September 28, 2010
The last 15 years of Cincinnati Reds baseball had been so relatively free of highlights that it makes sense their playoff drought would end with a front-of-the-reel clip that will be forever remembered as part of team history.
The star? Jay Bruce(notes). The play? A long drive on Tuesday that led off the ninth inning and cleared the center field fence for a 3-2 win over Houston. The supporting cast? Teammates mobbing home plate and 30,151 fans at Great American Ball Park instantly sent into party mode on a late September night.
From the Associated Press:
"There's nothing like it," said Bruce, who repeatedly got doused with bottles of Korbel champagne and 24-ounce cans of beer.
Championship baseball became common place in Cincinnati during the 1970s with the Big Red Machine and again in 1990 with Lou Piniella's Nasty Boys.
Today's high schoolers along the Ohio/Kentucky border, however, aren't old enough to remember the Reds as October mainstays, let alone single-season guests. Yeah, there was that lost NL wild-card tiebreaker against the Mets in '99, but what followed was a decade of depression. Not even the return of Ken Griffey Jr.(notes) to his hometown or the power of Adam Dunn(notes) could usher in another golden era along the Ohio River. Reds baseball was instead defined by the nine straight losing seasons from 2001 to 2009.
But that must all have seemed like ancient history on Tuesday night as the Reds' impressive collection of young talent — led by NL MVP candidate Joey Votto(notes) — sealed a division title run that saw them sprint away from the St. Louis Cardinals after being the victims of an early-August sweep. With this division flag, manager Dusty Baker becomes only the second manager to take three different NL teams to the playoffs. (Bill McKechnie is the other.)
Whether or not the Reds will be successful in their first playoff appearance since the Clinton administration remains to be seen. But it should be said that no matter what happens, this season should be viewed as a success in Cincinnati. The Reds, after all, stepped out of the loser's yoke they had been saddled with and into their familiar role as division dominator — no small feat in baseball's only six-team division.
Indeed, Bruce's solo shot into the night sky seemed less like an ending for this young team and more like a beginning. Not just for the postseason, but for the foreseeable future, too.