ST. LOUIS – Jose Barrero is viewed as the Cincinnati Reds' shortstop of the future, but excuse him for finding a way to contribute immediately.
Barrero, a 23-year-old from Cuba, spent all season biding his time for an opportunity. After playing in 24 big-league games last year, he started the year in Double-A. He hit his way to Triple-A. He spent the last four days on the taxi squad.
On Friday, he welcomed himself back to the big leagues with a go-ahead RBI double in the top of the ninth inning and he scored a key insurance run afterward to lift the Reds to a 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Reds have won five consecutive games at Busch Stadium and won their first season series against the Cardinals since 2011. They moved into a tie with the San Diego Padres for the second wild-card spot after the Padres lost Friday.
"Really, for me, I worked so hard," Barrero said, according to team interpreter Jorge Merlos. "I worked really hard to get back here. Not just the batting, but also fielding. Every aspect of the game. I tried to work as hard as I can to get back here."
Barrero jumped from High-A to the Majors last year and it showed at the plate, striking out in 26 of his 67 at-bats. The Reds sent him to Double-A to begin the season, so he could develop offensively. He responded by hitting .303 with 19 homers, 66 RBI and 62 runs in 85 minor-league games.
His performance earned him a chance to play at the MLB Futures Game where he homered in his first at-bat.
He did it all while enduring tragedy off the field. His mother, Tania Barrero, died in May, a relationship people close to Barrero describe as almost brother and sister. Barrero changed his last name from Garcia to honor his late mother.
"Everyone around here has just been so impressed by Jose Barrero," Reds manager David Bell. "We know he's a good player, very talented and has a bright future. But for a young man, young player, only a little time in the major leagues, the way he just interacts with people, the way he stays ready, he's very humble. He doesn't take anything for granted.
"And he knew his time was going to come."
Barrero, who was on the taxi squad in preparation for Kyle Farmer taking paternity leave for the birth of his son, had his biggest opportunity arrive in the top of the ninth inning with a runner on first base.
After falling behind in a 0-2 count to Cardinals reliever T.J. McFarland, Barrero watched three sinkers off the edge of the plate. The sixth pitch of his at-bat was a sinker over the middle and Barrero drilled it to the center-field wall, scoring Aristides Aquino from first base.
The Reds' dugout erupted as Barrero advanced to third base when the off-target throw went to the plate. Barrero scored when the next batter, Delino DeShields, hit a chopper up the middle, sliding ahead of a throw from shortstop Paul DeJong.
"I knew that the team had to win tonight," Barrero said, "so I really wanted to get my best at-bat that I could."
If there were any questions about the significance of this weekend’s three-game series, no one needed to look further than Yadier Molina’s game-tying homer in the fourth inning. Molina didn’t hold back his emotions. He shouted as he looked at his teammates in the dugout. He pumped his fist and pounded his chest trying to fire up his teammates. The Busch Stadium crowd of 29,597 rewarded him with a curtain call.
The Cardinals are trying to stay alive in the wild-card race; the Reds are trying to bury them.
"That's the time of the year for guys to rise," Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said.
Indeed it is. Before Barrero, it was Eugenio Suárez. He opened the scoring when he clobbered a cutter into left-center for a 452-foot homer off Jon Lester in the second inning.
The Reds have struggled against left-handed pitching this season and Suárez could be the key to changing that. He hit a leadoff single off the left-handed McFarland in the ninth inning. After a fielder's choice replaced Suárez with Aquino on the basepaths, Barrero provided his heroics.
"I’m just out there trying to have fun as much as I can while I’m playing," Barrero said. "I don’t think there’s any pressure at all, just out there trying to have fun. The results will be there."
When Barrero was on the taxi squad, he did his best to remain ready. He took batting practice and worked with coaches on his fielding before games but was reduced to a spectator once the game began.
"I was definitely getting my work in," Barrero said. "I was just waiting for the opportunity to get the call. Fortunately enough, I got that today."
Reds starting pitcher Tyler Mahle wasn’t efficient with his pitches in the first four innings, but he was effective outside of Molina’s homer. He completed six innings, allowing four hits and two runs while striking out six.
Lester permitted three hits across seven innings, stifling the Reds’ lineup for the second time in two weeks. Votto, celebrating his 38th birthday, hit a solo homer in the fourth inning against the 37-year-old lefty.
Votto virtually predicted his home run during his pregame press conference. He was asked how he felt at the plate given his recent 16-game homerless streak, which he snapped with a home run Wednesday.
“Yeah, it’s not good,” Votto said, “but I’m going to homer a lot from now until the end of the season, so it’ll be all right.”
Votto's homer was his 30th of the season, the third time in his career he’s crossed the 30-homer plateau (MVP season in 2010, runner-up for MVP in 2017). It was his 325th career homer, which pushed him past Frank Robinson for second place on the Reds’ all-time list. Johnny Bench is the franchise’s all-time leader at 389 homers.