For the moment that most defined the Reds in the 2010s, we find ourselves at the beginning. Some roller coaster rides do start at the top. With breathless anticipation, you take a glimpse of your surroundings. The altitude is exhilarating. You know not to look down at what’s below, but reality seeps in for a second, you know that’s where you’re headed. The thrill ride will end sooner than you want. With two feet planted on terra firma you’ll look up at where you’ve been.
(I know it’s not original to put Jay Bruce’s home run at the top of a list of Reds moments. I was there and took a few pictures of dubious quality. I also got to ask Bruce about the moment. Maybe those factors will raise this account above replacement level.)
1. Jay Bruce Hits a Home Run (September 28, 2010)
The play itself: Jay Bruce drills the first pitch he sees from Houston Astros lefty Tim Byrdak off the left-centerfield batter’s eye at GABP for a walk-off solo home run [video]. The win clinches the NL Central division championship for the Reds. Pandemonium ensues. This event has been dubbed Clinchmas. [As a historical note, the word Clinchmas comes from a post at Red Reporter and a related entry into the Urban Dictionary, both created the day following the game.]
The moment: Quite a start to the decade. It was the first title for the Reds in 15 years. I was one of the lucky 30,151 fans to be in attendance. My vantage point was great, just a few rows behind the Reds dugout. (Yes, of course I still have the ticket.) I’m not a professional photographer and it’s a shame that hand-held cameras then didn’t do much, if anything, to reduce blurriness. Because I have dozens of pictures from that night, you’ll see a few here, but most aren’t worth showing.
I said at the start of this project — listing the top defining moments for the Reds’ decade — that this wouldn’t be a simple recount of best memories, like 4-homer nights, no-hitters and a Home Run Derby. Not that there isn’t a wonderful place for a post like that. My goal was to identify moments on the field that shaped the organization, for better or worse. Clinchmas was not only a thrilling event, but it did define a good part of the Reds decade. And for fans who were there, or watching on TV, there were so many, many electrifying memories that have endured.
Here’s a shot of the lineup for the Reds that night:
That low-OBP shortstop batting second is a dead giveaway this is a Dusty Baker lineup, right? And Jonny Gomes playing left.
I want to make a special mention of Drew Stubbs. Stubbs played in 150 games that year, hitting 22 homers and stealing 30 bases. He was an excellent center fielder, with a strong, accurate arm. Altogether, he put up a 3-WAR season that year. And on this night, with the Reds behind 2-1 in the third inning, Stubbs robbed Astros slugger Carlos Lee of a two-run homer [video], keeping the score close for Jay Bruce’s heroics.
Stubbs play lacked the drama of a walk-off home run, but it was more important.
You probably won’t remember Aroldis Chapman pitched the top of the 9th for the Reds. He wasn’t yet the Reds closer. That job belonged to Francisco Cordero, who recorded 40 saves in 2010 (more than Chapman has recorded in any season). 2010 was Chapman’s rookie season and he had been a starter in the Reds minor leagues. Chapman had been called up in September to give the bullpen a shot of much needed power. Arthur Rhodes was the primary set-up man. Even though Chapman wasn’t the closer, nights like this early in his career put the gleam in Dusty Baker’s eye when thinking of the Cuban Missile on the mound in the 9th. Yes, that’s Scott Rolen with a dirty uniform in the background.
I promise you’ve never seen a photo of Jay Bruce’s home run like mine. Everyone was standing of course, cameras ready. But part of the dual role of amateur photographer and fan is the the uncontrolled euphoria that comes with moments like this. I’d like to see if professional photographers could do any better if they used one hand and were jumping up and down.
In an ironic way, it’s a crystal clear conveyance of the moment. And we are talking moments, here.
At a subsequent Reds Caravan, I got a chance to ask Jay Bruce whether he was swinging for a home run. Bruce swore he wasn’t and said that he never does. He said he always goes up with the goal of hitting a line drive and hitting it hard. Some just happen to go out. Like that one.
The players rushed the field and met at home plate. The crowd stayed. In a minute or two the players had been handed gray championship swag. (Yes, I drove downtown and bought some early the next morning. Are you kidding? Still wear the hat.) That’s when the party started. Several of the players had the beverage of choice on the field, either to drink or dump over someone’s head.
One memorable moment was several players running around the entire perimeter of the field, slapping the hand of every fan who could reach.
As part of the celebration, a few of the players spoke to the fans. It was easier to get a clean picture by shooting the video screen on the scoreboard instead of the player directly. So that’s what this is, a picture of the scoreboard showing the night’s hero addressing the crowd. I believe that’s soon-to-be MPV Joey Votto next to Bruce.
It was a glorious night, full of indelible memories.
It was also a long time ago. The pinnacle came at the start of the decade and we’re now toward the other end. Since then, we’ve witnessed more bad years than good ones for the Reds.
You might question ending a list like this — a list claiming to define a franchise that has lost so many games in recent years — with a happy memory. I get that. Big organizations are complicated and have conflicted narratives. Their histories reflect that. This list hasn’t shied away from detailing the moments that exemplify the frustration and disappointment.
But if you asked me about the last ten years of the Reds, I’d start with Jay Bruce and tell the story about that upstretched arm.
We’re at the end of our list. With those heart-pounding ups and downs, it’s no wonder we spent most of the decade watching the Reds with our eyes partly covered, feet dangling. After all, the goal of a great roller coaster is the combined experience of elation, terror and then exhaustion. Yet afterward, you don’t rush to leave the amusement park. You ride again. And again.
As Reds fans disembark from the 2010s, we see the new players and modern management. Free agent acquisitions, trades and development of a few home-grown prospects take us back to a familiar, if distant, place. Not exactly on cue, but it’s a new moment of anticipation and fresh optimism.
So what do we do? We gather ourselves and dare to get back in line.