Saturday, September 30, 2000
Reds 8, Cardinals 1
16-strikeout night boosts Villone's stock
By Chris Haft
The Cincinnati Enquirer
ST. LOUIS Ron Villone gave the Reds plenty to think about and the St. Louis Cardinals almost nothing to hit in Cincinnati's 8-1 victory Friday night.
Ron Villone receives congratulations from Sean Casey.
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The club's decision-makers might wonder why Villone, who allowed just two hits and struck out 16 batters, hasn't provided more hints of this excellence. They'll ponder the closely related question of whether he's capable of even approaching this level more frequently.
Moreover, Villone will prompt Cincinnati's braintrust to contemplate whether he's worth keeping for the 2001 season.
They'll have to make some tough decisions, Reds manager Jack McKeon said.
If Villone's performance made a statement, his strikeouts delivered a piercing scream. His total represented a season best for any Cincinnati pitcher and a fran chise record for a left-hander. It also tied Villone with Jim Maloney (May 21, 1963) and Noodles Hahn (May 22, 1901) for the most by a Red in a nine-inning game. Maloney set the Cincinnati mark of 18 in 11 innings on June 14, 1965.
The Reds' offense was almost as prodigious, amassing 15 hits as Michael Tucker, Sean Casey and Alex Ochoa homered in the first three innings off Cardinals starter Garrett Stephenson (16-9).
But Villone's pitching was the prevailing theme. Combined with Elmer Dessens' two-hit gem Thursday at Milwaukee, it marked the first time the Reds had recorded back-to-back complete games since Sept.1-2, 1990, when Rick Mahler and Jose Rijo throttled Chicago.
It's taken me a few years to learn how to pitch, said Villone, who actually outhit St. Louis by collecting three singles. I've always been a thrower. The more experience I get, the more comfortable I get.
General manager Jim Bowden mentioned no names earlier this week when he said two or three Reds eligible for salary arbitration may have to be traded to accommodate the rising wages of the team's young nucleus. But the implication was clear that players such as Villone could be headed elsewhere.
Villone's statistics (10-10, 5.43 ERA) don't sound like much. But in today's baseball, his .500 record and left-handedness are guaranteed to earn him a substantial raise from his 2000 wage of $1.6 million.
The Reds are as desperate for pitching as any other organization. Maybe more so, because nobody in their minor-league system will be ready to join the starting rotation soon. Do they gamble that Villone can build upon this dominant performance against playoff-bound St. Louis, or his 6-1 start this year, or that complete-game victory he threw against Atlanta's Greg Maddux on Aug.28? Or is he just a mediocre pitcher who has been removed from the starting rotation twice this season?
His teammates have made their decision.
Ron's the type of guy anyone would like to have on his ballclub, Reds catcher Jason LaRue said. Some times you have great days, sometimes you have mediocre days and sometimes you have bad days. With Ron, it doesn't matter. Anytime he gets the ball, he's going to give it everything he has.
And Villone has made up his mind about the Reds.
Of course I would, he said when asked if he'd like to return. This is probably the best I've pitched in my career, consistently, anywhere. Of course, the season has been inconsistent. But to get chances and to be somewhere for two years ...
Villone thrived despite throwing an unreal number of pitches 148, including the team's record-setting 95th wild pitch of the year. He survived despite not having started since Sept.14.
He did it even though he was essentially a second choice, given this start only because Pete Harnisch had nothing to prove and McKeon felt Villone deserved a shot to reach double figures in victories and square his win-loss record.
Hopefully this will end his season on a positive note and help his chance of being in the starting rotation again, McKeon said.
Villone insisted that he wasn't pitching for himself. He was pitching for the Reds.
I wanted to do better. Things didn't work out that way, he said. But I wanted to show the guys who were playing behind me and on the bench that when I go out there, be ready to play and expect to win.
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