right now.”
Nobody had the intestinal fortitude to smack hiss cheeks, but a few hours later those Pittsburgh Pirates did it to him and the Cincinnati Reds, 8-4. Phillips was grounded and ground up with a 0 for 5 with four strikeouts.
Not even the scepter of Homer Bailey on the mound frighted the Pirates, despite his 6-0 lifetime record against the Pirates with a 1.79 ERA.
The Reds took a 2-0 first-inning lead, but the Pirates disposed of Bailey by the end of the third inning by raking him for six runs and eight hits.
Said Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle of his resurgent Pirates, “They can no longer schedule us for the homecoming game.”
“Man, we already knew you can’t take them lightly because they are a major league team and they are where they are for a reason. They’re playing good. You have to go out there and beat them, sink their battleship, make them walk the plank,” Phillips added.
“I’m happy to see them playing good because it is good for baseball,” he said. “Normally you see them always at the bottom and it’s great to see them playing good, as long as they don’t do it this week against us.”
THE PIRATES STARTED fast last year and hung around the top and on this date last season were one game under .500. This year they are one game over .500. Last year, though, they faded to 18 games under .500, 24 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers, their 19th straight losing season.
ALTHOUGH THE REDS are playing well and own squatter’s rights on first place, Phillips isn’t ready to anoint them as baseball’s best team.
“I still feel like we have holes in our lineup,” he said. “We’re missing some things, but we’re playing to the best of our ability with what we have. We’re playing smart baseball, though, and that’s what wins games. We’re doing the small things and our bullpen is very nasty. The starters are doing their job.
“A lot of our batting averages aren’t where we’d like and we’re not happy about it, but as long as we’re winning we don’t worry about those things.”
PITTSBURGH MANAGER Clint Hurdle on managing against the Reds in Great American Ball Park: “They remind me of the teams I had in Colorado, The Blake Street Bombers. They are scary. No matter what the score, in this ball park they have the confidence to believe they can come back from any deficit.”
THE ALL-STAR balloting came out and Brandon Phillips is second in the voting to Atlanta’s Dan Uggla at second base and, yes, that surprises Phillips.
“I am surprised that I’m second in the voting,” he said. “Obviously, I haven’t been doing my job to get the votes. If I make it, I make it. What can I really do? I haven’t been playing as well as I normally do. But my average was .210 earlier this season and I’m up over .270 now, so I’ve been playing a lot better.
“What’s important to me, though, is winning,” he added. “Making the All-Star team is a great individual award, but I made it once and it was an honor and it would be a privilege to represent the Cincinnati Reds in Kansas City. If I don’t, it won’t kill me.”
FIRST BASEMAN Joey Votto is the No. 2 vote-getter overall in the National League balloting and manager Dusty Baker was asked if that surprised him.
“He is an MVP, a two-time All-Star and everybody knows Joey Votto,” said Baker. ‘He is almost a household word. But he isn’t getting those votes because he is a household word, he is getting them because he is playing like an All-Star.”
BEFORE REGULAR BATTING practice Tuesday there were four guys wearing Cincinnati Reds uniforms taking batting practice, as pitcher Bronson Arroyo stood behind the screen sipping water.
One wore uniform No. 3, but it wasn’t Chris Valaika, the player who wears that uniform when he is up with the big club. The name on the uniform was ‘Flea.’
The four guys were the singing group The Red Hot Chili Peppers and ‘Flea’ is bass guitarist Michael Balzary. But Arroyo is friends with lead guitarist Josh Klinghoffer for the group that was inducted last year in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
Not many balls left the infield while the RHCP’s swung the bats.
MANAGER DUSTY BAKER was stunned when somebody asked him about the passing of Reds Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Borbon. He didn’t know.
“What?” he said. “Oh, man. Borbon was a great guy, we had a lot of fun with each other. I faced him when I was with the Braves and the Dodgers. I didn’t do that good against him. He’d crowd me all the time. He’d throw that sinker inside and drive you off the plate, then get you with a slider away.
“Man, this makes you appreciate every day you have,” Baker added.
FORMER PITTSBURGH pitcher Pete Vukovich and a star first baseman Clu Hayward in the movie Major League, is a scout now and has trimmed 28 pounds from his frame.
When I told him I’d lost 38, he smiled and said, “I don’t about you, but I’m doing it with heroin.” He was kidding, it was a joke — not about the weight, about the process.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “In the next 10 to 20 games fans are going to see the Reds be better than we are right now.” — Third baseman Todd Frazier.Tweet