Reds Memory: Todd Frazier’s walk-off grand slam | Matt Wilkes

Reds Memory: Todd Frazier’s walk-off grand slam | Matt Wilkes

The 2015 Reds didn’t have many moments I’d consider memorable. In terms of record, it was Cincinnati’s worst year of the miserable rebuilding stretch at 64-98. The team finally, fully embraced the need for a rebuild that summer, trading away Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake at the deadline after they’d dealt Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon the previous offseason. As a result, they limped to the finish line with a miserable 25-51 second half. The Reds ended the season by losing 14 of their last 15 games, which included a horrific 13-game losing streak in which they were outscored 89-32.

If that’s your lasting memory of the 2015 Reds — or you blocked out that season altogether — it would be hard to blame you.

But before that nausea-inducing stretch of second-half baseball, there were a couple of moments we can look back fondly upon — and several of them are tied to Todd Frazier.

The former Reds third baseman had a first half to remember, hitting .284/.337/.585 with 25 home runs and 52 total extra-base hits. Only Johnny Bench has more extra-base hits (54) in the first half of a season in Reds history, and only nine players have topped that home run total. It earned Frazier the starting nod at third base in the 2015 All-Star Game hosted in Cincinnati. He and Aroldis Chapman, both of whom were traded away the following offseason, were the only two hometown representatives.

The day before the Midsummer Classic is the one that put Frazier on a new level in Cincinnati sports lore. That, of course, was when he earned the Home Run Derby crown in front of the Great American Ball Park faithful, defeating Joc Pederson in a wild, nail-biting finish.

For many, that’s the lasting memory of Frazier’s time in Cincinnati. For me, the lasting memory came about a month before the Derby.

It was a dark and stormy night on June 17, 2015. The Reds had an interleague matchup with the Detroit Tigers on that Wednesday evening in GABP with an ordinary 7:10 p.m. start time. Randy, my roommate at Ohio State and a Tigers fan, drove through what he calls the “absolute heaviest rain I’ve ever seen” to join me. We were two of 32,546 in attendance that night who couldn’t wait to see the much-anticipated pitching duel between Reds ace Johnny Cueto and Detroit southpaw David Price.

By the time the game ended at 1:20 a.m., though, it was difficult to remember who either of the starting pitchers had been. Fortunately, thanks to Frazier, the wait was worth it — for me, at least (sorry, Randy).

The Buildup

The Reds needed Cueto to be on top of his game because this was the lineup they fielded against Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, Yoenis Cespedes, Nick Castellanos, Jose Iglesias, and company:

Cueto indeed brought his best stuff early on. He struck out Cabrera and Cespedes to work around a one-out double in the first and allowed only one other baserunner through the fifth inning. The Votto-less Reds, meanwhile, got to Price early. Former Tiger Eugenio Suarez got the scoring started on a suicide squeeze in the second inning of his sixth game in a Cincinnati uniform. (It’s bizarre to even think about Suarez laying down a bunt now, isn’t it?)

Frazier had his first big moment of the game to lead off the fourth inning. He took a 3-1 Price fastball and sent it 402 feet to clear the wall in right-center field, giving the home team what seemed to be a comfortable 2-0 lead with its ace cruising.

It all unraveled for Cueto in the sixth inning. After striking out Price, he allowed a single to Anthony Gose and walked Ian Kinsler. That brought one of the best right-handed hitters in baseball history to the plate, and it didn’t end well. Cabrera went with a four-seam fastball on the outside corner and obliterated it at 105.1 mph. By the time the ball landed 418 feet away in the moon deck, the Tigers suddenly had a 3-2 lead.

As is the Reds’ luck, the skies immediately opened up as Cabrera slowly — and I mean slowly — trotted around the bases. The grounds crew pulled the tarp over the field and many fans headed for the exits as a one-hour, 12-minute rain delay began. Randy and I, both vehemently against leaving any sporting event early, were ready to stick it out — nevermind the fact that he had class at 8 a.m. the next morning. Our patience paid off, as we were able to move from our view level seats down to field level behind the first base dugout to watch the remainder of the contest.

The rain chased both starting pitchers from the game and, even more irritatingly, stirred up an army of unidentified flying insects that invaded the park. Between bouts of swatting those away from our faces, we watched the Reds tie the game in the sixth inning on a triple by Chris Dominguez, which is literally the only memory I have of Chris Dominguez (he apparently struck out 12 times in 23 plate appearances as a Red and was designated for assignment that July).

The game didn’t stay tied for long. Immortal Reds reliever Ryan Mattheus gave up a go-ahead home run to feared slugger Tyler Collins in the eighth inning, and it seemed Randy would get the last laugh on this night.

But the Reds rallied with two outs in the eighth. Jay Bruce smacked his second double of the night and his third of five hits in the game. Brayan Pena, another former Tiger, followed with his biggest of four hits that evening, grounding a single up the middle that caromed off the second-base bag and allowed Bruce to score easily.

Joey Votto lined a pinch-hit single that moved Pena to third, but Skip Schumaker struck out to end the inning in what I’m certain was gritty fashion.

Both teams went down in order in the ninth, and the marathon was on. As extra innings began, I distinctly remember Raisel Iglesias being the only player standing at the top of the dugout among the bugs, cheering his team on and soaking up being in the big leagues (he had been called up for the first time about a month earlier). Votto later joined him.

The Reds certainly had their chances early in extra innings. Bruce was thrown out at the plate trying to score on a Pena double in the 10th. Brandon Phillips struck out with runners on first and third to end the 11th. Then-starting pitcher Michael Lorenzen, forced to pinch-hit because the Reds were carrying nine relievers for some reason, struck out with runners on second and third in the 12th.

The Tigers had plenty of chances to win the game, as well, leaving runners in scoring position in the top of the 10th, 11th, and 12th innings. Although it felt like the Reds were effectively surrendering when he came in the came, obscure former Red Donovan Hand played the hero by navigating through each of those innings with the score still tied.

In cruel fashion, it was Hand’s first and last game as a Red and ultimately the final game of his big-league career.

At this point, it was 1 a.m. and there couldn’t have been more than 2,000 people left in the stadium. Any tiredness we felt was negated by the bizarre energy of this baseball game and the bugs flying into our faces. We weren’t going anywhere. This was firmly in #weirdbaseball territory, and we weren’t going to miss out on the ending just to get some sleep. No matter how the game ended and how many innings it took, we knew we’d look back on this strange game fondly for years.

The Moment

It was now the bottom of the 13th inning, and the Reds were threatening again. I couldn’t wait to see how they were going to screw it up this time to send us into a 14th inning.

Schumaker led off with a single, and Kristopher Negron bunted him over to second. The Reds loaded the bases on a rare Billy Hamilton walk and a single by Phillips. With the game on the line, the Tigers turned to closer Joakim Soria with one out. Ivan De Jesus Jr. had a chance to be the hero for the Reds, but he struck out swinging to finish the game 0-for-6.

The situation may have felt hopeless had anyone but Frazier stepped to the plate next. If the Reds were going to win this game, we all had the feeling it was going to be right here. If he couldn’t walk this thing off now, we’d either be there until 3 in the morning or wait for the Cincinnati bullpen to finally give way. Everyone is on their feet trying to will this game to a merciful end.

Strike one. Soria beat Frazier with a first-pitch slider. He came back with another slider in the dirt to even the count at 1-1. Soria quick-pitched a four-seam fastball right down the middle, but that deception was enough to throw off Frazier’s timing and he fouled it away. A savvy move by Soria — or so it seemed. In reality, he had tipped his hand.

“(Soria) did the same thing to De Jesus, quick-pitched him and threw him a curveball,” Frazier said to C. Trent Rosecrans after the game.

So, Frazier sat on the curveball and guessed right. The ball was out of the strike zone, but Frazier still connected. Everyone in the park knew the ball was gone as soon as it left the bat. The Reds only needed one run but got four on a walk-off grand slam.

(Side note: Look at all the bugs flying around in this shot! I wasn’t kidding.)

Frazier flipped his bat and immediately began celebrating as the ball went sailed into the tunnel adjacent to what was then the Reds bullpen in left-center field. I no longer had the energy to cheer, and just stuck my hands in the air in both celebration and relief. I looked over at Randy, who had that “yeah, that’s about right” expression on his face that Reds fans are all too familiar with. But as we walked out of the stadium, even he had to concede that it was one of the best, and strangest, games he’d seen in person.

Frazier would go on to slump badly in the second half before he was ultimately traded in the offseason for Jose Peraza, Scott Schebler, and Brandon Dixon (woof). But between his heroics on this Thursday morning in the middle of June and the show he put on at the Home Run Derby a month later, Frazier provided memories that’ll last a lifetime in the midst of an otherwise dismal 2015 season.

[Photo Credit: Andrew Mascharka Photography]

Matt Wilkes

Matt Wilkes got hooked on Reds baseball after attending his first game in Cinergy Field at 6 years old, and he hasn’t looked back. As a kid, he was often found imitating his favorite players — Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Sean Casey, and Austin Kearns — in the backyard. When he finally went inside, he was leading the Reds to 162-0 seasons in MVP Baseball 2005 or keeping stats for whatever game was on TV. He started writing about baseball in 2014 and has become fascinated by analytics and all the new data in the game. Matt is also a graduate of The Ohio State University and currently lives in Columbus. Follow him on Twitter at @_MattWilkes.

2 Responses

  1. Steve Mancuso says:

    Too bad the Reds didn’t get it together to trade Frazier at the 2015 deadline. He’d have brought back so much more. Peraza, Schebler and Dixon weren’t much.

    • Matt Wilkes says:

      Yeah, very much a missed opportunity. The Reds were also weirdly fixated on Jose Peraza even though his flaws were always apparent to anyone paying attention. Makes you wonder what would’ve happened if the current front office was in place at the time instead of Jocketty and co.