1995 Cincinnati Reds season

5 03 2012

In most seasons, the Reds had the first Opening Day game of the year, usually an early afternoon game an hour or two the rest of the EST games.  Because of the strike, this didn’t happen in 1995.  There was one night game featuring the Dodgers at the Marlins to open the season on April 25th.  I don’t even think the Reds had the first day game on the 26th.  It was a strange year from this perspective.  The Findlay Market parade was actually held on the originally scheduled opening date of April 3rd, despite a last-minute cancellation of the replacement games.

The Reds lost that opener to the Cubs, 7-1, as Jose Rijo was shelled in 5+ innings of work.  And the Reds had a horrendous beginning – they lost their first 6 games of the season and started 1-8.  But for the rest of the season, they were the best team in the National League.  By the All-Star break, they had a 5 game lead in the division.  Manager Davey Johnson had the Reds thinking playoffs at the time of the ’94 strike, and he got them there in 1995.  The Reds went 85-59, beating out the Astros by 9 games.  Unfortunately, Johnson didn’t last past the ’95 season – he was fired because Marge Schott didn’t approve of him living with his fiance before they were married.  Yeah, that’s true.

Despite losing slugger Kevin Mitchell to Japan, the Reds offense was excellent in 1995.  Only the Coors Field Rockies scored more runs.  The Reds had 3 hitters – Barry Larkin, Reggie Sanders and Ron Gant – make the All-star team.  Larkin (SS) and Gant (DH) both started.  Gant was a particular surprise, hitting 28 homers and knocking in 88 runs after injury had kept him out of baseball the entire 1994 season.  This was one of the first examples where GM Jim Bowden showed his knack for getting value free agents that other teams thought were washed up.  Benito Santiago was another valuable free agent signing – he and Eddie Taubensee platooned to give the Reds the most productive catcher position outside of Los Angeles.  The Reds also got a familiar face at the trade deadline – Mariano Duncan joined yet another playoff team to back up Bret Boone at 2nd base.

But Larkin and Sanders were the Reds true stars.  Sanders hit 28 homers with 99 RBI and got legitimate MVP consideration.  Larkin was the catalyst for the team, hitting .319 with 15 homers, 51 stolen bases, 98 runs and 66 RBI.  This and his 2nd straight Gold Glove award netted him league MVP honors – he was the first Red to do so since the days of the Big Red Machine.

Though the offense was better in 1995, the pitching was truly the difference between good and great.  John Smiley was the team’s 4th All-Star representative, and was the team’s best pitcher in the first half.  But Pete Schourek was the team’s best pitcher for the whole season, going 18-7 and placing 2nd to Greg Maddux in the Cy Young voting.  The Reds also picked up David Wells at the trade deadline from Detroit to bolster the rotation – he won 16 games combined in 1995.  Jeff Brantley established himself as a dominant closer, notching 28 saves in 32 chances.

The Reds rolled into the first National League Division Series in history against the Dodgers and their fantastic trio of international starting pitchers.  Behind great pitching from Schourek, they shelled ace Ramon Martinez to take game 1, 7-2, in Dodger Stadium.  Game 2, though, was a nail biter.  Smiley was very good as well, giving up just 2 runs in 7 innings.  But Ismael Valdez was even better – his lone mistake were 2 unearned runs from a 4th inning homer to Sanders.  But Larkin hit a 2-out RBI single in the 8th, and the Reds put 2 more on the board in the top of the 9th.  Jeff Brantley had a shaky 9th – giving up Eric Karros 2nd home run of the day, but the Reds held on, 5-4.  Two days later, they pounded Hideo Nomo for 5 runs in 5 innings, and Mark Lewis capped off a 10-2 win with a grand slam in the 6th.  The Reds swept their way into their second NLCS in 6 seasons.  This is still their last playoff victory.

The more experienced Braves pitching staff posed a much bigger problem for the Reds in the next series.  Schourek actually out-pitched Tom Glavine through 8 innings, taking a 1-0 lead in the 9th.  But 2 leadoff singles led to an RBI ground out by Dave Justice, and the Reds lost it on a Mike Devereaux single in the 11th.  In game 2, Smiley matched John Smoltz to a 2-2 tie through 9 innings, but a 3-run homer by Javy Lopez off Mark Portugal in the top of the 10th capped a 6-2 Braves victory.  The Reds headed to Atlanta having lost 2 extra-innings games at home.

It got worse from there.  Wells started off well in game 3, but Maddux was dominant and the Braves won 5-2.  Schourek gave up only one run in 6 innings in game 4, but Portugal again allowed the Braves to blow the game open, giving up 5 runs in the 7th, including a 3-run homer to Series MVP Devereaux.  The Reds were swept out of the playoffs, where they wouldn’t return for 15 years.

Team MVP: Barry Larkin (.319/15/66, 98 R, 51 SB, Gold Glove, MVP)

Best Pitcher: Pete Schourek (18-7/3.22/160)

Award Winners:

Larkin, MVP, Gold Glove & Silver Slugger

Gant, TSN Comeback PoY

All-Stars:

Larkin (starter)

Gant (starter)

Reggie Sanders

John Smiley

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