Young Red Machine rolling in Cincinnati

The 1975 model of the Big Red Machine was one of the greatest teams in baseball history.

Johnny Bench isn’t walking through that door. Joe Morgan isn’t walking through that door. Neither is Tony Pérez or Dave Concepción. And Pete Rose, well, he’s not even allowed near that door.

The Big Red Machine is only a memory now – a ghost relegated to ESPN Classic, chronicled in books, and honored in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.

Cincinnati baseball lives in that memory. The present has been too painful. [...]

Ken Griffey, Sr. was a key cog of the Machine. He roamed the outfield with César Gerónimo and George Foster during the legendary run. He was at his best when the Machine was rolling. In 1976, he batted a career high .336, good for second in the National League and the Reds won their second straight World Series.

Ken Griffey, Jr. came to Cincinnati in 2000, a year after the team won 96 games but missed out on the playoffs. Junior was the best in the game. With him in town, the Reds seemed primed to take a big step and become a top team in baseball again. Griffey had some of the worst seasons of his career in Queen City and the team crumbled with him. The graceful center fielder in Seattle was soon a ghost of the past swallowed up by Cincinnati. He became a mainstay on the disabled list and the greatest player of the era lost his chance to be the best ever. The Reds never smelled the playoffs during Griffey’s eight plus years in Ohio.

The Big Red Machine was still covered in memory’s dust, gone forever along with Riverfront Stadium. Just another ghost – stuck in the past – haunting the big ballpark in Cincinnati.

The spirit of the Big Red Machine is still alive somewhere in Cincinnati, waiting – hoping – to break free and captivate the city again.

Each year during the last decade, it seemed the spirit was finally free. Hope enveloped the city. The Redlegs were winners again.

And each year, the spirit died before it was ever alive. The hope was false. And the Reds were still mediocre at best.

June 8, 2006. The Reds were in first place in the division.

October 27, 2006. The Reds were at home watching as the Cardinals celebrated their World Series championship. Cincinnati finished the year 80-82 and missed out on postseason baseball. The Cards were 83-78 and won the World Series. It could have been the Reds, but in reality, they never had a chance.

The Reds have been a team to watch during the past two seasons. A team that could make some noise and surprise some people. Last year was a typical year for Cincy. They finished fourth in the division with a 78-84 record. No surprises, just disappointment.

The disappointment dissipated as the winter passed and spring sprung on a new year of baseball. The hope returned. Maybe the 2010 Cincinnati Reds would be different.

May 16, 2010. The Reds take over first place for the first time since 2006 with a win over the Cardinals.

Cincinnati took two out of three from the heavy division favorite to jump St. Louis in the standings. The spirit can be felt again. Baseball is exciting in Cincinnati.

Maybe this Reds team is different.

With second place always only a loss away, Cincinnati has risen to the challenge. Since taking over first, the Reds have stayed hot with two straight wins against the Brewers.

Yesterday, the win streak and first place were in jeopardy.

Heading into the ninth inning, Cincy trailed 4-2. Trevor Hoffman was on the mound for Milwaukee and it looked like the Reds would lose their half game lead in the division.

The game was far from over.

Scott Rolen hit a pinch-hit two run-shot to tie the game with no outs. Joey Votto finished things off with a walk-off single and the Reds won 5-4 to hold on to first place for another day.

Maybe this Reds team is special.

A new Red Machine is rolling in Cincinnati. The spirit of the ’70s can be felt a little more every day. It may be here to stay this year. The surprise may be reality in 2010.

Scott Rolen’s blast to the left center seats the fitting highlight of the run so far.

Rolen’s veteran presence is why this team is different than the others. He is known as a winner around baseball. He still has some magic left in his bat. And he’s still playing Gold Glove defense at third. In St. Louis, he was a big part of the 2006 World Series championship team. He comes to work every day. His tough playing style has rubbed off on the young nucleus of this Reds club.

Orlando Cabrera is also new to Cincinnati. He brings a penchant for winning with him. The shortstop has won at every stop in his career since leaving Montreal in 2004. Cabrera anchored the Boston Red Sox middle infield during their magical run to the World Series that broke the curse. He would then spend three years with the Angels who won the division twice. Cabrera was right in the middle of the Minnesota Twins playoff push last year, too. The Twins won their one-game playoff in the Metrodome in 12 innings. Cabrera hit a two-run home run in the game.

“This is the most unbelievable game I’ve ever played or seen,” Cabrera said after the game.

Cabrera always seems to find a winning team.

Like Rolen, he has a big moment for the Reds this year, gunning down Skip Schumaker at the plate for the final out of the Reds first win over the Cards last weekend.

Perhaps Cincinnati will create greater memories for Rolen and Cabrera in October.

Others will be making their first memories of a division race late in the summer.

The Reds youth has been the key to the team’s success.

Mike Leake, Homer Bailey, and Johnny Cueto have been lights out on the mound. Leake is only 22 in his first year of pro baseball. Bailey and Cueto are 24 years old and seem to be coming into their own this season.

Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang have been successful in their careers and during this run, they have looked young again. Arroyo launched the team into first with a complete game gem against St. Louis. Harang has been the ace of the staff for years. He’s starting to regain that form.

Joey Votto, 26, is hitting .308 with nine homers and 27 RBIs. He has hit at least 24 home runs and driven in 84 runs in each of his first two full seasons in the bigs. Jay Bruce, 23, is hitting .280. He has hit at least 21 homers the last two years. Votto and Bruce appear ready to take their productive starts to another level in 2010.

If Drew Stubbs can find some consistency, he’ll join them as a young star. Stubbs is only hitting .198, but he has shown potential in the majors. Last year, he hit .267 with eight homers in 42 games. The center fielder out of Texas has the talent to be great one day.

Brandon Phillips is another promising player that has been good for the Reds in his four prior years with them. He was a 30/30 guy in 2007 and has been around that ballpark in each of his seasons in red. Phillips should come close to that production again this year.

The young guys have gained experience the past two seasons. With Rolen and Cabrera in the clubhouse, they’re only going to learn more and they should be well suited to handle the pressure.

And the ghosts.

The Reds are ready to shake the disappoint of the past.

This Red Machine is far from perfect. It’s not Big or Bad. But this group is exciting and competitive.

Cincinnati may finally be able to move on and live in the moment.

Because in this moment – May 19, 2010 – the Reds are the best team in the NL Central. And the clubhouse behind that door is brimming with excitement.

-Ryno Report

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Topics: Big Red Machine, Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds, First Place, Homer Bailey, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, NL Central, Orlando Cabrera, Pete Rose, Scott Rolen

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