[Mike Burke, long known as Pinson343 here and at Redleg Nation as a top-tier commenter, is a research scientist and instructor at Rice University in Houston. Mike says he’s been a Reds fan since before he can remember. You can follow him on Twitter @DoctorDudeness. We appreciate Mike’s contributions to the site as a commenter and his sharing this Reds Memory.]
The 2010 Reds were not expected to contend by anyone I spoke with, read or listened to that preseason. I recall a live radio conversation between former pitcher Jeff Nelson and some other analyst, who said: “Even a comeback by Harang (to his 2006-07 form) would not make them contenders.” Nelson: “Certainly not.” He went on to lambast the Reds’ decision that Mike Leake, with no minor league experience, would be in their starting rotation.
Redleg Nation was the main online hangout for fanatic Reds fans then. The consensus was that the Reds had an improved team that had a chance for their first winning season since 2000. But I don’t recall anyone predicting a division title or 90 wins.
The aughts was a miserable decade for the Reds due to poor pitching. Poor defense had not helped matters. A much-improved defense had quietly taken shape. Young Jay Bruce had a great arm and excellent range. Drew Stubbs in center field had marvelous lateral range. Many knowledgeable baseball observers flat out asserted that Brandon Phillips was the best defensive second baseman they had ever seen. BP managed to win four Gold Gloves from voters who disliked his flamboyant style and robbed him of a GG at least twice. Scott Rolen was at third base. Don’t confuse 2010 Scott Rolen with the declined 2012 version. The Reds defense had four legit Gold Glove caliber defenders (BP and Rolen won in 2010).
Everyone knew the 2010 Reds could hit. For one thing, it was Joey Votto’s official MVP season. The unexpected development was that, for most of the season, they had solid pitching. By then Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey had improved, especially Cueto. Arroyo was Arroyo. Mike Leake was brilliant early on and pitched well until his arm died in late July. By then Travis Wood had come up and had a strong rookie season. In the bullpen, Sir Arthur Rhodes, as we called him, made 33 consecutive appearances from April 13 through June 26 without allowing a run. After a poor start, Nick Masset was strong as the 8th inning guy. Coco Cordero declined and had become as hittable as David Weathers, but much like Weathers would escape with the save a little more than 80% of the time (40 out of 48).
By late May, the Reds had established themselves as one of only two contenders in the NL Central. Their offense would mercilessly pound the weak pitching Cubs, Brewers, Pirates, and Astros. The other contender, of course, was the Cardinals. It was taken for granted by most that the talented Cardinals would win the division going away. The Reds fared poorly against them in head-on play, fueling the widely held conviction that the Cardinals were the better team.
The Reds had a one game lead on August 16, headed for a nine game West Coast road trip. These trips had been the bane of the Reds for years. The club had fallen out of contention in late August 2006 by losing 8 of 9 on such a trip, and Reds fans feared that history would repeat. But after winning 5 of 6 from the Diamondbacks and Dodgers, they began a series in San Francisco on Monday, August 23, needing just one win for a 6-3 road trip.
I was in SF at that time for a short visit. A brother-in-law had latched on to four premium seats a little up the third base line for the Tuesday night game. There was a rare heat wave that week in San Francisco, peaking in the mid-to-high 90’s every day. AT&T Park, a pitcher’s park, was a HR haven in the hot air. Monday night the Giants demolished Edinson Volquez and won 11-2. On Tuesday night we had a great view of SF Bay and of the catcher’s perspective. There was electricity in the air and in the stands.
The Giants hadn’t won a World Series since 1954, before moving to San Francisco. Their fans could sense they were a championship team (so could I). I’ve been to many games in NY (both teams), Philly and Boston, but had never witnessed this level of fan frenzy. They were thirsty for a World Series and for the blood of the other team. Travis Wood had poor location and not much bite to his breaking pitches. I have never in person witnessed so many high deep drives that carried well over or off the outfield wall. Almost all of them were hit by Giants.
When Joey Votto struck out looking with the bases loaded, the Giants fans let out a postseason-like roar and showered him with loud, obscene taunts. For the first and only time I was harassed at a game for rooting for the Reds, even though I was rooting quietly without Reds gear and was sitting with three loudly celebrating Giants fans.
Final score: Giants 16, Reds 5. By the way, they lustily booed Dusty Baker whenever he walked to the mound. They blamed him for the trauma of blowing Game 6 of the 2002 World Series.
The Wednesday day game was a matchup between young Madison Bumgarner and Homer Bailey. While in flight to Denver I saw on my screen that the Reds led by 10-1 in the top of the 5th inning. Votto had already homered twice. But I still didn’t trust the lead. When I arrived at my hotel, the ESPN 2 Bottom Line scroller now reported 10-5 after 6 innings. Uh oh. Then in the 8th inning, I watched in horror as the score went to 10-8, then 10-10 and then 11-10 Giants. Logan Ondrusek gave up a 3-run HR before recording an out and Arthur Rhodes gave up three more runs.
I needed to get ready to meet people. Resigned to defeat, I turned off the TV. Before going out I turned it back on to confirm the outcome. Local Denver sports was on and the big story was that the Rockies had rallied to win their game over the Braves after trailing by 10-1. A lot of talk about how rare that is, but no mention of it happening twice that day. I became more hopeful by the minute. Then came a silent display of the other scores: Reds 12, Giants 11 in 12 innings. I doubted my eyes for a second, I was in baseball heaven.
In the Reds 9th, with one out Drew Stubbs hit a bouncing ground ball to Pablo Sandoval (Panda) at 3rd base. Concerned about Stubbs’ speed, he threw wildly and Stubbs went to second. Then weak hitting Paul Janish, a splendid defensive SS, rolled a ground ball through the right side of the infield and Stubbs sped home to tie the game. Nick Masset pitched a scoreless 9th and 10th and Cordero a scoreless 11th. With two outs In the top of the 12th, Votto drove in the go-ahead run with a single. Leading off the the bottom of the 12th, Panda hit a drive headed for Triples Alley but Stubbs held him to a single. Panda advanced to 3rd with two out but no further. [Game box score]
Votto was very quiet back then, but after the game said that he’d had “enough” and had resolved to end it. Based on that one game alone, Stubbs and Janish will always have a place in my own Reds lore.
The Reds left SF with a 6-3 road trip and in first place by 3.5 games. They next won 5 of 6 from the Cubs and Brewers and went into St. Louis in early September up by 8 games, needing to only win one game. Tony LaRussa as always that year had Carpenter, Wainwright, and Garcia lined up for the series. The Reds easily won the second game 6-1 as Wood out-pitched Wainwright. From there the Reds maintained a safe lead and Jay Bruce clinched it with his walk-off home run against the Astros on September 28.