David Ross hit two homers off Marlins staff ace Dontrelle Willis, and the Reds (78-79) moved within 2 1/2 games of the sliding St. Louis Cardinals—who lost 7-5 to San Diego—with Tuesday’s 5-3 win over the Marlins, eliminating them from the playoff race.
“We’re right in the thick of the race,” said Ross, who has three multihomer games this season. “A lot of people counted us out when we had our lull, but we still have high expectations. This has been fun, and we’re still right there.”
Cincinnati has made up four games in the standings the past five days while St. Louis is mired in a seven-game losing streak. The Reds, though, must still overtake the Houston Astros, who have won seven in a row and are one game ahead of the Reds.
“We’re battling and trying to stay alive,” Reds manager Jerry Nerron said. “We’re doing everything we can, playing everybody we have.”
The Reds give the ball to Chris Michalak (2-3, 4.50 ERA), who will try to win consecutive starts for the first time since winning three in a row from April 7-18, 2001, while pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Michalak pitched well in his last start Friday, holding the Chicago Cubs to two runs and four hits in 4 1-3 innings of a 4-2, rain-shortened, five-inning win.
“I didn’t know until they told me…,” Michalak said. “They explained the rule to me, and I said, ‘I’ll take it.”’
It was his first win as a starter since July 8, 2001, over the Montreal Expos as a member of the Blue Jays. Michalak was out of the majors in June 2002 after spending parts of three seasons with Arizona (1998), Toronto (2001) and Texas (2001-02). He returned when the Reds called him up from Triple-A Louisville on Aug. 12 to help an injury-riddled pitching staff.
The 35-year-old Michalak has struggled with the Reds, going 1-3 with a 5.79 ERA in five starts.
The journeyman left-hander, whose best pitchers are his sinker and changeup, will be making his first career start against the Marlins.
Finally eliminated from the playoff race, the Marlins (76-81) are relegated to a spoiler’s role and must win their remaining games to avoid their first losing record since going 79-83 in 2002.
“Even with the odds, I still believed we had a chance,” Marlins manager Joe Girardi said. “It hurts.”
Despite doing an impressive job with a relatively young team and limited financial flexibility, it is widely assumed Girardi will not return for a second season with the Marlins. Girardi has been at odds with owner Jeffrey Luria, who has yet to comment on Girardi’s status for next season despite having him under contract through 2008.
Girardi, though, feels an obligation to see his younger players fulfill their potential and be winners.
“I came here to do a job,” said Girardi, who also said he will not resign. “I love what these kids have accomplished, and I’d like to see it through.”
One of those younger players, 22-year-old Anibal Sanchez (9-3, 2.80), tries to win for the sixth time in his last seven decisions.
Sanchez has gone 5-1 with a 1.71 ERA in his last nine starts, including a no-hitter on Sept. 6—the first in the majors since 2004. His lone loss came against Atlanta on Sept. 16, when he allowed two runs and eight hits over eight innings of a 2-1 loss for his second complete game.
He held the NL East champion New York Mets to two runs and seven hits in seven innings of a 5-2 win on Thursday.