Monday, September 06, 1999

Homer burst shows Reds still alive

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Dmitri Young is congratulated by Ron Oester after hitting the Reds' 14th homer.
(AP photo)
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        So that's what happens when you call a players-only meeting.

        Was that the Philadelphia Phils the Reds played the last two days? Or Phil's Kosher Deli under-40 league softball team?

        Bye-bye, outta here, gone. Might be, could be. It is. It was. Fourteen home runs in two games. Joe Nuxhall witnessed so many longballs this weekend, when he rounded third and headed for home, he got stuck in traffic.

        It was so ridiculous, by the time Dmitri Young cranked No.14 in the seventh inning Sunday, Nuxhall almost sounded bored.

        Normally when the Reds go deep, the Old Left-hander emotes like he just won a car date with Pamela Anderson. With Young's blast, he sounded like a man waiting for a bus.

        “A line drive over the 408 mark,” Nuxhall called it. “How about that?”

Reds have been revived
        How about it? Is it more amazing the Reds played home run derby against Phil's Kosher Deli, or that two days after taking last rites, they're the talk of the majors?

        Admit it. You've buried them. Probably more than once. Were they dead after splitting four games in Montreal last weekend? Did you wait until they followed that by losing two of three at home to the Braves? Or did you stay on the bandwagon long enough to jump off Friday night, after Curt Schilling mowed them down and out?

        Most of us have waited all summer for the Reds to flame. It would be the starting pitching. It would be the overworked relievers. Is Jack McKeon asleep again? It would be something.

        We were wrong. Fourteen homers in two games later, we must have been out of our minds.

        Juan Guzman arrived. Denny Neagle is fresh. The bullpen is wobbly but good enough. And anyone who ridicules McKeon's snooze-control style is missing the point.

        The geniuses who get on Uncle Jack for missing double-switches forget that a manager's biggest act is to set a tone. McKeon is managing from a rocking chair, which has helped his young players adjust to the heat of a pennant race.

        Uncle Jack has Barry Larkin and Greg Vaughn to do the heavy motivational lifting. He has Neagle and Pete Harnisch to keep everyone loose. He's smart enough to know anything he might add could mess things up.

        Sometimes, genius is knowing when to shut up and do nothing. Larkin and Vaughn called a players-only meeting after the loss Friday. It's been bombs-away since.

Schedule looks good
        Now the Reds have five games against the pathetic Cubs, who just traded their closer, Rod Beck, and seem content to finish the year getting whacked five days out of seven.

        (Note to the Reds' stadium design squad: Never build a ballpark so fabulous that you know your fans will come to the games regardless of the quality of the product they're watching. This defines Cubs fans and Wrigley Field.)

        After the Cubs, it's 17 games in 18 days against sub-.500 down-and-outers who should be thinking about fishing trips and card shows. Then what looks like a huge two-game series in Houston.

        The Astros have better starting pitching. They have a better closer. Jeff Bagwell is a potential MVP, Craig Biggio is a double down the line. Ken Caminiti is back to add some stretch-run swagger.

        So how come the Astros lost 17-1 to the Mets at home a week ago? Teams trying to set a September tone don't get whacked by 16 in their own park.

        Houston is missing something, and it's not just Moises Alou.

        The weekend in Philly told us something we already knew, but didn't trust. The Reds won't fold. The proof is rattling around the outfield seats in Veterans Stadium. Fourteen home runs in two games. As statements go, this one went a long way. About 400 feet.

        Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.