Bailey victorious in big-league debut

Bailey victorious in big-league debut

CINCINNATI -- Was it the fifth inning or two outs in the ninth?

With the electricity of "Homer-mania" flowing strong at Great American Ball Park on Friday during Homer Bailey's Major League debut for the Reds, it didn't matter.

Needing one more out in the fifth to qualify for his first win, pressure was heaped all over the 21-year-old. The Indians' David Dellucci was up with the bases loaded as Cincinnati clung to a one-run lead. No matter what, this was going to be his final batter.

"You just have to keep thinking, 'Just get this guy out any way you can,' " Bailey said.

On a 1-2 pitch, his 114th of the evening, Bailey fired a 93-mph fastball that froze Dellucci for a called strike three. The crowd of 38,696 roared with approval, and Bailey walked off the field to high-fives from pumped-up teammates.

The Reds rode that atmosphere the rest of the way for a 4-3 win over the Indians. After the final out, Bailey was greeted with a shaving-cream pie from ace Aaron Harang.

"I think it was awesome," Bailey said of his reception in Cincinnati. "Especially after that last strikeout, when everything kind of shuts off and you can really hear it."

For one night at least, the problems bearing down on a last-place club faded into the background.

"Future and hope here," manager Jerry Narron said in summing up the outing. "Shoot, everyone's been wanting to see him. We have. It was pretty good."

It was a performance three years in the making, ever since Cincinnati made Bailey the seventh overall pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft. After Bailey rose slowly but steadily through the Minors, the announcement of his final promotion from Triple-A Louisville came on Tuesday.

"Days like this, you can ask anybody here, you never forget them," said Bailey, who allowed two earned runs and five hits in five innings with four walks (one intentional) and three strikeouts.

Possibly charged up with adrenaline, Bailey's fastball reached 96 mph in the first inning. He took a little bit off when he struck out the first batter, Grady Sizemore, with an 89-mph high fastball.

Following Travis Hafner's two-out single, Cleveland took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on Victor Martinez's two-out RBI double to left-center field. After the ball got by left fielder Adam Dunn, the throw from center fielder Norris Hopper missed the cutoff man. That allowed Hafner to lumber home from first base.

Bailey used 29 pitches in the first inning, and he was at 91 after averting big damage in the fourth. Following a Dellucci sacrifice fly, Bailey hit Josh Barfield with a pitch. Then, with Mike Rouse batting, he was called for a balk. Rouse was intentionally walked, and Bailey escaped by getting pitcher Cliff Lee to routinely ground out.

"I think he pitched effectively wild today," catcher David Ross said. "He made some pitches when he needed to and got out of some jams. The main thing for him was to go out there and get the first one under his belt and the bugs out of the way.

"With his stuff, he'll be a dominant pitcher if he can get ahead of some guys. He's got great stuff. He's a fun guy to catch. He's enthusiastic. He's an aggressive pitcher."

Of the 24 batters he faced, Bailey threw first-pitch strikes to 11.

"Not too good" is how Bailey graded his performance. "I got behind a lot of hitters. We got that win. That's the most important thing."

A first-inning solo homer by Brandon Phillips and Jeff Conine's two-run shot in the fourth gave Bailey a 3-2 lead to work with heading into the big fifth.

In the fifth, Sizemore hit a leadoff single and Hafner drew a one-out walk as Bailey crossed 100 pitches. With two outs, Trot Nixon walked on four pitches, which brought pitching coach Dick Pole -- and not Narron's hook -- out for a visit.

"It was his ballgame right there," Narron said. "I was not about to get him out. I thought he still had good stuff even though he had 100-plus pitches. He had a chance to get a win, and I thought he deserved that shot."

The rookie didn't disappoint. Not a bad finish against the team that is second in the American League in runs scored.

Ken Griffey Jr. made it a two-run game in the sixth when he launched a solo homer to right field. The long ball was Griffey's 14th this season and career homer No. 577.

Maligned for its struggles all season, the Reds bullpen stepped up behind Bailey. Mike Stanton, Jon Coutlangus and Gary Majewski combined for three scoreless innings. David Weathers gave up Ryan Garko's ninth-inning solo homer but finished the final 1 1/3 innings for his 12th save.

"It was fun. He was a little nervous," Griffey said of Bailey. "There was some anticipation of him being here. All in all, we as a team were able to come through for him. We were able to get behind him and do some things."

On the field, as Bailey walked out to take batting practice a couple of hours before the game, more than a dozen reporters and photographers watched his every move.

"There was a lot of pressure for him to come here and be something," Ross said. "You're held to a certain standard sometimes when you're a first-rounder. People put you on a pedestal, and you're just like anyone else trying to make it."

If Bailey becomes a big-league success with the Reds, it will be significant for an organization that's had a lousy track record at developing its own pitchers. The last Cincinnati starter to reach the Majors as a first-round pick was C.J. Nitkowski, in 1994. Nitkowski was part of the trade to the Tigers for David Wells in 1995.

The last homegrown Reds pitcher to win 20 games was Tom Browning, in 1985.

"People have been hearing about Homer the last couple years," Narron said. "To see him pitch the way he did tonight, I can't say enough about it. It's outstanding for him, our ballclub and our entire organization."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.