Saturday, September 29, 2012
Back to reality for Homer Bailey after no-hitter
PITTSBURGH -- Homer Bailey celebrated the most unforgettable night of his still blossoming career in a quiet hotel bar with a handful of Cincinnati Reds teammates, who made sure the first Reds pitcher in 24 years to throw a no-hitter didn't have to pick up the tab.
There, over bourbon on the rocks, Bailey did his best to answer each of the 140-plus congratulatory messages he received from well-wishers while trying not to let his 1-0 masterpiece over the floundering Pittsburgh Pirates go to his head.
On that front, he quite literally failed.
Asked on Saturday if he'd come back to earth after experiencing such a lofty high, the 26-year-old right-hander couldn't stifle a grin.
"Hangovers usually do that, yeah," Bailey said with a laugh.
Mild headache aside, Bailey went through his usual post-start routine on Saturday, getting in a little light throwing and running in while a member of the clubhouse staff cut out a newspaper picture of Bailey's arms aloft in triumph.
At one point Bailey hopped onto a computer to watch video of his 115-pitch gem, focusing on a ninth inning in which he racked up three routine outs, the final one coming on a shallow pop to second baseman Brandon Phillips to finish off baseball's seventh no-hitter of the season.
There were other starts this year, Bailey admitted, when he had better stuff. None of them, however, produced the kind of brilliance he showcased while striking out 10 batters against just one walk.
It was the kind of performance the Reds envisioned when they took Bailey with the seventh overall pick of the 2004 draft. It was one that seemed out of reach at times during Bailey's turbulent first five seasons in the majors.
While not exactly blaming it on the pressure that comes with being such a highly touted prospect, Bailey allows there were times -- particularly in the last two seasons -- when he would try to ignore the pain in his throbbing right shoulder and pitch anyway.
It led to mixed results at best. He began the year with a career record of 25-23 and looked as if he may never develop into a top of the rotation ace. He bulked up over the winter to help his 6-foot-3 frame hold up over the grind of the regular season while also focusing on becoming less of a thrower and more of a pitcher.
The results were promising heading even before he handcuffed the Pirates over nine crisp innings. When Bailey made it through the fifth he reached the 200-inning plateau for the first time in his career and at 13-10 with a 3.75 ERA he's been a vital contributor to one of baseball's most durable rotations.
"There's such a big difference this year as opposed to the last two years on how many starts I took where I shouldn't have been out there, I was hurting a lot," Bailey said. "When you go out there, you can deal with things not feeling right, because that's just part of it. But when things are hurt, that's a different game."
Healthy now for a team with World Series expectations, Bailey sees his memorable night as the kind of late-season boost he hopes gives the National League Central champions momentum heading into October.
"We're not done yet, we've still got five games left," he said. "Hopefully we'll get on a roll before we get in the playoffs and hopefully I'll be a part of that."
Bailey still expects to start in the regular season finale on Wednesday in St. Louis, a game that could have serious postseason implications as Cincinnati battles Washington for the NL's best record and the homefield advantage that comes along with it.
It's been a special season in Cincinnati, though Bailey bemoans how it's been tough for the Reds to get any traction nationally or even in their own town. He's not exactly upset his big night thrust the spotlight on his team.
"We get the pain in the (butt) of listening about the (19)70-whoever Reds, but nobody's talking about this team and the things that we've done," Bailey said.
Cincinnati will get all the attention it wants if it can make a deep postseason run, one Bailey expects to be a big part of as the Reds gun for their first World Series crown since 1990. He was still in preschool when Cincinnati upset Oakland in the 1990 World Series.
"I think what everybody is witnessing with this team is pretty special and it shouldn't go overlooked," Bailey said.
The Reds and Bailey certainly weren't overlooked on Friday as he became the first pitcher to no-hit the Pirates since Bob Gibson did it 41 years ago. That's heady territory, to be sure, though his teammates believe Bailey is starting to finally come into his own.
"To me, at 26, 27, he's got a lot of time to get better and he's already shown he's an established quality starter," said catcher Ryan Hanigan. "Whether he becomes an ace or not, we'll see."
Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP