Thursday, July 01, 1999
REDS 2, DIAMONDBACKS 0
Villone's one-hitter tops Johnson's 17 K's
BY CHRIS HAFT
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The Reds can be dominated these days, but not defeated. They scaled their highest obstacle yet, literally and figuratively, to extend their winning streak to nine Wednesday night with a 2-0 decision over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Dmitri Young is greeted by Barry Larkin after his first-inning homer.
(Craig Ruttle photos)
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A lively Cinergy Field crowd of 29,560, which included a walk-up gate of 8,200, watched Ron Villone match his unheralded left arm against that of Randy Johnson, Arizona's 6-foot-10 ace who's widely regarded as baseball's most intimidating pitcher.
Villone (3-2) surpassed the seven-inning one-hitter he fired at Houston last Thursday, permitting just Tony Womack's sixth-inning single during a career-high eight innings. Scott Williamson pitched a perfect ninth for his 10th save as the first-place Reds (43-31) maintained their .002 percentage-point lead over Houston in the NL Central.
Now 7-1 against NL West-leading Arizona, the Reds needed Villone to exceed his limits.
In his last two starts, Ron Villone has given up only two singles in 15 scoreless innings.
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Johnson surrendered seven hits while striking out a club-record 17 batters, two short of his personal best. Bear in mind that since the Reds didn't need to bat in the bottom of the ninth, Johnson worked only eight innings. It was the highest strikeout total against the Reds since July 14, 1968, when Houston's Don Wilson had 18 in the second game of a doubleheader at Crosley Field.
Going up against a guy who's an established pitcher, you have to step your game up a level, said Villone, who made just his fifth start since emerging from the bullpen. I think I did that tonight.
Johnson (9-5), the loser in a 1-0 heartbreaker last Friday when St. Louis' Jose Jimenez no-hit Arizona, faltered only briefly. He yielded Dmitri Young's first-inning homer, a blast estimated at 437 feet that carried into Cinergy's third-level yellow seats.
That was the game's lone run until the eighth inning, when pinch-hitter Chris Stynes, batting .061 yet 3- for-8 lifetime against Johnson, singled and stole second. He scored on Jeffrey Hammonds' two-out single.
He was in his own zone, pitching great tonight, Villone said of Johnson, whose fastball was clocked twice at 99 mph and mostly hovered around 97 mph.
How tough was Randy Johnson? Barry Larkin could only laugh after flailing at a third strike in the fourth inning. "It was a slider, but I thought it was a fastball, Larkin said. It was coming in about a billion mph, then it broke at the last second. I tried to adjust my swing. I just couldn't believe it."
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But, Villone added, referring to reserves Young and Hammonds, we have some guys in here who were a little bit hungry.
If pitching was the story of the evening, it also has fueled much of the Reds' surge.
Their starters have averaged 6 1/3 innings during the team's winning streak, one inning more than the season average. They've lasted at least seven innings five times in this span including twice by Villone.
It makes a big difference when you get guys going seven or eight innings, pitching coach Don Gullett said. It takes a lot of pressure off your bullpen. Those guys stay fresher and the confidence factor for the (starters) is tremendous. They know they can do it, so they strive to do it after they have some success.
Villone's resurgence dates to the game he allowed six runs while retiring just one batter June 19 against Milwaukee. In his last two starts, he has maintained no-hitters for 6 1/3 innings against Houston and 5 1/3 innings against Arizona.
I think he has found himself a nice little groove, Reds shortstop Barry Larkin said. You don't see him out there trying to throw the ball too hard, as he did earlier.
Villone, who walked two and struck out seven while throwing 73 strikes in 108 pitches, acknowledged his considerable support.
Larkin got the last laugh as he celebrates the victory with Pokey Reese.
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When I wasn't sure of what (pitches weren't) working, (catcher) Jason (LaRue) knew what to call, he said. When he wasn't sure and I wasn't sure, Barry and (second baseman) Pokey (Reese) knew how to make the play.
True enough. Apparently bound for his 10th All-Star Game, Larkin ranged behind third base to grab Matt Williams' second-inning grounder and make a whirling throw to first base to retire the Arizona slugger. Five innings later, Larkin darted up the middle to scoop up Damian Miller's bouncer before uncorking an off-balance but accurate throw to first for another out.
Reese enhanced his Gold Glove after Womack's hit. He began to cover second as Womack broke for the base, then sharply reversed his direction to filed Jay Bell's grounder and flipped it to first for the out.
The crowd appreciated each round of heroics.
I heard it was only around 30,000, but it sounded like 50,000-plus, Villone said. Every (inning) it sounded like it was getting louder. Maybe it can increase, too, because I think we're playing well enough that people can have a good show when they come to Cinergy Field.