CINCINNATI — Pretenders fold. At the first blow of hot air, pretenders wilt. And melt. Pretenders crumble. Not contenders. They fight. And scratch. And claw. Contenders are always coiled for a comeback.
Ok, OK, so the rally-cry had been the new-look Cincinnati Reds' theme music. Kings of the comeback. Best in the major leagues, and all that.
Wednesday at Great American Ball Park, however, here they were down three runs after five innings to not just the Philadelphia Phillies, but to Roy Halladay, arguably the best pitcher in the big leagues.
"Give him a three-run lead," said Reds Manager Dusty Baker afterward, "generally, it's game-time."
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Think he meant game-over. What happened was Reds' time. Joey Votto stroked a sixth-inning homer to get the home team on the scoreboard. Orlando Cabrera singled in a seventh-inning run to shave the lead to one. Then in the eighth inning, with Jonny Gomes at first base, Halladay still on the mound, the first pitch came down the pipe to Jay Bruce.
"I was looking for something to barrel," the right fielder would say later.
Bruce barreled the hero shot into the right-field seats. Francisco Cordero nailed down the ninth inning. Marty Brennaman pronounced that this one belonged to the Reds. A day-game crowd that included 6,178 walk-ups cheered. Cincinnati 4, Philadelphia 3.
"You want to leave for a road trip on a high note," said Baker inside his office. "It doesn't get any higher than that."
Pause now for a calendar check. Thursday's game in Chicago will be Cincinnati's 80th of the season. The club is 44-35. And in case you were wondering if the Reds are really for real, Wednesday's win supplied additional confirmation.
"That's the kind of guy we're going to be facing if and when we make the playoffs," Bruce said of Halladay, who entered the day with a 2.29 ERA.
Now that June is in the books, Bruce's "if/when" statement has an authentic ring. St. Louis might end up winning the National League Central, any number of teams could snatch the wild card, but the feeling is growing that Bob Castellini's team will be in it until they zip up the bat bags for the final time.
This we do know: Contenders must have proper parts. This one has veteran leadership in Scott Rolen, youthful ability in Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips, a live arm in Johnny Cueto, a gritty battler in Bronson Arroyo and a confident closer in Coco Cordero. It also has more viable pitching options than any time in the franchise's recent history. But contending teams also require an x-factor.
Resilient are these Reds. Deficits fail to cause despair. Wednesday marked Cincinnati's 25th comeback win of the season. That get-it-done stat leads the majors. It was the club's 14th win in its final at-bat. Only Atlanta boasts as many. If you haven't noticed, the Braves are having a bravo season, as well.
"It's fun, man," Bruce said. "We have a good time. We have a blast. We have a lot of guys on here that have won, and know how to win. It's almost like when we do it, yes, it's always a delight and surprising, but it's not really like a true shock, because we've been there before, and we've been doing it since day one."
There will be tough days ahead. There are still 83 games to play. Thursday brings important road work. Four games in Chicago are followed by three in New York and four in Philadelphia. It will be 15 days before the Reds return to GABP. The All-Star break will have been completed.
"Every stretch is crucial," Baker said. "But it seems like before the break is when teams lose ground or make up ground."
Or, as the winning pitcher and 40-year-old sage Arthur Rhodes said afterward, "We've got to go to Chicago and take care of some games."
That's what contenders do.