Monday, September 23, 2002
The Last Game, Inning by Inning
By John Erardi, Dustin Dow and Michael Perry
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Reds fans are famous for knowing the history of the oldest franchise in baseball.
Many of them present Sunday at Cinergy Field had personally witnessed the closing of Crosley Field in June 1970, when, in the eighth inning, Lee May and Johnny Bench hit eighth-inning home runs off future Hall of Famer Juan Marichal to beat the San Francisco Giants 5-4.
Everybody was hoping for an equally dramatic finish Sunday for a ballpark that had provided so many memories in its 32-year history.
To capture this final game for history, the Enquirer chronicled Sunday's drama inning by inning.
In a wacky beginning to the end, Reds second baseman Todd Walker slips and falls trying to throw out a runner in the top of the inning but comes back to score the first run in the bottom half. Walker leads off with a double and later scores on a Ken Griffey Jr. sacrifice fly to center field when shortstop Jimmy Rollins mishandles a cutoff throw. Coincidentally, Rollins was the batter in the top of the first when Walker fell down and threw the ball up the baseline.
Reds fans roar when hometown star Barry Larkin hits a Brandon Duckworth pitch deep to left field. But it falls short and Philadelphia's Ricky Ledee catches the fly ball on the warning track. It was Larkin's last at bat at Cinergy.
He says later that Boone told him before the at-bat that he would be coming out of the game soon.
Reds pitcher Jose Rijo, making the start more for the past than the present, gets into a bit of trouble. He gives up a second run when Bobby Abreu singles in Rollins, who doubled to lead off the inning. A third run is thwarted when Walker dives to his left, snagging a Ledee grounder. This time, Walker stays on his feet and throws out Ledee, ending the inning.
Aaron Boone, in a 1-for-16 batting slump, singled up the middle to score Adam Dunn from second base to tie the game 2-2.
Dunn had ripped a one-out line drive off the center-field wall.
Boone only had 13 hits in his previous 77 at-bats (.169). Boone then stole his 29th base of the season, the most among National League third basemen (he added his 30th in the sixth inning). Boone is the only Red to have played in all 156 games, including 149 starts. He has set career highs this season in games played, home runs, RBI, stolen bases, doubles, runs scored and walks.
After a two-out ground-rule double by Travis Lee gave Philadelphia a 3-2 lead, manager Bob Boone came out of the dugout to replace starting pitcher Rijo with Brian Moehler, who would be making his first career relief appearance.
But Rijo wasn't the only Red who walked off the Cinergy field for the final time.
Veteran shortstop and Cincinnati native Larkin was taken out in a double switch. Gookie Dawkins replaced Larkin, who was clapping as he followed Rijo off the field to a standing ovation.
Reds players urged Larkin and Rijo out of the dugout to acknowledge the fans. They both waved their gloves in the air.
Larkin has played shortstop at Cinergy for 17 seasons. His .241 batting average this year is the lowest of his career.
This whole weekend's been kind of emotional, Larkin said. There's been a lot of history here. A lot of things have gone on here, a lot of successful things, which is good.
I really had hoped with the scheduling that we would've been able to play the last game of the season and actually put it to rest today. Because we've got more to do, there's no finality to the day.
There were two outs, and Aaron Boone was on first base.
Moehler approached home plate slowly. He kept looking into the dugout, certain a pinch-hitter would be batting for him. (Moehler is 0-for-12 in his career.)
The first pitch was a ball. Boone, who had reached first base on an infield single, stole second, his 30th of the season. He represented the tying run.
Manager Boone sent Russell Branyan in to pinch hit.
Branyan walked after three more pitches. Reggie Taylor struck out swinging on a bad pitch to end the inning.
Bruce Chen pitched a 1-2-3 inning. Chen, a left-handed pitcher, hasn't had enough of those this year, but he has made a career-high 54 appearances.
The Phillies' Placido Polanco is a terrific talent and a noted Reds killer. He plays the game with passion and, if he were in a Reds uniform, the hometown fans would love him. But he got a bit too carried away in the top of the inning.
He had squared around to bunt, and Chen, trying to work him inside to make the bunt attempt more difficult, accidentally hit him.
Instead of just taking his base, Polanco got all worked up about it, stepped to the third base side of home plate and showed his displeasure. Chen was not watching, but was surprised to hear later how Polanco had reacted. Clearly, Chen wasn't trying to hit him. The ball just got too inside.
Reds first baseman Adam Dunn said Polanco didn't complain about it to him when he reached first base, but nobody likes getting hit, said Dunn.
The Reds took Polanco's measure later this same half inning, by throwing him out at third (Griffey- to-Dunn-to-Aaron Boone) but the damage was done.
The Phillies had scored a run on a sacrifice fly that proved to be the game-winner.
Reds reliever Chris Reitsma has made huge strides this season after some hard luck as a starter. With his work ethic, he figures to regain a spot in the starting rotation next season - and keep it.
Devastating change, indeed. Entering the game with his team down 4-3, Reitsma gave the Reds a good chance to win the game in the final half-inning.
Reitsma got Johnny Estrada to fly out, allowed an infield single to third by Jason Michaels and threw a wild pitch that moved Michaels to third.
This is where a strikeout can prove handy, and it's important to have the stuff to get it. Reitsma does - the changeup. He got leadoff hitter Doug Glanville to whiff at back-to-back changes for strike two and strike three. Watching Reitsma get a strikeout on a changeup is fun, because he makes the hitter look bad. He'll be in there next season, you watch,
Rijo predicted. He learned a lot this year. He just needs somebody to believe in him. He's got the stuff, and he's got the heart. He wants to be good.
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