Burba can give thanks; Reds fans can groan

Wednesday, April 1, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Pokey Reese reaches for the ball after bobbling a grounder.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |

Dave Burba must feel like the last soldier leaving Saigon. He departed the Cincinnati Reds on the night before Opening Day, henceforth known as The Eve of Destruction.

Burba may not get the last laugh in this baseball season, but he clearly gets the first chuckle. The man granted a last-minute reprieve from this Reds campaign counts his blessings and loses track of his giggles. He is like a stowaway forced to disembark just before the Titanic pulls out of port. He should consider himself spared.

The Reds started their latest round of reconstruction Tuesday afternoon with a 10-2 stomping by the San Diego Padres, and though it counts for nothing when the two teams tussle again tonight, this was a game that portended groans.

Pokey Reese, previously known as a defense-first shortstop, made four errors in five chances, attaining a level of incompetence that left his fielding average dangerously close to the Mendoza Line.

Reds reliever Ricardo Jordan walked four batters in one-third of an inning, the last of them with the bases loaded. He was replaced by Gabe White, who permitted a three-run double to Padres pitcher Kevin Brown.

In short, it was ugly. The good news is Barry Larkin will soon be back to solidify the shortstop position. The bad news is there is not nearly enough of Larkin to disguise the deficiencies of this undermanned ballclub.

"There will be a lot of days like this" Reds manager Jack McKeon acknowledged. "But I didn't expect it Opening Day. . . . It's probably one of the worst games we've played in a month."

If that's all that it is, it is of no real consequence. For all its pomp and ceremony, Opening Day is still just the first of 162 games. Just because the first ball is delivered by an elephant does not mean it can never be forgotten. You can get off on the wrong foot in baseball, and still make it right.

"I don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves," said Bret Boone, the second baseman. "Maybe we just got the jitters out." Or maybe jitters had nothing to do with it. Maybe these Reds are simply overmatched, inexorably bound for the basement of the National League's dreary Central Division. Maybe dealing Dave Burba, and moving everyone behind him up one place in the pitching rotation, has stretched the Reds' slender resources beyond the breaking point.

Mike Remlinger, pitching in Burba's place, threw well enough to win most games for most teams. But backed by an offensive onslaught consisting of six singles, his margin for errors was miniscule. Reese fielded the first ball in his direction -- a toss from Eduardo Perez on a first-inning force play -- but his return throw was wild and allowed San Diego's Steve Finley to advance to second base. Remlinger escaped that inning unscathed by retiring Tony Gwynn on a fly ball and striking out Ken Caminiti. But Remlinger was not nearly resourceful enough to overcome Reese's grotesque glovework in the third.

Reese bobbled a leadoff grounder by Quilvio Veras, later booted a bouncer by Gwynn and then kicked the ball as he attempted to retrieve it. San Diego scored three runs before the inning was over. Reese tied a National League record for most errors by a shortstop on Opening Day.

Mercifully, McKeon pinch hit for Reese in the seventh inning. Gallantly , Reese sat cheerfully at his locker long after the game instead of attempting a quick getaway to avoid the cameras. He held a beer in his left hand, and appeared to be in no danger of dropping it. "I got lackadaisical on the first one," he said. "On the second and third ones, I don't know what happened. . . . I was angry at myself. I knew I could have made the plays. But it's behind me now. It's time to move on."

True enough. Opening Day is over and one game can not constitute a trend. Conversely, Dave Burba should like it in Cleveland.

Game story
How many E's in Reese? 4
Opening daze - and still 161 left Paul Daugherty column
Casey could run for mayor
Perez unfazed by new kid
Remlinger's golden day tarnished
Trade throws off Burba
Notebook: Walks take air out of Jordan
Opening Day Marge's way
Gwynn ready for run at .400
Box, runs
Reds page