John Clay

John Clay: Pinstriped supporters invade Cincinnati

The Yankees' Brett Gardner, right, scored past Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan, who was late with the tag during the first game of a day-night doubleheader at Great American Ball Park on Wednesday.
The Yankees' Brett Gardner, right, scored past Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan, who was late with the tag during the first game of a day-night doubleheader at Great American Ball Park on Wednesday. AP

CINCINNATI — The midday traffic told you a happening was going on.

Late morning in the Queen City, motionless autos were backed up all the way to the I-75 Brent Spence Bridge off one exit, to the turnoff from Covington's Clay Wade Bailey bridge off the alternate exit.

Those inching toward Great American Ball Park had plenty of time to take in the view, however. Fans were walking by in their No. 2 Derek Jeter jerseys, their No. 42 Mariano Rivera jerseys, their classic New York Yankee caps, all with grins emanating from the rare opportunity to see their beloved in the flesh.

By mid-afternoon, visiting fans had nearly packed GABP — the 40,010 being just shy of a sellout — and cheered loudly in the sixth inning when Jorge Posada's two-run homer off Mike Leake gave the New Yorkers a 4-2 lead over host Cincinnati.

They produced similar noise in the ninth when Mariano Rivera nailed down his 578th career save by striking out Drew Stubbs for the Yankee win.

Thing was, after last year, the Reds were supposed to be the happening in this town.

It hasn't worked out that way. Not yet, anyway. Last season's National League Central title has turned into this year's mediocrity. Pre-season optimism has given way to late-June frustration. Last season, the Reds were 42-33 after 75 games. After Wednesday's loss in the first game of a day-night doubleheader, they sat 38-37. (The Reds won the nightcap 10-2.)

Optimists hoped a corner had been turned last week. The Reds concluded a productive West Coast road trip with a three-game sweep of the Dodgers. But the trip home apparently took the wind out of Cincinnati's sails.

Dusty Baker's club promptly lost two of three to Toronto. Monday night added a 5-3 loss to the Yankees. Wednesday's doubleheader split left Cincinnati 2-4 on the homestand.

"Things are magnified," Baker said, "when you're not scoring runs."

The Reds are not scoring runs. Before Wednesday's nightcap, they had managed nine runs in five games, and both Wednesday tallies in the first game were unearned.

Alarming stat: In the five home games, the Reds had drawn three walks.

Analysis: Players are trying too hard. They're overswinging, falling behind in counts, then chasing bad pitches.

Joey Votto is batting .320 despite not seeing much to hit. But the reigning MVP fanned twice Wednesday, the fourth time in the past seven games he had suffered multiple Ks. The second came in the eighth after a two-out Brandon Phillips' single.

You see the same thing on the basepaths. Sixth inning, Jay Bruce banged a one-out double off the right-field wall. Next up, Scott Rolen ripped a liner to left. Thinking hit, Bruce strayed toward third base. Strayed too far. After snatching Rolen's liner, left fielder Brett Gardner fired to second baseman Robinson Cano to double up the surprised Bruce.

"You're always trying to score, you know what I mean," Baker said. "Sometimes, you try a little too hard."

A similar sentiment was spoken last season when the Phillies swept the Reds in the playoffs. It was a new experience for a young Reds' team. It would learn. It would know better next time.

But will this year be the next time?

Despite injuries to Adam Wainwright and now Albert Pujols — plus an uncharacteristic 1-7 record from ace pitcher Chris Carpenter — St. Louis entered Wednesday night's play three up on the Reds in the loss column. And tied with Milwaukee.

Maybe Cincinnati playing as division favorite is a learning experience, as well.

"I'm not too worried about our offense," Leake said. "We've got one of the top offenses. We've just got to keep going out there and battling, and eventually they'll score runs for you."

Perhaps, but Wednesday the Yankees were the team the folks came to see.