The Cincinnati Reds had played 20,399 games in franchise history and covered just about every scenario and everything in the rule book through 15 decades in Major League Baseball.
When Nick Senzel crossed home plate in the 10th inning Tuesday, clinching the Reds’ 6-5 walk-off victory over the Kansas City Royals, he was the first player in club history to score the game-winning run after beginning an extra inning on second base.
Joey Votto provided the walk-off heroics with a double that bounced off the center-field wall. Senzel, after scoring, lifted Votto in the air as teammates threw cups of water at him.
“I think we broke a whole lot of rules, but I don’t think we could have helped ourselves,” Votto said. “It was just instinct and we were happy. That’s exactly how it should be, right? I don’t know how you socially distance a celebration like that.”
The new extra-inning rule lined up in the Reds’ favor. The final out of the ninth inning is placed on second base to begin the 10th unless teams use a pinch-runner. For the Reds, that was Nick Senzel, who lined out to end the ninth.
Nick Castellanos drew a seven-pitch walk to put runners on first and second with no outs. That brought up Votto, who is clearly not a fan of the extra-inning gimmick.
“With nobody out and the team’s best runner at second base, that’s a tough spot for the opposing team,” Votto said. “They set it up for that reason. How does that work? Is it the last out of the previous inning, or is it any runner?”
It was briefly explained to him.
“That’s really fascinating, and I’ve lost interest,” said Votto, more disinterested than a math prodigy doing substractions. “No, not to you, just sort of the late-game, throw-any-random-out out there. It feels weird. It’s fine for right now, but I can’t imagine they implement that during the playoffs.”
It’s not a rule for everybody, but it creates immediate tension. It eliminates most extra-inning marathons with the majority ending in the 10th inning. Kyle Farmer said he sat in the dugout discussing strategy with Trevor Bauer.
“We were wondering why they didn’t put Castellanos on,” Farmer said. “His run doesn’t matter, so why not force a double play in that situation?”
Preparing to face Royals reliever Josh Staumont, Votto studied the scouting report. Players frequently look at it in the dugout, but few take it the on-deck circle as he did. Votto likes that it can be predictive.
Whatever it said, it worked. Votto lined a first-pitch fastball to center field, missing a homer by a foot or two. Center fielder Brett Phillips missed a potential catch against the wall and Senzel scored easily when the ball rolled away. It was Votto’s 12th career walk-off and his first since his walk-off homer vs. St. Louis on June 7, 2016.
“I thought it’d be a homer, but I’m very happy about it,” Votto said. “It was one of my best swings in years. I was ecstatic about it. That I came through at that moment – yes, of course, that’s great and that’s what we are trying to do collectively – but I was really happy with the swing, like really, really, really happy with the swing.”
It wasn’t a clean game for the Reds’ bullpen or their defense. The bullpen stumbled trying to walk a high-wire tightrope with a two-run lead. Nate Jones pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning, aided by a double play from Farmer.
Amir Garrett entered for the eighth inning and surrendered a game-tying, two-run homer to Ryan McBroom on a slider.
It could’ve been another deflating moment for the bullpen in a season full of them, but only one more Royals hitter reached base afterward. Raisel Iglesias pitched a perfect ninth inning. Lucas Sims struck out two with the free runner at second in a clean 10th inning.
“If you don’t make a play or don’t come through with an at-bat or whatever, that’s the game,” Reds manager David Bell said. “What makes you great and makes you a great team is to stay with it and keep going. I thought our team showed a lot of toughness.”
The Reds committed three errors, including two on back-to-back ground balls in the third inning. After Luis Castillo issued a one-out walk, Eugenio Suárez couldn’t handle a slow roller with catcher Salvador Pérez running to first base. Then Votto mishandled a ground ball that he tried to backhand.
“When I made that error today, it was especially frustrating because it was such a crucial time and it was such a very easy play,” Votto said. “I was very, just very frustrated. I was embarrassed. All I thought about is how I am going to solve this, and then I started thinking about my routine, work, speaking with coaches and making adjustments.”
Castillo allowed a run to score on a single to the left-field wall, which Jesse Winker played well to keep the slow-footed Pérez at third base, but otherwise pitched around the errors.
Votto said his walk-off hit didn’t erase the error. He’s thrilled about the win, but the error will eat at him. He said in his Fox Sports Ohio on-field interview that he had a conversation with Pérez, a five-time Gold Glove catcher, about how making an error weighs more than a 0-for-5 day at the plate.
“He says, ‘I go crazy. I live with that. It makes me nuts,'” Votto said. “I said, ‘Do you think it’s because it’s the one part of the game we think we can be perfect at?’ He said yes, ‘because I think I can be perfect every single day.’ It’s one of those things, like, I played with Brandon Phillips who went 90 games without an error. It’s something we pride ourselves in.”
One of the draws to baseball is that fans may see something they’ve never seen before. Well, in the franchise’s 20,400th game, there was a new first with a familiar player at the center of the walk-off win.
“Welcome to 2020, I guess,” Farmer said. “Everything is out the window now. It was cool.”