Last night, as we sat around the television counting down the outs, the most unlikely hero in the Reds' rotation emerged. Homer Bailey accomplished what no other Red could since 1988. He threw a no-hitter.
Homer Bailey, maybe unjustly, has caught a bad rap in Cincinnati. Most likely, this has to do with all the hype that surrounded the Texan after being drafted seventh overall in 2004. In 2007, he finally hit the big leagues, with expectations of the youngster to become the club's ace. Because of control issues, he hasn't maintained the consistent success that many in Cincinnati had hoped for. Much to the delight of the rest of the NL Central, Bailey is known for his inconsistency: one night a gem, the next outing a joke.
The division, though, is scared of Bailey the kid of late, and rightfully so.
Third or fourth best in most rotations would probably mean you're a pretty expendable arm. In Cincinnati, however, with Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, and even Bronson Arroyo, fourth is a pretty respectable place to be.
ESPN Sweetspot blogger Dave Schoenfield referred to Bailey in today's blog as an "elite pitcher." Most in Cincinnati would look at the name and the label and laugh. Homer? Our Homer?
Schoenfield, obviously not from Cincinnati, pulls some pretty incredible stats from last night's performance.
1. After averaging 90 mph on his fastball through three innings and 90.6
in the middle three, Bailey amped it up to 92.1 over the final three
innings. A little adrenaline, sure, but it's also an approach Justin Verlander has mastered in recent seasons, saving your best bullets for late in the game.
2. Bailey registered 17 swings-and-misses in the game, his
second-highest total in 2012, so the pure stuff was excellent on this
3. He threw his fastball for strikes 76 percent of the time, his third-highest percentage of the season.
The third point is the most important. As we have lost confidence in Bailey over the years, he has gained control. According to Schoenfield, his walk percentage by season has steadily dropped: 13.7 percent, 9.4, 10.5, 8.6, 5.9, 6.1. (Compare those to the 2012 walk percentages of R.A. Dickey, 6.0%, Johnny Cueto, 5.6%, and Stephen Strasburg, 7.4%). 2012 is Bailey's first double-digit win season, but also his first double-digit loss season (13-10), with injuries and minor league appearances scattered across his career. The numbers don't lie: Homer Bailey is improving. Elite, though? Ask me at the end of October.
There is no denying after last night that, for the Reds to make the playoff run the city, Bailey is going to have to play a key role. His arm lies in a critical part of the rotation, beyond the one-two punch of Cueto and Latos, deep in the trenches where having a solid arm will tip the scales.
Homer Bailey shocked Cincinnati last night. It may have been the seventh MLB no-no this year, but the only one that matters to the Queen City, a performance even Tom Browning must respect.
Forget now about the stats, and even the dismal batting performance by the Reds. The true romanticism of baseball shined bright as catcher Ryan Hanigan ran to the mound to give the new Cincy immortal a triumphant hug.
Homer Bailey's smile said it all. Our Homer?
Yes, our Homer.