Remember June and July, when the sun blazed down but the Reds were even hotter? A 33-20 record vaulted the Runnin’ Redlegs from the depths of mediocrity into first place with the most exciting brand of baseball in either league. On some nights in recent weeks, those halcyon days seem like a long time ago. August was a chapter we’d all rather forget, a 15-22 spiral that raised eyebrows and doubts in equal measure.
Fast forward to September, and here we are watching the Reds and their TBD pitching staff trying to reclaim that magic as the playoffs loom large. And hope is in the air.
Being at Great American Ball Park over the weekend was an experience. The hope, the fervor, and the passion were palpable. Unfortunately, I was there for just the first two games of the three-game set against St. Louis, both losses, but there did seem to be something electric in the atmosphere. Dare I say belief and optimism? And that was before the Reds showcased a taste of their June-July magic on Sunday, defeating the Cardinals 7-1. I can’t say it was a statement win, but it was a reminder of what this Reds team can do and what they were a couple of months ago.
Fueling this energy was the reunion of Joey Votto and Jonathan India in the lineup, both back from their rehab stints with Triple-A Louisville. Votto was attempting to return after his latest bout with shoulder problems, and the rehab lasted only two games; he went 2-6 with a double and two RBI. India joined Votto in Louisville for those same two games, going 1-5 with a walk, double, two runs, and two RBI before returning to Cincinnati.
The Sunday win came on Votto’s 40th birthday, and he celebrated in style, becoming only the ninth player since 1900 to homer at age 40 or older on his birthday. (He added an RBI groundout as well.) Meanwhile, India, who hadn’t played a big league game since late July due to plantar fasciitis, blasted a home run in his first at-bat and also walked, reached on an error, and stole his 13th base of the season.
Injuries and roster changes have thrown curveballs at the Reds in recent weeks, but manager David Bell summed things up well in the aftermath. “It felt back to normal,” he said. “It felt like our team was back together, at least closer anyway. Those two guys have a lot to do with it. It felt like we got our family back together today, and they both played well and got their first game out of the way. It’s exciting. We’re playing for something right now.”
It wasn’t just about Votto and India. Hunter Greene, freshly activated from the COVID-injured list, hurled six innings of one-hit baseball, accompanied by nine strikeouts. After an uneven start to the game, his rhythm in the final two innings was indicative of a man in control, tossing just 22 pitches over the two frames. He retired the last seven batters, and nine of the last 10. That’s the Hunter Greene we remember.
Sporting a 74-71 record and just two games out of the Wild Card spot, the Reds find themselves on the precipice. It’s now or never. Whether they have what it takes to push through the final stretch remains to be seen, but Cincinnati certainly has a favorable path. Of their 17 remaining games, only one is against a team with a winning record. They head to Detroit this week, marking the onset of a crucial six-game road trip. With a respectable 38-32 record away from home this season and the potential return of rookie pitcher Brandon Williamson from the COVID-IL on Tuesday, the Reds have more than a fighting chance. For the first time in weeks, Cincinnati is almost at full offensive strength, barring rookie infielder Matt McLain, sidelined with a strained oblique.
Looking back, the Reds have provided us with a rollercoaster of emotions. From the highs of summer to the trials of late summer and early fall, it’s been a whirlwind. And now there’s the promise of October baseball. But if the Reds have taught us anything this season, it’s to expect the unexpected.
In baseball, as in life, it’s not about how you start—it’s about how you finish. And with three weeks remaining, the Reds have a chance. That’s more than Reds fans could have hoped for in most seasons over the last three decades. Is it possible that Cincinnati is ready for a big playoff push now that the June/July band is (mostly) back together?
Only time will tell. But whatever happens, this year’s club has shown resilience: They’ve faced adversities, overcome challenges, and now stand at the crossroads with the Wild Card within reach. Perhaps they’re even on a mission from God.
Baseball is the most unpredictable game on Earth, and it’s simply glorious.
Chad Dotson helms Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, The Riverfront. His newsletter about Cincinnati sports can be found at chaddotson.com. He’s @dotsonc on Twitter.