McCoy: Reds lose another game late, this time to a last-place team

Heath Hembree gives up lead in ninth in loss to Twins

When play began Tuesday night, the Cincinnati Reds started a string of 20 games in 20 days. Nineteen of those 20 games are against teams with records below .500.

So opportunity is rapping loudly on the Reds clubhouse door.

Unfortunately for them, they didn’t answer the first knock Tuesday in Great American Ball Park.

Leading by a run in the ninth inning, Heath Hembree was handed the baseball to protect that lead.

Instead, that baseball landed in the right-field seats. A three-run home run by Jorge Polanco provided the Minnesota Twins, the last place team in the American League Central, with a 7-5 win.

Hembree had converted eight of his nine save opportunities, but a walk on the wild side did him in. He started the inning by walking pinch-hitter Jake Cave, a .177 hitter, and Max Kepler, both on full counts.

He struck out Brent Rooker. But Polanco battled him for eight pitches before hooking his 17th home run inside the right-field foul pole.

Of the eight pitches, the last three were sliders, and the third one never came back.

“Given the situation, you are trying to be unpredictable with an at-bat that has gone that long,” said catcher Tucker Barnhart, “I thought, we thought, that three sliders in a row, which he hadn’t seen his entire at bat or the entire game, was a pitch we could use.

“It seem liked he pulled off it and fouled it off on the second one in a row with two strikes. It wasn’t a bad pitch, but he (Polanco) is a good player, arguably their best hitter. He was able to get the barrel on it and keep it inside the pole by a little bit.”

Hembree has given up runs in four straight appearances, but manager David Bell has not lost confidence in him.

“It’s a tough role he is in,” said Bell. “Hitters really bear down. Up until the last couple times he has done a real nice job for us and he is going to continue to do a really good job for us.

“The last couple of times out, the first couple of guys getting on base with the walks. One of his strengths is throwing strikes and attacking the hitter. He’ll get back there.”

The Reds ripped three home runs off Kenta Maeda, Minnesota’s best pitcher, and the big one leaped off the bat of Jonathan India, who celebrated his Rookie of the Month award for July.

His two-run rip in the fifth turned a 4-3 deficit into a 5-4 lead. In addition, Eugenio Suarez and Barnhart hit solo home runs on back-to-back pitches in the third.

The Twins struck first against Tyler Mahle, scoring a run in the third on back-to-back doubles by Max Kepler and Brent Rooker.

The Reds had a better version of back-to-back in their third. The first two pitches by Kenta Maeda whistled out of the ball park.

Suarez slammed Maeda’s first pitch out of the park, and Barnhart cracked his next pitch over the wall as the Reds added a third run.

The Twins reclaimed the lead in the fifth when Mahle issued a single to pitcher Maeda, a walk and a three-run home run by catcher Mitch Garver, pushing Minnesota back on top, 4-3.

Once again the Reds answered in the bottom of the inning. A single by pinch-hitter Shogo Akiyama and the home run by India gave them a 5-4 lead.

Relief pitcher Mychal Givens squirmed out of a major issue in the eighth when he loaded the bases with one out on a single by Garvey and two walks. It ended when pinch-hitter Josh Donaldson hit into a 5-4-3 double play, protecting the 5-4 Cincinnati lead.

Then came the fateful top of the ninth — Minnesota’s three-run uprising. Alex Colome, former closer and All-Star for the Tampa Rays, was trusted with the two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth.

Tyler Naquin led the ninth with a single and Suarez walked, giving the Reds three opportunities to recapture the game.

Barnhart popped out to shallow right, Aristides Aquino struck out, India grounded out ... and that was that.

“As tough as this loss is, the beauty is that we get to come back and play tomorrow,” said Barnhart. “We still have a long homestand ahead of us.

“Being in the race is amazing and losses like that obviously hurt,” he added. “The thing we can’t do is take it into tomorrow. Being in the race helps us do that.”

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