BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
It is the bottom of the eighth, and Joe Nuxhall has seen enough. From his broadcast booth on the third tier of Cinergy Field, the Old Left-hander looks down on the field of play and grabs his nose to suggest a powerful stench.
You know the Reds have struck rock-bottom when their most intrepid cheerleader is unable to stifle a sneer. Nuxhall can normally find the silver lining in a mushroom cloud, but this ballclub has already exhausted his euphemisms and used up his alibis.
You could say the Reds were Dead Men Walking, except they don't work the count well enough. You could call them roadkill, but they're just as bad at home. What you can say, without fear of contradiction, is that if the Reds gets any worse than this, the women and children should be led to the lifeboats.
Thursday's 4-2 defeat by the Arizona Diamondbacks was the most discouraging of a singularly dismal season. It completed a three-game sweep by a first-year franchise that had appeared the previous two days in softball uniforms. Thursday, the Diamondbacks looked like real ballplayers. The Reds, sadly, did not.
Litany of miscues continues
There was that throw by Dmitri Young, presumably toward third base, which sailed past its mark and scrambled photographers in the third base dugout.
There was that bunt by Arizona pitcher Brian Anderson, which Eduardo Perez flung fruitlessly to third base, turning a conceded out into a two-run rally.
There were all those baserunners Eddie Taubensee left stranded with strikeouts and infield outs.
And there was that look on Jack McKeon's face when it was finished: Resignation. Even a man as chatty as the Reds manager grows tired of his own voice when he finds himself repeating the same points every day.
"You cajole them and you try to guide them when they make a mistake," McKeon said. "And hopefully they pick up on it. (But) Dave Stewart asked me, "How do you put up with it? You've got to tell some of these guys 15 or 20 times before they get it.' I told him, "That's the nature of the game.' "
The nature of most Reds games is stunningly similar this season: decent pitching; dismal hitting. They have scored more than two runs only once in their last 10 losses, and they create so little excitement that Thursday's loudest cheers were reserved for Andrew Beck and Chuck Holbrook, whose Coca-Cola cannon shot free T-shirts into the stands between innings.
"It's pretty hard to sit here every night when we can't (afford to) make any mistakes," McKeon said. "We can't make an error. We have to play a perfect game and our pitchers have to pitch good if we're not going to hit."
McKeon has grown so weary of watching his feeble lineup that he finds himself longing for an 8-5 loss -- something that suggested his hitters had a pulse. But this won't be a common occurrence with the help at hand, and the reinforcements on the farm aren't deemed ready.
Defeatist attitude prevails
Short of a lucrative new stadium deal or a new owner flush with cash, the outlook is gathering gloom. You can't blame Barry Larkin if he wants out. You can't blame Nuxhall if he finds the fumes from the field noxious. You can't blame Reggie Sanders if he wonders how long the Reds will be overmatched.
It is easier to put a positive spin on a manhole cover than on this bunch of ballplayers.
"The way I see it, there's a lot of things that need to go right from the top to the bottom," said Sanders, the reflective right fielder. "We don't have the funds and the resources we need to get the players we need to win."
Sanders wanted to know when the suffering might cease, when a new stadium could be finished, when the Reds could expect to be competitive.
The answer, he was told, was not until 2002.
"That's four years from now," he said, anxiously.
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