The little things. It was all about the little things. Watching the Cincinnati Reds-Miami Marlins game Thursday at Great American Ballpark, there were constant reminders of the sometimes quirky, sometimes unusual collection of pieces that make up the whole of a baseball game, many of which incidents could have transformed the result in a close encounter.
Cincinnati won 4-0, but this was very much a sum of the parts game. Besides the usual scoring, I spent the game jotting down odds and ends that just struck me as interesting, offbeat, or notable. In some cases, if the play had not been made a rally might have followed. This is the subtlety of baseball often overlooked by the impatient sports fan. What doesn’t happen might affect what does and small trends might be the story of the whole game.
Miami started left-handed veteran Mark Buehrle on the mound. After 12 years with the White Sox, one of the American League’s most durable and solid pitchers (a four-time All-Star with two no-hitters, one a perfect game) was making his National League debut. Not many batters on the Reds had ever hit against him and he had not pitched often against any of them. Things did not start that well for Buehrle. By the end of the first inning, he trailed 1-0 and had thrown 28 pitches.
Meanwhile, the Reds started right-hander Johnny Cueto, whom they believe will be a star this season if he stays healthy. When Cueto pitches from a full windup, he turns his back to the plate. The last time I remember seeing such a move was Luis Tiant, a man of many styles on the mound.
Batting third for Cincinnati was Reds first baseman Joey Votto, the 2010 NL MVP. It was Votto’s first appearance before the public since his astonishing 12-year, $225 contract extension was announced. In conservative Cincinnati I wondered if he would have been booed if Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder had not set the table with similar outlandish deals over the winter. But they love Votto in Cincy and he was cheered.
Cincinnati third baseman Scott Rolen had an adventurous day. Rolen, 37 and nearing the end of his career, was coming back from shoulder surgery that cost him a chunk of the 2011 season. Thursday, at the plate he was hit by a pitch, stroked a big double and scored, and hit into a double play. In the field he made an error in the first inning. In the second inning he made a remarkable play fielding a ball hit deep behind the bag by Gaby Sanchez. Then, as he fell backwards, Rolen made a seemingly impossible, one-hop throw across the infield to nail the runner.
Last year Reds center fielder Drew Stubbs was the leadoff man and struck out 200 times. For the opener he batted sixth and did what leadoff men do. In his first at-bat, catching everyone in the park unawares, Stubbs bunted into a no-man’s land between the mound and first. Buehrle sprawled flat going for the ball, but Stubbs was easily safe.
Buehrle pitched six complete with just two runs allowed and when manager Ozzie Guillen went to the bullpen he called upon righty side-armer Steve Cishek. This strategy seemed fascinating because the release point comparing Buehrle, a slower-throwing lefty, and Cishek, a faster-throwing righty, was as stark a contrast for Reds hitters to contemplate as any in the game.
Pitching was not really Miami’s worry. A day earlier the Marlins had opened their new ballpark with a night game in South Florida, losing to 4-1 to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Marlins didn’t hit Wednesday and they didn’t hit Thursday. They may have been too exhausted to cope with Cueto’s 92 mph speed because they didn’t get to Cincinnati until 2:30 a.m.
Reporters wanted to know if the cuckoo travel itinerary was a factor, but Guillen said he had already announced in advance he didn’t want to hear that as any type of excuse.
The biggest question the Reds faced as the season began was how to deal with the loss of closer Ryan Madson for the year. After considering closer-by-committee, manager Dusty Baker said he was going to use normal setup man Sean Marshall in the role. Sure enough, in the first game, the scenario of need presented itself of what to do about both slots.
Cueto came out after seven innings. The man chosen to pitch the eighth was Aroldis Chapman, the Cuban defector with 100 mph heat who has been babied along the last two seasons. It was Chapman Time. He retired three straight Marlins, two on strikeouts, hitting 98 on the radar gun. Then Marshall cleaned up, one, two, three, with two Ks.
Cueto hands the ball to Chapman, who hands the ball to Marshall. All Reds pitching questions answered in one outing. At least for a day.
Topics: Albert Pujols, Aroldis Chapman, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Drew Stubbs, Dusty Baker, Gaby Sanchez, Great American Ballpark, Joey Votto, Johnny Cueto, Luis Tiant, Mark Buehrle, Miami Marlins, Ozzie Guillen, Prince Fielder, Scott Rolen, Sean Marshall, St Louis Cardinals, Steve Cishek