By John Fay
The Cincinnati Enquirer
SAN FRANCISCO - Reds manager Bob Boone tried to sell the one-pitch-at-a-time approach to his players. But given the history and the standings, the players know that the four-game series with the St. Louis Cardinals that opens tonight at Great American Ball Park is not just your average series.
"It's a good test for us," pitcher Danny Graves said.
The Cardinals come to Cincinnati on a seven-game winning streak that has put them atop the National League Central standings. That's where the Cards have been for most of the last three seasons. They finished first or tied for first in the NL Central in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
"They're the best in our division," Graves said. "It's always a challenge when you play them."
Boone maintains the theory that all games are created equally.
"Every series is an important series," Boone said. "You play 162 games and you have to win a certain number to move on."
Thus, his one-pitch-at-a-time theory.
"That's as simple as it gets," Boone said.
The difference is when you're playing the division leader, a loss costs you one game in the standings; a win gets you one game. That's a two-game swing per game.
The Cards are as solid as any NL team. They lead the league in hitting and fielding and are sixth in pitching.
The bullpen, missing injured closer Jason Isringhausen, is suspect with a 4.59 ERA. But that's the only weakness.
John Riedling, who will make his first career start tonight, knows how difficult a task he faces.
"It's a challenge - the first time against that lineup," he said.
The Cardinals series begins a stretch of 13 straight games against Central teams. The Milwaukee Brewers follow the Cards into Cincinnati. Then the Reds go to St. Louis for three and to Milwaukee for three.
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