BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The clubhouse whispers have changed direction. Instead of wondering who's next to leave, the Cincinnati Reds are beginning to ask who might be about to arrive.
The name of an out-of-work pitcher was mentioned Friday to Bret Boone.
"Let's get a real player," the second baseman sneered. "Let's get The Big Unit."
Boone's reference was to Randy Johnson, the biggest name on baseball's trading block, the largest left-hander in captivity. The Reds have less chance of landing The Big Unit than does Jack McKeon of winning the 110-meter hurdles, but that's not the point.
Daydreams are in season again at Cinergy Field. The home team is able to look ahead and see something other than the cowcatcher of an oncoming train. The Little Red Wagon is on a roll, and its passengers are happily heedless about the bumps that lay ahead.
The Big Unit? Why not?
A new attitude
"Let's play great for two weeks, get to within two or three games (of a wild-card playoff position), and get The Big Unit," Boone suggested. "Wouldn't that be something?"
Dmitri Young sits beside Boone in the Reds clubhouse, and his ears are carefully tuned to trade rumors. He leans over in the middle of Boone's proposal and inquires about what he might have missed. He instinctively laughs at the outlandish idea of Johnson wearing a wishbone C, but then he starts listening.
"I'm for anything," Young says, seriously, "that would help the team."
Nothing of lasting significance has happened to the Reds since Jeff Shaw was traded to Los Angeles on the eve of the All-Star break, yet there has been a seismic shift in attitude. The team that left town with its captain in open revolt over management's direction returned Friday from an undefeated road trip, winners of 10 in a row and 15 of 16.
It was too good to last -- as Friday's 13-3 pounding by the San Diego Padres amply attested -- but too sweet to scorn. The Little Red Wagon, hit a stretch of serendipity that surpassed any experienced by The Big Red Machine.
Comparisons are otherwise inappropriate.
"We know what the talent is," says Doc Rodgers, the assistant general manager, pragmatically.
Don't ask why
"You try not to get carried away," McKeon says. "I don't even want to think about anything other than just to go out there and play the game. If you're going to do anything, sneak up on them."
To promise more would be perilous. Grateful as the Reds are for sunshine, they recognize the likelihood of rain. The most consistent characteristic of young teams is inconsistency. Today's trend is tomorrow's aberration.
"It's better not to ask why, to just keep playing," said Boone, when asked for answers. "We're not thinking playoffs. If that presents itself, that would be great. We're not going to keep winning every day. But if you keep winning series, they add up."
How quickly the wins add up over the next two weeks could influence the Reds' posture toward the trading deadline. It will probably remind Jim Bowden and Co. that the future is more promising than the present.
The Reds have six more home games before July 31 -- all of them against division leaders; four against Atlanta. A seven-game road trip includes stops in Los Angeles, Colorado and San Francisco.
If the Reds can gain any ground during this daunting stretch, they might consider making a bid for Randy Johnson. This, however, is an if as big as The Big Unit himself.
"If we went 10-0 over the next 10 games, I'll be in John Allen's office on my hands and knees," Bowden vowed before Friday's game."(But) You play 162 games for a reason."
In the long run, the Reds are a little short-handed. The Big Unit should probably make other plans.
Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your e-mail. Message him at firstname.lastname@example.org.