Tony Santillan’s major league debut for the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday afternoon was a study in escapism.
The Colorado Rockies put 11 runners on base against Santillan in 4 2/3 innings and only one scored. With Santillan on the mound, the Rockies stranded 10 runners and were 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position.
Harry Houdini couldn’t have done it better.
It was an impressive opening act for the 24-year-old right hander and led to a 6-2 Reds victory in Great American Ball Park.
The win enabled the Reds to complete a three-game sweep and push their way over .500 at 32-31.
Santillan’s line that included 97 pitches was 4 2/3 innings, one run, five hits, four walks and five strikeouts.
And the Reds’ bullpen stood up solidly. Ryan Hendrix, Brad Brach, Amir Garrett, Heath Hembree and Lucas Sims held the Rockies to one run and one hit over the final 4 1/3 innings.
“It was a great experience, fun to be here,” said Santillan. “It was a dream come true and I enjoyed every moment of it, for sure.”
Of his performance, Santillan said, “It wasn’t a pretty line, but at the end of the day I battled and got out of some key jams, kept the team in the ball game.”
Santillan said he had no jitters, no shaky nerves.
“Once I got going, once I got the ball, it was just another start for me,” he said. “Nerves? I didn’t really have any. Once I stepped on the mound, it was the same game, the same kid playing the game.”
There was one moment that is permanently embedded in Santillan’s mind. It was the third inning and the Rockies had the bases loaded with two outs. Santillan went to 3-and-1 on C.J. Cron and catcher Tucker Barnhart paid him a visit. And the crowd of 18,268 was howling.
“It was one of my favorite moments today,” he said. “It was the first time I played in front of that many people, ever. When the crowd came alive, it was pretty awesome, a very surreal moment.
“Tucker and D.J. (pitching coach Derek Johnson) told me, ‘Keep attacking, you’re doing good, be relentless. There you go, get after it.’ I was going to win or lose it with my best stuff and I got out of it and it was great.”
Santillan threw strike two to Cron to go to a full count, then got him on a fly ball to right to leave the bases loaded and the Reds still on top, 3-1.
The Reds scored three runs in the second inning against Antonio Senzatela. Tyler Naquin doubled and Joey Votto singled him home, the fifth straight game Votto drove in a run. Eugenio Suarez, his left index finger containing five stitches from a kitchen mishap, crushed a two-run home run to give the Reds a 3-1 lead.
It stayed that way until Colorado’s Ryan McMahon homered off Hembree with two outs in the seventh, cutting the Reds lead to 3-2.
The Reds put it away in the bottom of the seventh with three runs. It began with Kyle Farmer taking a pitch in the middle of his back and continued with a double by pinch-hitter Shogo Akiyama.
Jonathan India walked to load the bases and Jesse Winker drilled a two-run hustle double. Tyler Naquin hit a sacrifice fly for the 6-2 margin.
But it was all about Santillan’s Five-Inning Escape Acts:
FIRST: After giving up a single and a double to his first two batters and a sacrifice fly for a run, Santillan struck out slump-ridden Trevor Story and retired McMahon on a fly ball.
SECOND: After issuing a one-out walk and a single to Dom Nunez to put runners on third and first, Santillan retired opposing pitcher Senzatela on a popped-up bunt and ended the inning with a weak ground ball from Ramiel Tapia.
THIRD: After hitting a batter and giving up an infield single to Charlie Blackmon, putting runners on second and first with no outs, Santillan struck out Story and McMahon, both on called third strikes. He walked Brendan Rodgers to load the bases and stopped the threat when Cron flied to right on a full count.
FOURTH: After giving up a two-out single to Tapia, Santillan retired Yonathan Daza on fielder’s choice.
FIFTH: Santillan hit a batter and walked two straight to fill the bases with two outs and his day was done. Hendrix came in to strike out Nunez on a full count slider in the dirt.
“That was cool,” said Hendrix. “The rain was coming down, but I was going to get it done for Tony in his major league debut.”
It took considerable fortitude to throw a slider in the dirt on a full count with the bases loaded, but Hendrix executed it precisely.
“It was basically trusting it (the sinker),” said Hendrix. “Making it start in the zone was the only thing I had to do. Make it look like a fastball. It was huge having (catcher) Tucker Barnhart have the trust to call that slider and I have the trust in him to block it.”
And the bullpen and the bats took care of the rest.
After finally clawing their way above .500 with 10 wins in their last 13 games, the Reds face a daunting road trip. They begin a three-game series in Milwaukee on Monday night, then head to San Diego for four and finish it with two in Minnesota.
Reds at Brewers, 8:10 p.m., Bally Sports Ohio, 700, 1410
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