PHOENIX — In a wild-card-race showcase of rookies Thursday night in the desert, the Cincinnati Reds’ Brandon Williamson got the first word but National League Rookie of the Year favorite Corbin Carroll got the last as the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Reds 3-2.
Williamson matched zeroes for six innings with near-perfect Arizona starter Merrill Kelly.
But after the Reds rallied to the lead in the top of the eighth, Reds lefty reliever Alex Young surrendered a leadoff walk, and one out later, lefty-hitting Corbin Carroll lined a 2-2 pitch over the right-field wall for the winning shot in the opener of a pivotal four-game series.
The Reds, who swept the Diamondbacks in three games at home last month, entered the day in a four-team scrum separated by a half-game battling for the NL’s last two playoff spots.
Also in that scrum is the Reds’ next opponent, the San Francisco Giants – with the Miami Marlins just 1.5 games behind that group.
“These are important games coming up against Arizona and San Francisco,” catcher Tyler Stephenson said after the Reds finished off a three-game sweep of the Anaheim Angels Wednesday night.
Until Carroll’s homer, Stephenson looked like he might be the hero, driving in a go-ahead run in the eighth with a two-out single to center after Noelvi Marte walked and stole second.
Nick Senzel, freshly returned from a two-week demotion to Triple-A Louisville, led off the eighth with a pinch-hit home run to tie the game.
“That was special for me,” Senzel said. “That was special for me for a lot of reasons. Just selfishly for me that was special.”
It was the first pinch homer of his career (2-for-22 in PH appearances before that), first big-league action since getting sent to Triple-A Louisville Aug. 11.
“I was bummed, but that was the situation. I had to deal with it,” Senzel said. “I had no expectations about coming back up, but I’m up.
“I love the guys in the locker room. We’ve been through a lot this year,” he said. “I want to play meaningful games and help them win games. That was just what you saw tonight.”
The Reds rally followed the sudden injury departure of Kelly, who was brilliant for 7 innings.
Kelly faced just one batter over the minimum through seven, with a career-high 12 strikeouts.
The only thing that prevented the perfect-game watch as he headed to the eighth was a third-inning double by Marte that Kelly’s third baseman got a glove on.
And then as Kelly warmed up to start the eighth, he grabbed the back of his knee and a few moments later left the mound with the Diamondbacks trainer, shouting into his glove on the way to the dugout.
The Diamondbacks said after the game Kelly’s hamstring cramped.
The victory was Arizona’s 10th in 12 games and snapped the Reds’ three-game winning streak.
“There’s never a good way to lose a game,” manager David Bell said, “but at the same time you do look deeper. And some of the things we did there at the end of the game to give ourselves a chance, stealing bases, not being afraid.
“There’s no fear,” he added. “It’s like ready for any situation that comes up and looking for ways to win games. All the way to the last out there we felt we were going to win the game.”
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Cincinnati Reds lose to wild-card combatant Arizona Diamondbacks