In the top of the 10th inning on Sunday, Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Amir Garrett entered a tie game against the Chicago Cubs with a runner on second base.
For the Reds 2021 saves leader, Garrett had been in this situation before. It had just been a few games since he had pitched in such an important spot.
“Since I've been a reliever, I've been pretty dominant and had a lot of success,” Garrett said. “This whole month, I've just been getting bashed and game after game, that's – if you look at baseball, that's not me. Obviously, that's not me. All I can do is continue to work.”
At the start of the season, Garrett allowed runs in four of his first six appearances. In three games over the last two weeks, the Reds lost their lead when Garrett was on the mound.
Beginning with a game on April 23 against the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati manager David Bell started using Garrett in lower leverage situations. But he called on Garrett in the 10th on Sunday.
Garrett struck out two hitters with his slider in two-thirds of an inning, and right-handed reliever Ryan Hendrix got the final out against right-handed pinch hitter Jake Arrieta.
They prevented the runner on second from scoring, and the Reds won 13-12.
“That's my normal self right there,” Garrett said. “We've got to keep going. It was very important for me. Some of these games that we lost were because of me. That's just how baseball is. The results show for themselves that I've been working.”
Garrett entered three of his last four games when the Reds were trailing. He brought his ERA down from 16.20 and implemented a mechanical adjustment that made it more difficult for a hitter to spot his slider.
Garrett said he didn’t lose confidence, and he heard the same message from his teammates and coaches.
“They’ve done a good job telling me, ‘Amir, you’re one of the best, this is what you do, what you’re going through right now is not going to last forever,’” Garrett said. “I took that to heart.”
Garrett said he felt like he took a step in the right direction in Saturday’s 3-2 loss against the Cubs. With the Reds down one run in the eighth inning, Garrett struck out Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and Garrett shouted and pounded his chest.
“I felt (like) my normal self, so when I struck Rizzo out, I let him know,” Garrett said. “I let him know 'I'm back. I'm good. I'm here.’ That's basically all it was.”
Cubs shortstop Javier Báez responded by jumping over the dugout railing, and both team’s benches cleared.
“We're going to exchange words, blah, blah, blah,” Garrett said. “Benches clear, hold me back, whatever. That was fine. I had no intentions of fighting him… It was a lot of pent up aggression from my performance. It is what it is, we move forward.”
Then on Sunday, Garrett didn’t allow a hit. This appearance came with the game on the line, and he struck out outfielder Jason Heyward and catcher Tony Wolters with his slider.
“It takes a lot of toughness because you want to do well,” Bell said. “You have people counting on you. You just have to stay really strong mentally and stay relentless. That’s what (Garrett) has done.”
Heading into the 10th inning, Bell said he planned for Garrett to only face three hitters. Garrett struck out the left-handed Heyward, intentionally walked right-handed infielder Matt Duffy and struck out the left-handed Wolters.
Bell put in Hendrix to face Arrieta, a right-handed hitting starting pitcher who has a career .239 batting average against left-handed pitchers and a .140 career batting average against right-handed pitchers.
Hendrix struck out Arrieta with his slider to end the inning. As Hendrix walked back to the dugout after finishing the scoreless inning, Garrett jumped over the dugout rail and hugged his teammates.
“This is one of the hardest stretches I’ve ever had to go through in my career as a reliever,” Garrett said. “I never had failures this bad. It’s ok because it’s going to make me the player and the person I’m going to be in the end. It’s going to make me a better pitcher for my team.”