Forgive Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Tyler Mahle if he mutters under his breath, “What do I have to do to win a game? My kingdom for a save.”
For the third straight time, Mahle turned over a lead to his bullpen and for the third straight time the bullpen blew it. The bullpen has blown four saves this season at Mahle’s expense.
This time Mahle turned a two-run lead over to the bullpen Thursday afternoon in Great American Ball Park. Tony Santillan and Ross Detwiler combined to give up four runs in the ninth inning, enabling the Arizona Diamondbacks to steal a 5-4 victory and grab a split of the four-game series.
When Mahle pitches, the Reds might as well use a scarecrow with a straw hat, broomstick arms and a stick for a backbone as a relief pitcher.
Mahle held the D-backs to one run, four hits, walked two and struck out a season’s best 10. The only blemish was a fifth-inning leadoff home run by Pavin Smith that clanked off the right-field foul pole.
Alex Diaz pitched two scoreless, hitless innings (one walk) and the Reds took a 3-1 lead into the ninth.
Enter Santillan, exit victory.
Santillan entered the ninth to face the bottom three in the Arizona lineup. He walked Smith on five pitches and threw a wild pitch to Alek Thomas, moving Smith to second.
That earned Santillian a mound visit from pitching coach Derek Johnson. Santillan threw two strikes, then gave up a run-scoring single to Thomas and it was 3-2 with the tying run on first and no outs.
Geraldo Perdomo bunted and Santillan threw to second. Thomas was ruled safe when shortstop Kyle Farmer had to come off the base to take the errant throw.
Daulton Varsho bunted the runners to third and second with one out. Josh Rojas worked the count to 3-and-2, fouled off three pitches, then ripped a two-run single up the middle for a 4-3 lead.
Marte was walked intentionally to put runners on second and first with one out.
Left-hander Detwiler replaced Santillian to face switch-hitting pinch-hitter Cooper Hummel and Detwiler walked him, filling the bases.
David Peralta grounded to second and Matt Reynolds bobbled it and could get only one out as another run scored to make it 5-3.
Arizona closer Ian Kennedy retired the first two in the bottom of the ninth, then gave up a home run to Reynolds, giving the Reds a sliver of hope. It ended on a weak fly ball by TJ Friedl.
For the Reds, the first is the best. During the four-game series they scored 18 runs in the first inning.
They scored three in the first Thursday off Arizona starter Zach Davies. The first four Reds hit safely.
Friedl, who had three hits, led off with a single. Brandon Drury turned a bat into fireplace kindling, a shattered bat single to left. Tommy Pham singled to deep short, filling the bases.
With two strikes, poker-hot Joey Votto pulled a two-run double to right and Farmer lifted a sacrifice fly for a 3-0 lead.
Then. . .nothing. The fun for the Reds was over before it really got started.
Over the next five innings the Reds didn’t score off Davies and gathered only two hits.
Mahle escaped trouble a couple of times, including when he issued a one-out full-count walk to Rojas and a single to Marte. But, using his high fastball, Mahle struck out Walker and David Peralta.
He escaped damage in the sixth when Marte doubled and Walker walked, putting two on with no outs. Mahle quickly struck out Peralta again and retired Jordan Luplow and Smith.
The Diamondbacks were 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position, stranded eight runners and struck out 12 times entering the ninth. But they rectified all that negativity in the ninth inning.
And the Reds lost two more players in battle. Catcher Tyler Stephenson left in the fourth after taking a foul tip off his throwing thumb hit by Luplow. Center fielder Albert Almora Jr. left after jamming his shoulder into the turf trying to make a diving catch.
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