Saturday, August 18, 2001

Rijo's return a thrilling event

Amazing righty blanks Brewers for 2 innings

By John Fay
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Jose Rijo pitches in the eighth inning.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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        Sean Casey watched Jose Rijo come through the door in the outfield wall and the emotion flowed through his body.

        “I got chills,” Casey said. “It was one of the coolest things I've ever seen.”

        That's what happens when you witness something remarkable. Just ask the 29,214 folks at Cinergy Field. They saw Rijo return from the baseball dead and pitch like it was 1990 again.

        Rijo's return after six years — six long, hard years that included five surgeries and a half-dozen failed comeback attempts — positively electrified Cinergy Field and turned a meaningless 5-1 Reds loss into a night to remember.

        Religious metaphors flowed afterward.

        “No moment will beat this,” Rijo said. “The only moment better than this will be when I do and go to heaven and see Jesus.”

        “We just saw a miracle — no question,” said Reds manager Bob Boone.

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Aaron Boone pushes Rijo out of the dugout for a curtain call.
(AP photo)
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        It wasn't just that Rijo came back. It was the flair with which he did so. He ended his outing with back-to-back strikeouts with the bases loaded.

        “Best day of my life,” Rijo said. “Better than the World Series. I did something that was impossible. I didn't believe I could do it myself.”

        Rijo entered the game in the eighth inning. The Reds were already on their way to their sixth straight loss, down 5-1, but it didn't matter. The fans were on their feet as soon he came out of the bullpen. They chanted “Jose! Jose! Jose!” as he strolled slowly to the mound.

        It was clear the emotions were getting to him. He took off his hat and walked around behind the mound.

        “I said a prayer,” he said. “I just thanked the Lord for everything.”

        Third baseman Dmitri Young came in and gave him a few words of encouragement. Casey gave him the high sign from first.

        Then he was on the mound alone. Jose Hernandez hit the first pitch to Young and beat it out for a single. Lou Collier fell behind 0-2 and evened the count at 2-2. Collier then drove Adam Dunn to the wall in right, where he made a great catch.

        Rijo got Mike Coolbaugh to bounce into a fielder's choice. Henry Blanco hit the first pitch to to left, where Brady Clark made a diving catch.

        The catches saved Rijo from a rough inning.

Rijo tips his cap to fans.
(AP photo)
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        “Part of baseball,” Rijo said. “Better lucky than good.”

        Rijo walked Mark Sweeney to start the ninth. He then got Devon White to line softly to short.

        Mark Loretta doubled down the third-base line. Jeromy Burnitz was walked intentionally, and Rijo was left to work out of his first jam.

        Up came Richie Sexson, who had hit 27 homers.

        “I wanted to get him out,” Rijo said. “But I didn't want to give up the home run. He was either going to ruin my show or make it better.”

        Rijo struck out Sexson on a 3-2 pitch that was clocked at 91 mph.

        “He was pumped,” Boone said. “He got that radar gun moving.”

        Then he struck out Hernandez with an 84 mph forkball. It came just after a 92 mph heater.

        Rijo ran off the mound in celebration.

        “That was the best moment,” he said.

Rijo waves to fans after the game.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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        It wasn't an easy outing, but the whole ordeal hasn't been easy for Rijo.

        “I came close to giving up so many times,”he said.

        He had given up pretty much all hope 2 1/2 years ago. He didn't throw at all for almost two years. He decided to give it one more try three months ago.

        The last hard effort got him back to the majors for the first time since July 18, 1995.

        He had 200 friends in from the Dominican Republic for the big night. They weren't the only ones there for Rijo. The Reds sold a season-high 4,746 walk-up tickets — though the throng may have been partly attributable to a bobblehead doll giveaway.

        The fans got what they came to see, but the Rijo show may only be starting.

        “This is not a joy ride,” he said. “I'm here to help this team better. I think I can do that.”

        After Friday, he's a pretty hard guy to doubt.


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