MINNEAPOLIS – When Tyler Naquin launched a go-ahead, three-run homer in the ninth inning Tuesday, the Target Field crowd of 19,187 went silent and the 30-some people in the Cincinnati Reds dugout erupted.
It wasn't just an important homer in the Reds' 10-7 victory over the Minnesota Twins. It bailed out the bullpen from another meltdown and rescued the Reds at the end of their nine-game road trip.
After Wade Miley pitched seven solid innings, the Reds' bullpen coughed up a five-run lead in the eighth. They had already lost five consecutive games and here was more bad news.
Then Naquin, who reached base in all five of his plate appearances, blasted a 420-foot homer to the opposite field.
"It’s picking up the boys," Miley said. "That’s what we do. There are going to be games that happen like that. We’ve done it, really, this whole trip. It’s huge. Right then and there, we knew we needed to answer back."
The Reds finished their nine-game road trip with a 4-5 record. The record itself doesn’t capture all the emotions that went into the past nine days.
They swept Milwaukee in a three-game series, moving within two games of first place in the division. They went on a five-game losing streak, a skid that started with a gut punch of a loss to the San Diego Padres when they rallied from a two-run deficit in the ninth inning only to lose on a walk-off homer. There was the loss in the five-hour, 14-minute marathon in 12 innings Monday despite holding a two-run lead in the 10th inning.
And, oh yeah, there was Tuesday's game where the Reds couldn't hold onto a five-run lead before Naquin's heroics.
"I think we’re all just a little bit gassed right now after that game," Reds manager David Bell said. "That’s how you should feel after playing a lot of tough, close games. It’s a great feeling, so I really couldn’t be happier with just the way, no matter what, guys just keep playing, keep competing.
"It’s not always easy to do when you’re playing games like this and you stay after it. I hope people notice that. We certainly do."
After 72 games this season, nine shy of the halfway point, the Reds have a 36-36 record. If anything, they’ve shown they’re a resilient group. The bullpen is a weak link (7.05 ERA in June), and they remain in the thick of the National League Central playoff mix.
"Those guys are working hard every single day and doing their thing," Naquin said of the bullpen. "If they're not able to get done that day and we're able to pick them up, awesome. If we're not able to get it done one day on the run side of it, those guys have picked us up many a time."
With a five-run lead in the eighth inning Tuesday, Art Warren walked the first batter he faced on four pitches and surrendered a two-run homer to Max Kepler.
Lucas Sims, limited to one inning Monday, didn’t record an out against his three batters. Trevor Larnach launched a 434-foot, solo homer past the right-field seats and onto the concourse. Ryan Jeffers hit a single into left in an eight-pitch at-bat and Miguel Sanó missed a game-tying homer by inches as bounced off the top of the left-field wall. Sanó settled for a double.
With two runners in scoring position and one out, Tejay Antone emerged out of the bullpen for his first appearance since he was activated from the 10-day injured list earlier in the day. Antone surrendered a game-tying, two-run double off the right-field wall to Alex Kirilloff on his second pitch.
"Obviously, it was a tough inning," Bell said. "Lucas has been so good for us, and it was a tough inning for him. This isn’t an excuse, but it’s a fact: we talk about our team getting a little bit tired. We’ve asked a lot from our bullpen, and I think it started when we went on that winning streak. They were doing a good job. And fatigue sets in, it plays a factor."
Miley has left a pair of starts this month with leads of seven runs and five runs, and he received a no-decision in both of them because the bullpen couldn't hold the lead for another inning.
He had his third consecutive start of at least seven innings Tuesday. He struck out six and permitted two runs on five hits and one hit batter.
"After the five-hour game (Monday), I was trying to pick up the tempo a little bit," said Miley, who threw 94 pitches.
Trailing by a run in the fifth inning, the Reds loaded the bases with two walks and a single. Jesse Winker followed a two-run double off the right-field wall for a 3-2 lead, a ball that landed a few inches away from a leaping right fielder Max Kepler.
Three batters later, Eugenio Suárez added an RBI single to left field off Twins reliever Tyler Duffey. Another run should’ve scored on Suárez’s single, but Winker was thrown out at the plate on a baserunning mistake.
Winker was waved around by third-base coach JR House, but he turned his head to look for the ball and then hesitated midway down the third-base line. After Winker was tagged out by the catcher, he looked at House and patted his chest to say it was his fault.
The Reds had four outs on the basepaths in the two-game series against the Twins.
"Yes, you don’t want to make mistakes," Bell said. "You want to be smart, but what I’m more pressed with, and what I watch closely is the effort. Being into the game, being into the situations, running hard all the time."
The Reds survived baserunning mistakes. They survived a bullpen meltdown in the eighth inning. In a way, it epitomized the road trip. The Reds had their ups and downs.
It wasn't pretty, but the Reds finished their road trip with a win. Amir Garrett pitched a scoreless ninth inning for his fourth save of the season.
"You have to take the positive," Tucker Barnhart said. "If not, in this game, you’ll be underwater really fast. For me personally, I just think about the quality of baseball that we played. I’m happy with it. I’m really proud of it obviously from our group."