Sunday, June 11, 2000

Lifeless Reds need respirator


Reese volunteers for CPR duty

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        CLEVELAND — If Pokey Reese has his finger on the pulse of the Cincinnati Reds, it may be time to call in the coroner.

        “It seems like we're dead in the dugout,” Reese said Saturday afternoon. “We're flat. We haven't got that kick. There's no joking around like we did last year.”

        Accordingly, the Reds second baseman plans to double as a cheerleader this afternoon at Jacobs Field. He will wield no pom-pons, but he promised no letup.

        “Rah-rah,” Reese vowed, “start to finish.”

        If only victory were as easily attained as volume.

        Saturday's 6-5 loss to the Cleveland Indians was the Reds' fifth straight defeat, their longest such skid since 1998. It was far too quiet for Reese's raucous tastes, but it was also unusually disquieting. Though the Reds are only one game worse than they were after 60 games last season, their expectations are grander, their disappointment is keener and their progress is imperceptible.

        Steve Parris lost for the ninth time in 11 decisions Saturday, three times failing to hold a two-run lead, allowing four homers in six innings and yet retaining his place in the starting rotation. Parris is only partially responsible for the Reds' plight, but his performance may be symptomatic of larger problems.

        In the words of manager Jack McKeon: “Who else do I have?”

        If the alternatives look unappealing to McKeon and the ballclub looks lifeless to Pokey Reese, it may be a sign of a team resigned to its own mediocrity. Ken Griffey Jr. and Sean Casey are not likely to hit .220 all season, but there's a good chance McKeon's starting pitching has already found its level.

        There's a good chance that Parris was a one-year wonder, that Ron Villone also overachieved last season and that Pete Harnisch will not return from the disabled list as Pedro Martinez.

        This does not mean the Reds can't win the National League's Central Division — the St. Louis Cardinals have problems of their own — but the pennant is less probable than it appeared on Feb. 10. Adding Griffey to a team that won 96 games was bound to enhance attendance. It was, however, no guarantee of a meaningful October.

        Michael Tucker's take is that a breakout is imminent. The Reds' outfielder watched Casey get robbed of two hits Friday night, and Aaron Boone lose two more Saturday, and predicted that their good swings would soon be rewarded.

        “You can feel it almost getting ready to happen,” Tucker said. “A lot of guys are hitting the ball hard and making outs.”

        If hard outs are a good omen, what should be made of hard luck? The Indians scored two runs in the second inning Saturday without benefit of a solid hit. Kenny Lofton's game-winning home run in the sixth inning followed a failed bunt attempt. A seventh-inning Reds rally fizzled after umpire Terry Craft called Griffey out at second base in a decision contradicted by replay evidence.

        “We're not doing anything right right now,” McKeon said. “We can't get a key hit. We can't get a good 7-8 inning pitching performance. We don't have the speed we had last year, so we can't manufacture (runs) the way we did.”

        The bench is quieter, insiders say, because Greg Vaughn is gone and his passionate presence has not been replaced. Reese wants to see if raising his voice can give rise to a winning streak.

        E-mail Tim Sullivan at tsullivan@enquirer.com.



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Realignment out, unbalanced schedule in


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