The weather outside was frightful, but the results for the Cincinnati Reds were delightful.
A brave and snuggly-dressed crowd of 22,224 in Great American Ball Park braved cheek-freezing conditions, exacerbated by howling wind gusts between 30 and 40 miles an hour.
There was no thunder. That was provided by the Reds during a 6-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates late Saturday afternoon.
All six runs came via three home runs — a leadoff blast by Jonathan India, a two-run lead-grabbing shot by Kevin Newman and a three-run pinch-hit game-decider by Jake Fraley.
Mix in some outstanding bullpen work, 16 up and 16 down, and the Reds were able to rebound from their Opening Day defeat.
“It’s all a mindset,” said Fraley when asked about the conditions. “It’s cold and it’s windy, but at the end of the day we still have to come out there and win a ballgame. You still have to pitch the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball and run. We did that and did a good job of it.
“It was a tough game with the environment, so for us to grind out a win like this is huge,” he added.
Cincinnati starter Nick Lodolo staggered through a 35-pitch first inning and righted himself long enough to survive five innings and claim the victory.
Lodolo threw first-pitch strikes to the first eight Pirates, but was unable to put them all away. He gave up a run in the first inning after retiring the first two batters.
But he walked Andrew McCutchen on a full count after he had him 0-and-2, then Carlos Santana and Connor Joe singled for a run.
It could have been disastrous because Pittsburgh had the bases loaded when Lodolo struck out Rodolfo Castro to end the inning.
“It’s not how you draw up the first five (innings) of the year,” said Lodolo during a post-game visit to the interview room. “It was definitely a grind, but I’m happy I was able to hang in there and that they left me in there to get through it.”
The 1-0 Pittsburgh lead lasted only until India led off the bottom of the first with a home run, the eighth leadoff home run of his young career.
And the Reds didn’t stop there. With two outs, first baseman Tyler Stephenson doubled. That brought up Kevin Newman for his first Cincinnati at bat.
He came to the Reds from Pittsburgh via trade and made the Pirates pay with a self-satisfying and team-lifting two-run home run for a 3-1 Reds lead.
Of getting the 3-1 lead in the bottom of the first after giving up a run in the top of the first, Lodolo said, “That was good. You’re right back on top going back out after a long inning.”
India’s quick game-tying home run was a mood-changer and erased early thoughts of an 0-and-2 start to the season.
“We needed that, after the Opening Day loss,” he said. “We played a good game Opening Day and just came up short.
“I told myself before the AB, ‘Just get on base any how to get them going,’” he added. “I hit a homer, so that felt good. I’m an emotional player, that’s who I am. I play hard for my team. I want to win. People feed off my energy, so I’m going to do it all year.”
The Pirates nicked Lodolo for a run in the third and it was 3-2 … a score that stood until the sixth inning.
Junk-thrower Rich Hill, at 43 the oldest player in MLB (19 years, 12 teams) was removed by after five innings, replaced by Chase De Jong.
He walked Wil Myers on four pitches to open the sixth and open the gates. Myers hustled to third on Stephenson’s bloop single to center.
De Jong struck out Newman. Reds manager David Bell decided it was button-pushing time and he pressed the right plunger. He sent Fraley up to pinch-hit for Stuart Fairchild and he detonated the three-run home run to make it 6-2.
The Reds had only one pinch-hit home run all last season and that, too, was hit by Fraley.
“He (De Jong) is a fastball thrower,” said Fraley. “I was looking for a fastball, never coming off of it. But I was able to get myself into a good count (3-and-1) and he was out of the zone. He hung his curveball over the plate, and I was able to put a good swing on it.”
All that was left was for the much-maligned bullpen to nail it down and it used every nail in its pouch, retiring all 16 batters.
Ian Gibaut pitched a perfect inning, Buck Farmer retired the five batters he faced. Reiver Sanmartin retired one hitter and closer Alexis Diaz made his 2023 debut with a 10-pitch 1-2-3 inning that included two strikeouts.
Pirates at Reds, 1:40 p.m., Bally Sports Ohio, 700, 1410
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