It only seems like 1921 was the last time the Cincinnati Reds entered September in legitimate contention for a postseason spot.
The Reds at least appear destined to avoid the National League Central basement for the first time in five years. But after an encouragingly competitive first half of the season, Cincinnati has slowly drifted into a familiar pattern of meaningless late-season baseball.
Well, meaningless only in terms of playoff implications. Michael Lorenzen hid an Easter egg in the Reds’ late-season limp to the finish on Wednesday night by accomplishing a triple-threat feat no major leaguer had in 98 years.
Lorenzen became the first player to hit a home run, play in the field and be credited with the win on the mound in the same game since some guy named Babe Ruth did it in 1921.
Not only that: by going deep during Cincinnati’s 8-5 victory over the Phillies, Lorenzen was part of even more rare history. He was one of four players who did not start Wednesday’s game who homered during it — the others being Cincinnati’s Jose Iglesias and Philadelphia’s Logan Morrison and Jay Bruce. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that hadn’t happened since 1900.
That’s the beauty of baseball. The calendar says it’s football season, as does the weather in the overnight hours in the Ohio Valley, and the Reds’ play of late hasn’t provided any inclination to disagree.
But even as Cincinnati plays out the string for the sixth time in as many Septembers, a Red gave fans a reason to raise an eyebrow at the box score.
Playing 162 games a season affords baseball teams that many more opportunities to engage their backers’ hearts and minds than do other, less-often-played sports. Even if a club squanders most of them, as has Cincinnati, the Reds have managed to provide a few exciting moments in the midst of the slog.
Think Lorenzen’s home run on Aug. 19, 2016, in his first game back with the Reds after the death of his father. That surely plucked the heartstrings of any observer who has had to persevere in the wake of losing a close family member.
Or how about Todd Frazier winning the Home Run Derby at Great American Ball Park in 2015? Cincinnati was already long since out of contention at the All-Star Break that year, but Frazier’s show for the home crowd added a little salve.
And Scooter Gennett became the first Red to hit four home runs in the same game and 17th major leaguer to ever do it on June 6, 2017. That was just three days before the beginning of a 1-13 stretch that sank Cincinnati’s hopes of competing, but Gennett ensured fans would have at least one pleasant memory from that year.
If nothing else, Lorenzen’s accomplishment Wednesday gave Reds fans something to remember from this summer besides the brawls with the Pirates and manager David Bell doing his best Bobby Cox impression by setting Cincinnati’s club record for single-season managerial ejections.
(Mark your calendars for another milestone. Marty Brennaman’s final broadcast as one of the remarkable radio voices in baseball is scheduled for Sept. 26.)
The big picture of this season should be regarded as progress from the recent stretch of only a lack of competitiveness, but a lack of attempt at competitiveness on the part of the front office. These are better days than those, and there is an optimism there are better days than these ahead.
In the meantime, until Cincinnati returns to an honest-to-goodness aim for October, Reds fans can still enjoy the occasional thrills a seven-day-a-week, six-month-a-year game can provide.
Reach ZACK KLEMME at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2658. Follow @zklemmeADI on Twitter.