In what should have been one of the most over-charged, most deafening moments of the afternoon Wednesday at Great American Ball Park — two out in the bottom of the ninth, the Reds’ Todd Frazier at the plate representing the tying run, playoff ramifications hanging on the game’s outcome — the lone voice came through clear and cutting and without drowning background noise.
“There was this lady five rows behind the dugout who actually stood up during Todd Frazier’s at-bat in the last inning and shouted, ‘We have a great team, but our fans (expletive) suck!’ ” Reds’ veteran left fielder and always straight-shooter Ryan Ludwick said afterward with similar fan puzzlement, but certainly no enmity.
“I looked back — looked right at her — and thought ‘Wow! That was bold!’ She was just disappointed that it wasn’t louder. And in actuality we were only down one run. A home run ties it. A base-runner puts us in position to win it.”
A night earlier, Ludwick claimed, it was not the 30-something woman but a New York Mets fielder who voiced similar sentiment:
“I’m gonna be anonymous here, but someone got on base and one of the opposing players was like, ‘What’s going on here? You guys are a good team and the stands are like half full. You’re in the middle of a pennant race and there’s no one out here. What’s going on?’
“So it’s not like we’re the only ones seeing it. … You’re talking to guy who was in St. Louis (four of his 11 big-league seasons were with the Cardinals), and I’m not comparing but, coming over here I heard about how big of a baseball town this is and … uhhmmm. Personally, I felt like this past series, even though it’s against the Mets and they’re not a playoff team, there wasn’t a lot of energy in the ballpark.”
He was talking about the stands, but the same could be said about the Reds on the field.
Wednesday’s 1-0 loss, coupled with Tuesday night’s 4-2 defeat, means Cincinnati lost the series to the floundering Mets, who entered Wednesday 21 games back in the NL East.
In the past 15 days, the Reds, who have at least landed a wild-card berth in the NL playoffs, have also lost a series to the lowly Chicago Cubs (28 back in the NL Central) and another to Milwaukee (22 1/2).
Had Cincinnati taken care of business against three teams it had no business losing to, it might have won the NL Central and certainly wouldn’t be forced to have to win two of the last three games against Pittsburgh in the season-ending series at GABP to be assured of home-field advantage in the one-game wild-card playoff against the same Pirates.
So fans were disappointed Wednesday (even Joey Votto heard some boos after going 0-4, two of those fruitless at-bats coming with a pair of runners on), and that could have drained some of their life.
Still, one thing should be noted here. With Wednesday’s crowd of 26,223, the Reds set a season attendance record at GABP with 2,371,103 people already through the turnstiles.
With that in mind, Ludwick was given baseball’s version of the chicken-and-egg question:
Couldn’t the fans have been waiting to draw some energy Wednesday from the Reds?
And what did the team give them?
Cincinnati managed four hits. It left six men on base. Votto and cleanup hitter Brandon Phillips were a combined 0-for-8.
Even the things people have come to expect didn’t happen.
Although he had been a perfect 13-for-13 in stolen-base attempts since making his big-league debut earlier this month, speedster Billy Hamilton, professional baseball’s most prolific thief the past three seasons, was thrown out trying to steal second by Mets catcher Juan Centeno in the fifth.
And it was Justin Turner’s slow, broken-bat grounder between first and second, a ball that neither the acrobatic Phillips nor Votto moved on, that skittered into right field and gave in the Mets the only run they needed.
Except for starter Mat Latos’s gritty pitching — and even then he was saddled with the loss — Reds fans had nothing to cheer.
So the subdued nature shouldn’t be a surprise. Maybe folks were waiting for the players to give them something — anything — to embrace.
Ludwick thought a second, and shrugged: “What are you waiting for?”
He said the Reds have given folks here plenty to cheer: “We have been a dominant ballclub two years running.
“Teams that have been on a good run, and let me take one of the most recent, San Francisco — every day (there) it’s rockin’. When we went to Pittsburgh (last weekend) they had an advantage because their place was loud. They were already in a playoff atmosphere.
“When you are on the field, I don’t care who you are, if you’re the opposing team, you hear it. It makes a difference.”
Ludwick caught himself and with a half-smile admitted he was on something of a “rant.”
He knew some people might take it wrong, so he tried to clarify: “I guess you could say I might be calling people out. But I’m doing it in a positive way. We want ‘em. We want ‘em loud. We want energetic people. It gives us energy. It’s like a natural Red Bull.
“The thing is, we’re just as hungry as (the fans) are. We want to keep this rolling to win a World Series. That’s what we want. I think that’s what everybody in the city wants. And we need every positive we can get.
“….(So) I’m just trying to stoke ‘em up a little bit. You know how it is with a fire? The coals underneath, you just move ‘em around and get some air underneath and let things kind of heat up and get it going. That’s all I’m trying to do — stoke ‘em up.”