Tuesday, April 02, 2002

Little Ball yields big breaks

        Bob Boone has been harping on situational hitting. He has been imploring his Cincinnati Reds to go to the plate with a purpose and a plan, to advance baserunners through deliberate deeds rather than heedless hacks.

        To get the big run home through Little Ball.

        “We had a couple of meetings in spring training where Skip emphasized the fact we had to do the small things right,” Barry Larkin said Monday afternoon. “He emphasized that we had to have professional at-bats. He emphasized it in spring training, and he emphasized it again during the workout Sunday.”

        Boone's 2002 lecture series has barely begun, but his first pop quiz showed encouraging execution. The Reds began and ended their last Opening Day at Cinergy Field by manufacturing runs with sacrifice flies and did enough of the little things correctly to conquer the Chicago Cubs 5-4.

        It was only the first of 162 games, not nearly as important as all the pomp would imply, but it was the kind of game the Reds will have to win if they are to presume to compete for the pennant.

        It was the kind of game that can slip away if you play sloppily.

        “Last year, we found ways to lose that game,” said Sean Casey, the first baseman.“Today, we found ways to win.”

        Some of it was probably pretty dull to the dull minds that get bored by baseball, but to those who followed the Reds through 96 stultifying losses last season, there was beauty to be found in the performance of fundamentals.

        Twice in his first two at-bats, Barry Larkin came to the plate after Todd Walker hit leadoff doubles. Twice, Larkin moved the runner to third base at the expense of his batting average. This enabled Walker to score the game's first run on a routine fly ball by Ken Griffey Jr. Larkin would later score the winning run on an even more modest fly ball by Aaron Boone.

        “That,”' Bob Boone said, “is how we're going to beat the good pitchers.”

        Cubs starter Jon Lieber beat the Reds five times last year — once on a one-hitter — and news he had landed Monday's start filled former Red Pete Harnisch with dread for his old teammates.

        “Somebody had a conversation with Pete on the phone,” Reds starter Joey Hamilton recalled. “He said, "We better not give up more than one or two runs.'”

        A pitcher such as Lieber discourages free swinging and demands precise execution. The Reds scored their second run in the third inning because Griffey hustled into second base on a rundown play in which Walker was trapped between third and home, and was then positioned to race home on a two-out Casey single.

        Similarly, Larkin's ability to sprint home on Aaron Boone's sacrifice fly — and an earlier stolen base — suggested the Reds should be better at situation running as well as situation hitting.

        When Griffey and Larkin can use their legs without fear of aggravating injuries, Little Ball can mean a lot.

        “It's a huge difference,” Bob Boone said.

        It is, at least, a beginning.

        E-mail tsullivan@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/sullivan.


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Larkin 'was going all the way'
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- SULLIVAN: Little Ball yields big breaks
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N.Ky. high school results

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