CINCINNATI — September 20, 2023 – Article By: Mark Sheldon (MLB.com, Reds.com)
Hunter Greene went from having a definitive clutch start for the Reds to being a bittersweet footnote on Wednesday afternoon.
It’s must-win time for Cincinnati as it battles for a playoff spot in the National League Wild Card race, and Greene was ready to meet the moment. He notched a career-high 14 strikeouts over seven innings before the bullpen blew the lead for a 5-3 loss to the Twins at Great American Ball Park.
“I’m not really focusing on my performance,” Greene said. “Obviously where we are in the season, days like today are extremely frustrating. Baseball gods weren’t on our side today.”
Minnesota claimed the final two games of the three-game series to deal a crushing blow to Cincinnati’s playoff hopes with only eight games left in the regular season.
- Games remaining (8): vs. PIT (3), at CLE (2), at STL (3)
- Standings update: The Reds (79-75) remained a game behind the Cubs (79-73), who possess the third National League Wild Card, and a half-game behind the Marlins (79-74). Cincinnati holds the tiebreaker over both Chicago and Arizona (81-72), which has the second Wild Card, after winning the season series, but not over Miami, based on intradivision record.
The Reds held a 3-1 lead in the eighth inning before Minnesota scored one run against Ian Gibaut and three more in the ninth on closer Alexis Díaz and Sam Moll.
Díaz blew only his third save in 40 chances this season in his first appearance since a five-out save on Friday vs. the Mets. The top of the ninth eroded quickly on the All-Star closer after Willi Castro led off with a bunt single on the grass where second baseman Jonathan India had no chance to make a good throw.
Castro stole second base and took third on catcher Luke Maile’s throwing error. Maile’s throw was on target but low.
“It was a hit and run on a slider that was down and away [that I] had to reach for,” Maile said. “It definitely wasn’t my best throw. [Castro] going to third base obviously sped up the inning a little bit.”
Kyle Farmer’s softly lofted RBI single to right field scored Castro for the game-tying run. Following a one-out walk to Christian Vázquez, Díaz was pulled for the lefty Moll. With the Reds’ defense in a shift for lefty Trevor Larnach, the Twins pulled off a double steal, with Farmer taking third base and Vázquez going to second. After a strikeout, Ryan Jeffers was intentionally walked to load the bases.
Jorge Polanco delivered a two-run single to right field to seal the game.
“While it definitely does hurt, it’s obvious that we needed that one. It’s not going to be difficult for this squad to bounce back from,” Maile said. “We’ve got the off day [Thursday], a team we’re familiar with this weekend. We can see the finish line. We’ve just got to take care of business.”
Nearing the end of his second big league season, Greene hasn’t had many high-stakes assignments for the Reds. Wednesday was definitely one of them.
Greene took a shutout into the seventh inning. He had struck out five batters in a row before Castro hit a one-out solo home run to right field for Minnesota’s first run. Overall, Greene gave up three hits with one walk.
“These are the most important games I’ve ever played in,” Greene said. “I feel like I’ve been built for these situations. There’s no hiding from them. I have to be able to come out and compete and be locked in from the first pitch to the last. You have to embrace these moments.”
Over his last four starts — with a stint on the COVID IL included in the stretch — Greene is 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA with Cincinnati winning all four games. His 14 strikeouts were the most by a Reds pitcher since Ron Villone struck out 16 batters on Sept. 29, 2000, at St. Louis. The 24-year-old is the youngest Reds pitcher to reach the mark since 19-year-old Gary Nolan in 1967.
Greene left with 92 pitches, and the Reds had an extended bottom of the seventh inning, which included Maile’s RBI single.
“A really tough call, mainly because of how Hunter was pitching,” Reds manager David Bell said. “I made the decision before the long inning. Hunter pitched a great game. Our bullpen has been unbelievable all year. Our guys were rested. Ian threw the ball well, and we know Alexis has been outstanding in the ninth. Even though Hunter was dominant today and did his job for seven really strong innings, I thought that was the best way to win the game right there — the way we’ve done it on several occasions.”