An SP78 record was established tonight at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, and it had nothing at all to do with the 16 runs and 15 hits the visiting Reds collected off seven Braves pitchers in a 16-7 win over their cellar-dwelling NL West counterparts. Nor did it have anything to do with the 36 total players used in the game, the eight runs scored in the Cincinnati seventh, or the fact that Braves reliever Dave Campbell allowed six earned runs in one-third of an inning pitched.
No, this was a fielding record, and Reds catcher Johnny Bench, a two-time NL MVP and winner of a Gold Glove in each of his first ten seasons, was none too happy about it.
Bench was charged with three passed balls in this evening’s game, breaking the Statis Pro 1978 Replay record of two shared by five other catchers, and most recently achieved by Bill Nahorodny of the White Sox on June 25th. “All three balls were catchable,” Bench told WLW after the game, “and unless Mario (Soto) and Dan (Dumoulin) were throwing spitters, I can’t imagine how I let them get by.” He then added, “I hope this doesn’t become a habit.”
After just four passed balls through the All-Star break, Bench has now been saddled with four in the past four games, but luckily for him, before his three today could do any damage, the Reds had already built a 5-0 lead in the first off Braves starter Preston Hanna, thanks to a pair of prodigious home runs from two Cincinnati sluggers: a 3-run shot by George Foster and—after a follow-up single by Bench—a two-run blast from Dan Driessen. One double by Champ Summers later, Hanna was done and was replaced by Rick Camp, who struck out Soto to end the carnage.
For the time being, anyway. Down by five, the Braves responded in the bottom half of the frame with three runs of their own, capitalizing on two base hits, a bobbled grounder by Driessen, the first of two Bench PB’s in the inning, and a gap double by shortstop Darrel Chaney, hitting a commendable .315 after flirting with .400 earlier in the year. At the end of one inning, the Reds held a slim 5-3 lead.
Three innings later, and with Manny Sarmiento now pitching for the Reds in place of a tired Soto, the Braves made a game of it, striking for two runs on consecutive doubles by Dale Murphy and again by Chaney, and an RBI single from pinch-hitting Brian Asselstine. Suddenly the score was knotted at 5-5, and with the meat of the Cincinnati lineup due to bat in the fifth, Braves manager Bobby Cox chose to make a switch, bringing in Jamie Easterly to replace Camp, who’d gone three scoreless innings and had given up just one hit.
And for one inning that strategy seemed to work, as Easterly retired three of the four Reds batters he faced. But the floodgates of the Big Red Machine were flung open wide in the sixth: three hits and three runs off Easterly (0-7), capped by a Ken Griffey double that scored both Junior Kennedy and Pete Rose. After winning pitcher Pedro Borbon (4-2) went one perfect inning for Cincinnati in the fifth, the Braves attempted to stem the tide, scoring two off Dave Tomlin in the sixth to get back in the game. Unfortunately for the home squad, it would be the last of their run production for the night.
The Reds, however, were far from done, erupting for eight more runs in the seventh off Campbell and Craig Skok, who together allowed four hits and five walks as the run-happy Reds batted around, sending thirteen men to the plate. A frustrated Skok finally ended the deluge by fielding a comebacker off the bat of Kennedy for the third out, and though Gene Garber came on to silence the visiting squad over the final two frames, Cincinnati relievers Tom Hume and Dumoulin did the same to Atlanta to wrap up the 16-7 win.
For the Reds, their 16 runs was the most they’ve scored in a game all season, while the win was their second in a row, and eighth out of their last eleven. Meanwhile, the Braves—along with reliever Easterly—have now lost seven straight, their second-longest losing streak of the season, and they’re still the only team in the NL not to have won 40 games.
As for Bench, his trio of faux pas in tonight’s contest were a far cry from the major league record of six, set in 1902 by Rube Vickers, also of the Reds, who took a break from pitching and caught one game for Cincinnati during that long-ago season. When Cox was asked by reporters what problem Bench might have been having behind the plate tonight, he responded, “I think he had a case of the yips.”
The two teams will meet again tomorrow for the middle game of their three game series at Fulton County Stadium. To see a more in-depth recap and to make comments, click here.