Remembering Clinchmas: “So now here’s Byrdak and here’s Bruce…”

I don’t remember too much from early in the game. It had been a whirlwind getting there and the anxiety was unlike anything I had felt before as it was. It was a nice September night for baseball, a little bit cool for my taste with a temperature at first pitch of 64 degrees. But there was electricity in the air already and the stadium was about three-quarters full of tense Cincinnati baseball fans, many of whom had been waiting 15 years since the last division championship. It was a powder keg just aching to explode.

I was originally scheduled to work the night of September 28th, 2010. I was delivering pizzas for a mom-and-pop pizza joint in the two-stoplight town of Bloomingburg, Ohio. The small nature of the business made me lucky enough to have bosses who let me slide on attendance from time to time, and I’ve never been more grateful than that night for their kindness.

I felt like that night could be the night. The Reds had had the night before off after wrapping up a West Coast road trip in San Diego the afternoon before. The sub-.500 Astros (then still in the NL Central) were coming to town and I knew I just had to be there. I made the call to work around 2pm, about 2 hours before the start of my shift, and began to call some friends. With about 5 hours until first pitch it was too short of notice for a lot of my friends but I did reach my friend Joe who was very excited to go.

I wanted to remember the night and I knew that my dad had a pretty decent camera in those days. After making plans with Joe, I scrambled to call my dad before he made it to work for the evening. I don’t remember the job that my dad had at the time, but I knew he’d be heading to work if he wasn’t already there. When he didn’t answer, I left a voicemail but I figured he was already there and I’d have to go without a camera which bummed me out.

I hopped in the shower to get ready to go and, just like a sitcom, as soon as I got the shampoo in my hair the doorbell rang. I ignored it once, twice, on the third buzz I threw on a towel and scuttled downstairs to answer. I thought it might be Joe who got over excited and came to my house instead of me picking him up as the plan was. I was flummoxed to see my dad on the other side of the door.

He had listened to my voicemail and decided that there was no way that he would miss out either. He immediately called his work, told them he wouldn’t be in, and drove to my apartment. Like father, like son I suppose. He waited while I finished my shower, got dressed, and we drove to his house so he could change and grab the camera that I’d called for originally.

I’m sure there are thousands of stories like this from fathers and sons about sports and proclamations and whatnot but my hand to God this is true. As my dad was getting dressed, he was flipping through his collection of Reds jersey t-shirts, of which he had plenty, and asked my opinion on who to wear. I had on my Votto and made a statement that it was hard to go against the eventual MVP. But dad flipped through his shirts and pulled out a grey shirt reading Bruce and 32 across the back. He held It up by the hanger and looked it over for a second and then he looked at me, pointed into the middle of the 3 and the 2 and stated, “He’s going to hit a walk-off homer tonight.” We laughed as he pulled it on and then grabbed his camera, got in his car, picked up Joe and headed to Cincinnati.

After finding parking we still needed tickets, which I was becoming increasingly paranoid were becoming more and more scarce by the minute. We talked to a scalper with whom we’d dealt with before so we trusted him and bought up the first tickets he offered, after negotiating the price a bit. I don’t remember what we paid but it wasn’t much over face value and we entered the park, grabbed our concessions, and took our seats in section 139, just to the foul side of the pole in right field next to the current Reds bullpen though it was the opponents bullpen then.

I remember ribbing Dad because Bruce had a rough game prior to the 9th. Being the strikeout end of a strike-‘em-out-throw-‘em-out double play with Brandon Phillips in the 2nd inning, striking out a second time to end the 4th inning, and grounding into a double play with the game tied and the bases loaded to end the 6th inning. Both starters tossed quality starts striking out 8 but honestly the early innings are actually a blur.

I do remember Carlos Lee hitting a long drive to center with a man on and a one-run lead for the Astros, but Drew Stubbs tracking it, leaping at the wall and snaring the ball with his glove just over the wall to save a home run. I remember it being a fantastic catch and have always thought that it deserved more credit because without it (SPOILERS) the Bruce home run only cuts the lead to one run instead of winning the game.

I also remember the end of the 8th inning because there was more of a buzz because, with the game tied, Aroldis Chapman was warming up in the Reds bullpen. It was his 13th appearance since his call-up but only his 5th at home and the first time I would have the opportunity to see him in person. He had just recorded the fastest pitch ever recorded a few days earlier in San Diego and the buzz of his entry, in a tie ballgame, with the division title on the line was palpable.

My dad also joked because Brandon Phillips recorded the final out in the bottom of the 8th inning on a bunt attempt, which meant that Jay Bruce would be leading off the 9th. He gave me a wry smile and pointed to his shirt to remind me of his proclamation.

Chapman did what he was advertised to do, dispatching the Astros by way of back-to-back strikeouts and a weak groundout to shortstop in 13 pitches. Which brought Tim Byrdak in from the Astros bullpen just to our right and Jay Bruce into the left-handed batter’s box to start the 9th inning.

It only took one pitch. A single fastball. I remember tracking the ball, so I missed Bruce’s iconic, triumphant finger raised to the sky as he burst out of the box to 1st base, but I will never, ever forget the image of the white ball as it met the distinct blackness of the batter’s eye in centerfield, I have a vague recollection of seeing the centerfielder, a defensive replacement and future Obscure Former Red Jason Bourgious, racing to the wall helplessly out of the corner of my eye.

But most of all I remember leaping into the air, arms raised, and then hugging my dad. If you read my article on Todd Frazier where I waxed poetic about how baseball can create a bond between two strangers, amplify that feeling by infinity when you’re sharing it with someone you love. Baseball being the bridge between fathers and sons is a timeless baseball troupe. If you read nearly any story in Joe Posnanski’s fantastic Baseball 100 series on The Athletic (if not do so immediately, it is insanely good) you know how true it can be.

The feeling of hugging my dad that night after the release of 15 years-worth of tension is a feeling I can still feel and call to mind. It’s one of the moments in my life that really bring back a feeling. For some people it’s songs, for some it’s smells, but for me it’s this piece of Cincinnati Reds history that take me to a place that’d I’d love to stay forever.

Steven Ortlieb

Steven Ortlieb is a lifelong Reds fan who grew up in the heart of Reds country. Although this is his first chance to write at length about the club he loves, he has been screaming into the void about them on Twitter @stevenortlieb for a number of years. He has been to every playoff game that GABP has hosted and is excited to be at more in the near future.