There are those who believe, without having their arms twisted into an Aunt Annie’s soft pretzel, that the two teams playing baseball on the banks of the Ohio River this week are in a dress rehearsal for the World Series.
There are those who know a balk from a beanball who believe the 2013 World Series could be contested between the Cincinnati Reds and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
And the two teams with the red hats played Opening Day as if it was Game 7 of the World Series, a game that wandered and meandered for 13 innings before a two-out, two-run, bases-loaded single by Chris Iannetta gave the Angels a 3-1 victory — five hours after the projected excitement began.
These predictions of top-shelf success come despite the despicable records the two teams spliced together in the desert sands during spring training — the two worst exhibition records in Arizona (13-20 by the Reds and 10-20 by the Angels).
But when the Angels can send Mike Trout, Erick Aybar, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton to the plate in one, two, three, four order, everybody knows a slew of defeats among the sagebrush is a mirage.
The Reds could say the same thing with their one, two, three, four punch of Shin-Soo Choo, Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto and Ryan Ludwck. Except that sense of order was destroyed on Opening Day when Ludwick dislocated his right shoulder on a head-first slide into third base in the third inning and could be inoperative for six to eight weeks.
It brought quickly to mind what Reds manager Dusty Baker said a couple of hours before the game: “It’s a new year and, No. 1, you have to stay healthy.”
And then, healthy took a hit — the disastrous head first slide by Ludwick. So now, one game into the season, Baker has to find another left fielder (Chris Heisey?) and another clean-up hitter (Jay Bruce? Brandon Phillips?).
Still, the way Angels and Reds went after each other on a tersely chill afternoon on Opening Day Monday in Great American Ball Park was the stuff of postseason play.
It was a clinic of practically perfect pitching. Angels starter Jered Weaver gave up one run and only two hits in six innings, walking two and striking out four. Reds starter Johnny Cueto went seven innings and gave up one run and three hits while walking two and striking out nine.
That was the perfect scenario with the way Baker likes to set things up — seven innings by the starter, a perfect one-two-three eighth inning (two strikeouts) by Jonathan Broxton and a nearly clean ninth by closer Aroldis Chapman (no runs, no hits, one walk, two strikeouts).
The problem with the scenario was that the Angels wouldn’t follow script. Their bullpen wouldn’t give up a nick, either, and the game unfolded into extra innings.
A National League scout was mesmerized by Cueto’s change-up and said, “It’s a pitch that makes him devastating because he can throw it for strikes on any pitch, on any count, and a hitter can’t sit on any pitch. And when he reaches back he can find 95 miles an hour. I wonder about his size, about his stamina late in the season.”
So does Cueto. When he reported to camp and slimmer, trimmer version of himself, at 205 pounds, he said early in camp, “I feel too weak, not strong enough. I’m going back to the 213 I weighed last year — lots of rice and beans the rest of spring.”
Of course, this was the first Opening Day in history that was also an interleague game — a necessity due to the defection of the Houston Astros to the American League, giving both leagues 15 teams and necessitating one interleague game at all times.
So the Reds and Angels drew the first short straw and just happened to be two teams to which Las Vegas is applying a heavy burden.
“They didn’t play well in the spring and neither did we,” said Baker. The Reds and Angels had the two worst records in Arizona. “And those are two quality teams that are matched up. It is a little weird playing an interleague game on Opening Day. It’s a little different in that they probably aren’t very familiar with us and we aren’t very familiar with us.”
The way they played this one was as if they’d never seen each other before, although they met a couple of times in spring training.
Baker shrugs off any references to reading about how great his team is, or is supposed to be.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Baker. “No 1, I don’t read it. You have to play on the field. You don’t play on predictions and you don’t play on what the experts say. You just play. Period.
“Different guys have to have good seasons,” Baker added. “It doesn’t matter about predictions, you just have to beat whoever is in the way.”