Good company: Phillips in 30-30 club
Reds fall to Astros as second baseman reaches elite plateau
CINCINNATI -- Trying to become a first-time 30-30 player, the goal teased and taunted Brandon Phillips into frustration for two weeks.On Wednesday, Phillips could breathe easy. He got it, finally. Phillips hit his 30th home run in the first inning but the Reds dropped their fourth straight game during a 7-6 loss vs. the Astros. "I promise you, I've lost like five pounds," Phillips joked. "Even my pants feel kind of [loose.] I got the monkey off my back." Already with 32 stolen bases, Phillips joined Alfonso Soriano as the only two second basemen to reach 30 homers and 30 stolen bases in a season. The homer against Houston rookie starter Juan Gutierrez made history but also helped keep Cincinnati in the game. The Astros had taken a 4-0 lead in the top of the first against starter Tom Shearn, who did not finish the inning. There were two outs in the Reds' first when Joey Votto hit a double to right field. Phillips followed by hitting a 3-1 pitch to right field that landed in the first row of seats. It was his first homer since Sept. 12 -- ending a 50 at-bat drought. Once the ball cleared the fence, Phillips raised his right fist in the air and clearly enjoyed the moment as he rounded the bases. "Everybody was thrilled for him. He's a great kid," Reds interim manager Pete Mackanin said. "Everybody was hoping he would get it for a number of reasons. One of them was so he'd relax a little bit and quit trying to go for it. Any kind of an accomplishment such as that deserves a big applause." After returning to the dugout, fans boisterously summoned him out of the dugout for a curtain call. "It hasn't really settled in yet," Phillips said. "I still can't believe I achieved a goal that only one other second baseman has done. It amazes me. It's a good feeling to be in the category, especially with my favorite player growing up. It's a blessing." That favorite player growing up was Reds shortstop great Barry Larkin, who Phillips idolized when he was still a young shortstop. Larkin had a 30-30 season in 1996 and Eric Davis was the first Cincinnati player to reach the goal in 1987. The Reds gave fans commemorative cards honoring Phillips' achievement during the game and will hand out more on Thursday. Phillips joined Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. in reaching 30 homers this season. It's only the third time in franchise history -- and the first time since 1970 -- that three Reds hit 30 out in the same season. Reds reliever Kirk Saarloos hit a game-tying two-run double in the second inning and was given a 5-4 lead when he scored on Jeff Keppinger's double play grounder. Votto followed with his second double, but that was the final hit off of Gutierrez, who retired his last 10 batters and exited after five innings. "Same old equation," Mackanin said. "We got to their starter early and couldn't tack on. We needed to do that." In a 4-for-5, four-RBI night, Lance Berkman offset Phillips' effort with two homers. Berkman's two-out solo homer put the Astros ahead again in the fourth. Buck Coats' RBI double in the Reds' sixth tied the game at 6. The two teams combined for 25 hits. The deciding run scored in the eighth against Jared Burton (4-2) as Hunter Pence rolled an RBI single into center field. Norris Hopper made a good throw home, but Carlos Lee slid and niftily eluded Javier Valentin's tag as he touched the plate safely with his left hand. "The sad thing about it is I wished we would have won today," said Phillips, who struck out three times in his 1-for-4 night. "That's the No. 1 thing." Phillips originally set out this season to be a 20-20 man. Once he reached the goal in August, he set his sights on 30-30. "I'll think of some new goals before the season starts next year," Phillips said. "But since I did 30-30, I feel like I can do it again. I wanted to have all my numbers be better than they were last year and play more games. Everything on the stat rack is better, even defensively." Phillips' sterling defensive skills could earn him a National League Gold Glove after the season. "There are a number of offensive-oriented players in both leagues," Mackanin said. "But to have the defensive ability that he has is unusual." In April 2006, Phillips was acquired in a trade from the Indians after he was designated for assignment. A former Cleveland prospect, his career rekindled in Cincinnati. It's proved to be one of the more lopsided deals in recent years. Phillips, 26, is entering his first year of arbitration eligibility and has become a centerpiece in the Reds' future. Mackanin was asked if Phillips was just scratching the surface. "What he's doing is pretty good," he replied. "I don't think he's going to hit 40 or 50 home runs ever. The thing about him is: Was this a career year, or is he going to continue to do it? I choose to believe this is the type of year he's going to put together year-to-year. I don't think he's a one-time 30-30 guy."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.