|Reds fans hope their team can avoid an unprecedented meltdown. (US Presswire)|
CINCINNATI -- This is not a city of optimism. As soon as Scott Rolen bobbled Joaquin Arias' grounder in the 10th inning of Game 3 of this National League Division Series, Great American Ball Park went quiet and a sense of defeat and imminent doom found its familiar port on the Ohio River.
This is a city where even a 2-1 series lead is seen as an insurmountable deficit, so after the
Oh, the Reds still have hope, and they said as much after the game. Their hopes are on Mat Latos, a reputed Giant killer. The hopes lie on the dormant offense, awakening for at least one more game, to move on to the team's first League Championship Series in 17 years.
Those 25 men in the Reds dugout believe, but they might be the only people in Cincinnati with that hope. Outside those walls, fans boo Dusty Baker, boo Drew Stubbs, boo Mike Leake and wait for the worst to befall their city once again.
|More on Reds|
|Who wins World Series?|
"I think our fans have a pretty interesting way of showing their support. I understand being into the game and wanting the best for us, but sometimes it's hard to tell whether you're at home or on the road," Reds outfielder Jay Bruce said.
"Our fans are what make us go. It's why baseball and sports in general are so great -- the fans drive the teams. We want our fans on our side. We need our fans on our side."
It was only four days previously that Johnny Cueto's early exit and the team's Game 1 victory showed the resiliency of this team. Then Bronson Arroyo showed the depth of the rotation, and even for much of the Game 3 loss, Homer Bailey dominated. But you could tell the pessimistic mood of the crowd Tuesday -- when Brandon Phillips ran the team out of a potential big first inning -- or Wednesday -- when not even all the seats had been filled and Angel Pagan put Leake's second pitch of the game into the right-field stands.
This was a fan base ready for the fall, ready to be disappointed again. And for a bit, you can almost understand. Before Game 1 on Saturday, neither of the team's two major professional sports teams had won a postseason game since 1995. Since then, the Reds had made only one postseason appearance (and lost a one-game playoff to the Mets in 1999), not only getting swept by the Phillies in 2010, but also being no-hit by Roy Halladay.
And then there's the Bengals, the woeful Bengals. Often noted as perhaps the worst organization in the NFL, if not pro sports, the Bengals haven't won a playoff game since they beat the Houston Oilers in January 1991.
Think about that for a second. Bruce is a native of Beaumont, Texas, close to Houston. When the Oilers left Houston, Bruce had yet to celebrate his 10th birthday. That's how long it has been since the Bengals were a winner.
This is a city that has been taught hubris time and again.
Most recently it was 2005, when Carson Palmer was injured on the team's first pass play in its first playoff game since the early '90s. That led to a defeat in the playoffs, and even worse, yet another Super Bowl title for the hated Pittsburgh Steelers.
In 2000, the University of Cincinnati men's basketball team was the biggest, baddest team in the country before player of the year Kenyon Martin broke his leg in the Conference USA tournament, taking the heart out of a team that seemed ready to give the city a championship.
Now add Johnny Cueto and his oblique to the list of great Cincinnati injuries. Unlike the injuries to Palmer and Martin, Cueto's oblique was the slow, painful pull of a Band-Aid from an injury instead of the quick, sudden, definitive pains of the previous two injuries. Sure, the Reds came back in Game 1, thanks in no small part to Latos, but the absence of the Cy Young candidate shuffled the team's rotation, forcing them to scramble, and they didn't even officially announce Leake would be starting until Wednesday morning.
What seems cruel is that the town was tempted by hope -- going into Game 5, no National League team in the wild-card era has ever won the first two games in a five-game division series and went on to lose. Only four, all American League teams, have done so -- and none since 2003. The Reds would also be the first team to win two games on the road and lose three at home in a division series.
The Reds say they believe, and they have to. This is a team that won 97 games in the regular season, a team that lost its closer before he even threw a pitch in its uniform, a team that played two months without perhaps the best hitter in the National League, a team that recorded 44 come-from-behind victories during the season. It's also a team that hasn't lost three home games in a row all season.
"That team over there won 94 games; we knew they weren't going to give up," Reds outfielder Ryan Ludwick said. "They took the challenge and they battled back. Now it's our turn, our backs are against the wall. We've got to see what we're made of."
The Reds believe, but it doesn't seem too many others do.