Sunday, April 5, 1997
Reds supply some hope

BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

tomko
Bret Boone throws to 1b Dmitri Young.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |

On second thought, the Cincinnati Reds are entitled to a second opinion.

Having been declared dead and gone as early as Opening Day, they have stubbornly refused to stop breathing. Their vital signs show vitality. Their pulse is picking up steam. Their shortstop is again picking up ground balls on the first try.

Their condition may soon rate reassessment. Instead of dead and gone, maybe wait and see. Instead of another long, tedious summer, perhaps there will be some point to the proceedings at Cinergy Field.

Logic says there is not much reason to believe in this ballclub - that the Reds will be outgunned everywhere they go, and often outpitched - but the results thus far reflect a different conclusion. Saturday's 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers was the Reds' third in a row, and suggested Jack McKeon may have found a legitimate ace following the departure of Dave Burba.

If Brett Tomko can regularly duplicate what he did to the Dodgers, the Reds could conceivably contend in the National League's Central Division. This is a big ''if,'' but what isn't in April?

Doing little things

''If you look at us on paper, we don't have the superstars,'' Tomko said. ''We have a few marquee players, but we're a lot of young guys, and people kind of overlook us. If we play as a team, do the little things, move runners over, bunt them when we need to, we're going to win ballgames. We might not be as exciting as coming out and seeing a team like the Dodgers - guys who can hit balls in the upper deck - but that's not what it's all about.''

Not so far, for sure. The baseball season moves into its second week today with the Dodgers and Yankees still winless, and the Reds chasing the first-place Cubs. It will be months before the season really starts to take shape, but it has been six years since the Reds last swept L.A. in a three-game series, and that possibility exists this afternoon.

Beating the Dodgers is not the achievement it once was, and it is not savored nearly so much as when Tommy Lasorda was managing. The Dodgers will make their last 1998 appearance in Cincinnati today, and their brief visit has made almost no impact at the box office.

Through five home dates, the Reds are already lagging last year's attendance pace by 4,398 per game. Primarily, this reflects pessimism about the prospects of the home team. Secondarily, it says these Dodgers are not a big draw.

Only the presence of Mike Piazza prevents Bill Russell's lineup from being more obscure than the cultural references in Dennis Miller's monologues. Only an unfortunate pitch to Eric Young prevented Tomko from a possible shutout Saturday.

Jose Vizcaino drew a walk to lead off L.A.'s third inning. Pitcher Ismael Valdes moved him to second base with a sacrifice bunt. Young then tripled to left-center field to give the Dodgers a 1-0 lead.

Standing out

Under similar circumstances, a lot of young pitchers will turn a lone mistake into a long inning. Tomko, however, threw a called third strike past Thomas Howard and retired Piazza on a grounder to the newly reliable Pokey Reese.

''When Thomas Howard was up, I knew deep down I had to get a punchout,'' Tomko said. ''If he puts the ball in play, he's going to score a run . . . I got him to chase a couple, and then I got that called third strike on the corner.''

Young was left stranded on third base, and would prove to be the last L.A. baserunner who would advance that far. Tomko held the Dodgers to three hits in eight innings, struck out seven, and prompted manager Jack McKeon to predict he could win 16 or 17 games.

''I told the kid, that's the best game I've seen him pitch since I've been a manager,'' McKeon said. ''He showed me today what I've been trying to get across - to get tough out there.''

How long it lasts, we must wait and see. That the Reds are worth watching is surprise enough.

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