In the top half of the ninth inning of Tuesday's game at Great American Ball Park, the Milwaukee Brewers had a 3-1 lead over the Cincinnati Reds, and the visitors had runners on second and third. By the percentages alone, it was a fine time for the fans to get a jump on traffic home.
But then, "it" started to happen.
Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips speared a bullet line drive to end the inning, bringing the home team up to bat. Utility infielder Paul Janish singled. Scott Rolen hit a pinch-hit home run. Rookie Chris Heisey, in just his 16th major-league at bat, legged out a double. Mr. Phillips walked. Then first baseman Joey Votto hit a frozen-rope single to right to win the game.
And just like that, the Reds were doing something they've done a lot this season—mobbing a teammate on the infield grass. This year alone, the Reds have won a game in their final at-bat 10 times, the most in the majors. That puts the Reds ahead of the pace of the 1959 Pittsburgh Pirates, who had the most last-at-bats wins, 36, since 1920, according to Stats Inc.
"I don't think anyone in this clubhouse had any doubt we were going to win that game," pitcher Homer Bailey said after Tuesday's game, in which he gave up two runs over seven strong innings.
Fast forward two days, and just like that, the Reds found themselves on the other end of baseball's mysterious forces. Thursday, after leading the Atlanta Braves 9-3 going into the ninth inning, the Reds gave up seven runs to lose 10-9, the last four of those runs coming off a grand-slam home run that barely cleared the wall after glancing off the glove of outfielder Laynce Nix. The loss knocked the Reds out of first place by a half-game going into a weekend interleague series at Cleveland.
Still, the Reds are a confident bunch, with a roster full of unknowns and unprovens, guys who eat fruit salad and juggle soccer balls in the clubhouse before games and are thankful just to have jobs in the major leagues. They seem to have that "it" factor. In a league where the margins between success and failure are razor-thin, such confidence and, Reds fans hope, the ability to shake off tough losses can be the difference between challenging for the playoffs and starting to play out the string in mid-August.