“I already knew,” De La Cruz said via interpreter Jorge Merlos. “Those guys would try to get me out, but they don’t have a chance. I’m going to go home anyway.”
When De La Cruz stood on first base, he could have thought back to how he got thrown out at second base when he tried to swipe a bag earlier in the game. But the fastest man in baseball says that no one needs to remind him to stay aggressive.
“It doesn’t matter if they get me out 20 million times,” De La Cruz said. “I’m still going to be aggressive any time I go out there. I just know that I’m going to be better than them.”
Confidence is a tool that can carry a team to wins when so many factors are working against it. The Reds currently have four pitchers out with COVID and four more starting pitchers on the injured list. Over the last week, they’ve patched together nine innings every day with minor league call-ups, including Brett Kennedy, Michael Mariot, Carson Spiers, Connor Phillips, Lyon Richardson, Chasen Shreve and Casey Legumina.
Some of those pitchers are veterans who were surprised to get one more chance in MLB. Some were expecting to finish the season in Triple-A before they were thrown into a playoff race. On top of all of that, Joey Votto, Matt McLain and Jonathan India are still out with injuries.
Since the COVID outbreak started on Friday, the Reds managed to split a series against the Chicago Cubs and win a series over the Mariners, who had been the hottest team in baseball. The Reds responded to a disappointing August with a stunning start to September.
“We miss (the players on the IL) so much,” De La Cruz said. “They’re an essential part of this team. The rest of the team that’s here is going out and competing and trying to get a victory every day. That’s always the vibe that we have every time we go to the ballpark. That’s why I love this team so much. We all know that we want to win.”
De La Cruz slumped badly in August, hitting .198 with a .663 OPS. But in Saturday’s win over the Cubs, he hit the game-tying RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning. De La Cruz reached base three times on Tuesday, including an infield single that he beat out to lead off the ninth inning.
“It’s such a big part of our game that you can’t lose your confidence,” Reds manager David Bell said. “You have to continue to stay with it and look for the next opportunity. You cannot be afraid to fail after something doesn’t go right. That has a lot to do with our success. It definitely shows up on the bases.”
After De La Cruz reached base, he put on a show. He’s becoming a star because of his ability to deliver breathtaking moments. When he reached base in the ninth inning, the entire stadium knew that he’d try to steal second base.
“Everyone was thinking the same thing,” Martini said. “He’s going to create some havoc here. We were just waiting for him to go. He’s unbelievable.’
De La Cruz beat the throw to get in scoring position. Then with Encarnacion-Strand at the plate, De La Cruz took his lead off of second base. Because De La Cruz was a threat to steal third base, Mariners second baseman Josh Rojas stood right on top of the bag to keep De La Cruz as close to the bag as possible.
That opened up the entire right side of the infield for Encarnacion-Strand, who placed his walk-off single into right field.
“When we play teams that are a threat on the bases, it changes the way you defend and it changes the way you pitch,” Bell said. “You have to be quicker. We prepare our pitchers to do that. It can change things with the pressure you put on the pitching and the defense.”
The Reds entered Tuesday tied for the final wild card spot with the Arizona Diamondbacks and the San Francisco Giants. The Reds are entering the stretch run, and a young team is playing critical games without some of their best pitchers.
This season, the Reds have been the best team in baseball at putting together comeback wins. With the odds stacked against them on Tuesday against the Mariners, the Reds did it again.
“Whether we’re down one or two runs, we kind of have that feeling that we’re going to be able to get a walk off,” De La Cruz said. “That’s how this team is. We never give up. It’s a team mentality that we have.”
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Cincinnati Reds Elly De La Cruz magic on bases in win over Mariners