Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Hamilton's run, Chapman's fastball give Reds speed
CINCINNATI -- Billy Hamilton lowered his shoulders and got into high gear, taking off for second base on Seth Maness' pitch.
Whoosh! He was there. And moments later, he was dashing home with the only run of the game, one that would end with a little more radar-blurring speed.
Closer Aroldis Chapman jogged out of the Cincinnati Reds' bullpen, reached the mound at leisurely pace, and finished off the St. Louis Cardinals with a bevy of 103 mph fastballs that left the Cardinals overmatched.
Whoosh! All three went down swinging.
Cincinnati's 1-0 victory on Tuesday night came down to raw speed, and the Reds now have more of it than anyone else in the NL Central. Hamilton can outrun anyone; Chapman can throw it past anyone.
Call it speed squared. And it might just be enough to help them make that final dash toward another NL Central title.
"An outstanding game," manager Dusty Baker said. "There was a playoff-type atmosphere. I hope we get used to that."
Should be like that the rest of September, especially now that the Reds can play the game so fast that no one can afford to blink.
"Watching Billy run -- I can watch that every day," Reds third baseman Todd Frazier said.
Folks will get to see a lot of baseball's fastest runner this month.
The Reds called up the 22-year-old Hamilton on Monday to give themselves a game changer on the bases. He stole 155 bases in the minors last season, setting a professional record, and was deemed ready to show what he can do on the bases after his first season at Triple-A.
On Tuesday night, he got his chance. After Ryan Ludwick singled to open the seventh inning in a scoreless game, Baker sent him in to run. The crowd of 20,219 fans gave a loud ovation, sounding more like a full house at Great American Ball Park than one half-full.
There was a buzz in the air.
"We knew that this guy's electric," Frazier said.
Such a reaction -- in such a pressure situation -- got Hamilton caught up in the moment.
"I haven't been that nervous in a long time," he said.
After Maness threw to first three times, trying to keep Hamilton close, the 160-pound outfielder took off and beat Yadier Molina's off-target throw to second base. The catcher is one of the best at nailing runners, but had to rush and watched his throw sail up and away.
"That's my job -- steal in big situations," Hamilton said. "I feel this was a real big situation, a pennant race."
Fans in the outfield formed a sign that said, "Run Billy Run." The Reds revved up a version of the "Speed Racer" theme song over the public address system, the one with the chorus: "Go Speed Racer, Go Speed Racer, Go Speed Racer, Go!"
It was hard to hear with the fans going crazy.
Hamilton scored easily when Frazier doubled to left, getting mobbed when he reached the dugout.
"Yeah, it was like we won the World Series," Hamilton said.
The fans and the dugout were still buzzing when Chapman came out of the bullpen to face the heart of St. Louis order -- Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and Allen Craig. Baker wasn't sure what he'd get out of the hard-throwing lefty, who hadn't pitched since Aug. 24 because of the lack of save chances.
Chapman's fastball was clocked at a career-high 106 mph on the Great American Ball Park video board in 2011. He's scaled back on the speed to gain control as a closer the last two seasons. When he hasn't pitched for a few days, his velocity tends to go up and his control goes away.
What would they see this time?
The first pitch to Beltran was a 102 mph fastball for a called strike. Then, three straight sliders registering 90 mph to finish him off.
No messing around with Holliday. All fastballs: 100, 100, 103, 103, 103 mph to get him swinging.
Same with Craig, who saw fastballs at 102 and 103 before getting some sliders than left him flailing, too.
"It looked like the rest didn't hurt Chapman at all," Baker said. "He was throwing harder than he was before."
The Reds took their second straight in their final series against the Cardinals. Pittsburgh leads the division, followed by St. Louis 2 games out and the Reds 3½. All three teams are in good position to make the playoffs, one of them as the division champion and the other two as wild cards.
The Reds finish the season with six of their last nine games against Pittsburgh, including the last three at Great American Ball Park.
With their schedule and their September speed, the Reds have a chance to make a run at another title.
"Maybe the worm has turned in our direction," Baker said. "We're trying to chase them with time running out."
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