CINCINNATI — Once upon a time, in a ballpark not so far away, the Los Angeles Dodgers were to the Reds what Muhammad Ali was to Joe Frazier — a bitter rival capable of going 15 innings or 15 rounds to reach a goal.
Fast-forward 40 years, and the teams met last night in Great American Ball Park harboring the same World Series dreams that those now-oldsters wanted to make real in the 1970s.
Rivals still, of course, but bitter had nothing to do with anything in a crisply played 3-2 victory for the Reds.
“Back then, we were in the same division,” Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker said.
He used the “we” because he played for the Dodgers against the Reds in Riverfront Stadium and savored the heat of the rivalry.
“Now our natural rivalries seem to be Pittsburgh and St. Louis,” Baker said. “It depends on who’s good, and it depends on how much you play those guys. It’s easy to have bad blood when you play somebody a lot.”
The Reds and Dodgers have played only five times this season; the first four were in Los Angeles in July.
Even if it’s not a huge rivalry, the Dodgers are in first place in the National League West Division and are a possible playoff opponent for the Reds, who are in the lead for the second wild-card slot.
As it happened, the theme for the night and the weekend series had the feel of a throwback-jersey affair. The Reds are honoring Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan of the Big Red Machine with a statue today. His No. 8 was stenciled behind second base.
The other seven members of “the Great Eight” — the Machine’s everyday lineup for the 1975 and ’7 6 World Series champions — joined Morgan on the field for postgame fireworks.
The seven — Johnny Bench, Dave Concepcion, George Foster, Cesar Geronimo, Ken Griffey Sr., Tony Perez and Pete Rose — stepped onto the field to the roars of the crowd of 33,778.
Rose, still banned from the game, was allowed to attend by special permission of Commissioner Bud Selig.
The game had a playoff feel. Hanley Ramirez pushed the Dodgers to a 2-0 lead in the first inning with a cannon shot of a home run off Mike Leake. But Leake turned off the big LA guns after that.
Joey Votto broke out of an 0-for-13 slump with a single in the fourth inning, then scored on Ryan Ludwick’s double-play grounder. Votto’s two-run home run in the fifth provided the winning run.
“I was trying to do my best to put on a little show for the Great Eight,” Votto said, adding that he liked the atmosphere “because we won.”
“I’m glad we pleased the Reds fans,” he said. “That’s what they put us on the field for — to go against a really good squad. We have a lot of respect for them.”
Leake (12-6) set down 13 straight Dodgers before handing the game over to Manny Parra with one on and two outs in the eighth.
Closer Aroldis Chapman entered in the ninth to pitch in a fourth consecutive game and struck out the side to earn his 35th save.