Jackson Stephens will always be able to say he won the first major league baseball game in which he pitched and that he struck out the first major league batter he faced.
On top of that, the former Oxford High School three-sport athlete hit a two-out, two-run single. His big hit in the home half of the fourth inning drove in the go-ahead runs as his Cincinnati Reds defeated the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs 5-3 at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park on Saturday afternoon.
Stephens threw 91 pitches, struck out eight and walked just one over five innings. He allowed six hits, including two home runs in the third inning when the Cubs took a 3-0 lead. Stephens then regrouped and retired the side in order in the top of the fourth, fanning the last two hitters. He faced only four batters in the fifth.
“It’s what I saw in the aftermath of that three-run third inning that really made the difference,” Red manager Bryan Price told MLB.com. “Really, it said a lot.”
In the home half of the fourth, the Reds struck for four runs. Adam Duvall doubled to score Scooter Gennett and put runners on second and third with no one out. After a strikeout, Chicago pitcher Eddie Butler intentionally walked Scott Schebler to load the bases.
An infield pop out gave the Cubs a chance to avoid additional damage but Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart coaxed a walk to score Joey Votto with Cincinnati’s second run. Stephens followed Barnhart and bounced the first pitch he saw up the middle and into center field. Duvall and Schebler scored easily and the Reds led 4-3.
“Bryan was like, ‘Hey, if that first pitch is there, swing at it,’” Stephens told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I was like, ‘All right.’”
In the Chicago fifth, Stephens struck out the leadoff hitter. Jon Jay, who had a solo home run in the fourth after opening the game as a strikeout victim, singled, but Stephens retired Kris Bryant on a pop out to Votto in foul territory near first base. Anthony Rizzo’s routine fly ball to center fielder Billy Hamilton ended the inning, and Stephens’ day was done.
The Cubs threatened in the sixth with a leadoff double by catcher Willson Contreras, who had a two-run homer off Stephens in the third, but a fly ball to center and a 5-4-3 double play ended the inning. Chicago hitters were three up, three down in the seventh.
The Reds added an insurance run in the seventh when Hamilton walked to open the inning and scored when Duvall hit into a bases-loaded double play.
Reds closer Raisel Iglesias got the final out of the eighth. He retired the Cubs in order in the ninth for a four-out save, making Stephens a winner in his major league debut.
“I think what’s most important about the outing is that he has an outing under his belt that says, ‘Hey, I can do this,’” Price told the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Now the Reds must decide whether to keep Stephens on the 25-man major league roster for another start in five days or return him to Triple-A Indianapolis and add another reliever.
“I really enjoyed watching him pitch and if he stays in our rotation, I’ll continue to enjoy watching him pitch, if he continues to do what he did today,” Price told the Enquirer.