The decade was a breathtaking roller coaster ride for the Cincinnati Reds and their fans. It included spectacular heights, wobbly turns and beyond-vertical plunges. This post, broken into parts, is dedicated to those plays — both good and bad — that defined the Reds decade. The list is anchored in specific plays that took place on the field. But these flashbulb memories invariably have importance beyond an individual game, as metaphor or example.
The men who took us on this odyssey — Bob Castellini, Walt Jocketty, Dusty Baker, Bryan Price, Dick Williams, David Bell and a slew of Reds players — will receive appropriate commentary.
Without further ado — here are the ten defining moments of then Reds’ 2010s decade:
10. Brandon Phillips Makes a Spectacular Play (June 17, 2011)
The play itself: The Reds are playing the Toronto Blue Jays at Great American Ball Park. Brandon Phillips ranges to the edge of the outfield grass, far beyond second base, to field a ground ball. Then he throws out the runner at first. There’s also a bird involved. Beat writer Mark Sheldon includes a video of the play in his “Reds Best Defensive Plays of the Decade” list and asserts it is Phillips’ best. It’s hard to disagree with that. But because it’s Brandon Phillips you could find 100 plays equally amazing.
The moment: That’s the point. Phillips won three of his four Gold Gloves in the 2010s (2010, 2011, 2013) and deserved one or two more. Yes, we’re looking at you Darwin Barney. Phillips might not have been the best defensive player for the Reds this decade (although that case can be made) or the best Reds player overall. But there’s no question he was the most spectacular, game after game. In an industry that runs on athleticism, highlights and entertainment value, Phillips was at its top for years. Phillips received more of my standing ovations than any other player.
The list of his qualities as a defender is long. This particular play against the Blue Jays emphasizes his range and arm strength. Before he was DatDude, Phillips was a shortstop. Then there were circus-like double plays made to look routine, countless over-the-head running pop-up catches, behind-the-back or between-the-legs throws to second base and first. And so much more. If a Statcast measuring defensive performance had existed during his prime, Phillips would have broken it.
Choosing this defensive play by Brandon Phillips is meant to recognize his career of outstanding defensive performance and the way it gave identity to the club.
9. Joey Votto Slides into Third (June 29, 2012)
The play itself: The Reds are in first place, playing San Francisco on the West Coast on a Friday night. In the 5th inning, Joey Votto singles. One batter later, Jay Bruce singles and Votto slides awkwardly into third base, jamming his knee.
The moment: In ensuing days, Dusty Baker, being the veteran player’s manager that he is, asked Votto if he was OK and took the slugger’s word for it when he said yes. After investing $225 million in their MVP, the Reds didn’t get a simple MRI done on his knee joint at the time.
For the rest of the road trip, everyone (including management) watched Votto struggle to run, hit and field. That somehow lasted more than a week. Beyond that, the Reds didn’t look to take advantage of the impending All-Star break to have Votto undergo the surgery he needed. In fact, they actually let Votto PLAY in the All-Star Game. He wanted to, after all.
If all that pounding on his knee worsened the meniscus tear, it made the surgery more serious and rehab longer. Votto was injured, then reinjured, then finally went under the knife on July 17 and was out until September 5.
Votto had been having his best season. But after the slide, he couldn’t put full weight. Votto didn’t hit a home run the rest of 2012. Even with Votto missing that time, the Reds cruised to the NL Central championship. Ryan Ludwick, Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier (who played 1B) picked up the slack. The Reds got that great pitching from all five starters and had a rock-solid bullpen.
But in the NLDS against those same Giants, when Johnny Cueto was injured and the rotation had to be re-rigged on the fly, the Reds sure could have used Votto’s fully operational bat. Yet, even though Votto hadn’t hit a home run in more than three months, Dusty Baker — did I mention he’s a veteran player’s manager — kept him batting third. Votto did manage 7 singles and 4 walks in the 5-game series.
Not only did Joey Votto’s knee injury and the Reds disastrous management of his care likely cost the series against the Giants, you’ll never convince me Votto’s obsessive drive to strengthen his knee didn’t contribute to the quad injury that obliterated his 2014 season.
8. Eugenio Suarez Blasts Home Run #49 (September 25, 2019)
The play itself: Eugenio Suarez smashed a Jordan Lyles pitch off the facing below the left field upper deck at GABP for home run #49. [video] Suarez hit the ball with a 104.4 mph exit velocity and a line-drive launch angle of 23.7 degrees. It set the homer record for NL third basemen, passing current and future Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt (1980) and Adrian Beltre (2004). Alex Rodriguez is the only 3B who has hit more, with 52 (2007). With the homer, Suarez set a new high for any player from Venezuela. And 49 is second on the all-time Reds list after George Foster’s 52 in 1977.
The moment: The historic home run capped two outstanding seasons for the Reds third baseman. Suarez has come a long way since the Reds acquired him in 2014 from the Detroit Tigers in a trade for (I’m almost too embarrassed to type this. Almost.) Alfredo Simon. Suarez failed to make the Reds Opening Day roster in 2015. Zack Cozart and Todd Frazier had the left side of the infield locked down. Brandon Phillips was still the second baseman. There was nowhere for Suarez to play. He was “organizational depth.” Had Cozart not suffered a season-ending elbow injured in June, it’s hard to say when Suarez would have had a chance to play in the major leagues. The Reds moved Suarez to 3B in 2016.
But develop he did. Playing in 143 games in 2018, Eugenio Suarez, who was now 26 years old, hit 34 home runs, a career high at the time. He batted .283 and put up an outstanding 10.6% walk-rate which raised his OBP to .366. That production combined with his defense produced a 3.9 WAR season. Yes, 2019 was a homer-filled season across the league. But the 49 Suarez hit trailed only Pete Alonso of the Mets.
Before the 2018 season, the Reds and Eugenio Suarez agreed to a $66 million/7-year deal running through 2024, with a team option for 2025. So while these Suarez home runs in the 2010s are worth celebrating, they also point to something positive far into the 2020’s.
7. Luis Castillo’s First Pitch (June 23, 2017)
The play itself: A 99-mph four-seam fastball that the Washington Nationals’ Trea Turner watches as it splits in half the bottom third of the strike zone. It’s Luis Castillo’s first major league pitch. He follows that up with another 99-mph fastball that drifts off the plate but Turner swings and misses. Castillo strikes Turner out on the fourth pitch of the at bat. The Reds 24-year-old makes it through five innings with 5 Ks and 5 BB allowing 2 earned runs. The Nationals win in the bottom of the 10th.
The moment: The Reds were 30-42 and in last place of the NL Central, on their way to a third consecutive 94+ loss season. Injuries to Anthony DeSclafani and Homer Bailey had produced a starting rotation featuring Brandon Finnegan, Rookie Davis, Tim Adleman, Sal Romano, the Bronson Arroyo sad reunion tour, Asher Wojciechowski, Lisalverto Bonilla and Scott Feldman, who was your Opening Day starter. It’s sort of a miracle the Reds had won even 30 games. The rebuild-reboot was sputtering.
The moment was ripe for Luis Castillo. In his three months pitching for a Reds affiliate, he had dominated AA-league batters like a different list of pitchers — Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale and Max Scherzer. In 80.1 IP, Castillo had struck out 81 and walked only 13. In his final start for Pensacola, Castillo had taken a no-hitter into the 7th inning. In the Giants organization, Castillo had been assigned to a relief role because he only threw two pitches, a fastball and changeup. The Marlins transitioned Castillo to a starter, a role the Reds continued. By his MLB debut, Castillo had developed a slider for a third pitch.
The front office deserved credit for calling up a AA pitcher instead of signing another washed up free agent starter. Doug Fister and Tim Lincecum remained unsigned. Dick Williams resisted the old-fangled urge to add another veteran arm. The Reds rotation already had a couple of those, but Williams could have made it one pitcher worse and he didn’t. In that sense, Castillo’s debut signified the night when the Reds rotation began to show future, not futility. The rebuilding process had started to pay dividends.
Castillo’s mere presence in a Reds uniform also signified the emerging influence of a new Reds front office. To acquire Castillo, the club had traded Dan Straily. Straily led the 2016 Reds with 31 starts, 191 innings and a nice sub-4 ERA (3.76). It’s impossible to imagine Walt Jocketty pushing to trade a veteran pitcher given the context. But before we praise the new guys, let’s not oversell the leadership transition. There was no uninterrupted forward-moving line between the end of the Jocketty regime and daylight. The Reds direction remained one-step forward, one-step back through the non-trade of Matt Harvey in August 2018. But Straily-for-Castillo gave us a peak at a new, modern front office that considered different statistics (Straily’s ERA was belied by a scary 5.02 xFIP) and viewpoints.