Wednesday, June 30, 1999

And this one belongs to the Roads




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        What the Cincinnati Reds need right now is 24-hour room service. Mints on their pillows. Designer soaps in small boxes.

        Since the comforts of home have afforded little comfort for the local baseball club, the Reds should do whatever is necessary to simulate the road. If that means installing an elevator with no 13th floor and dressing the ballboys as bellhops, so be it.

        The most basic principle in baseball is to stick with what works, and the Reds endeavored to do that Tuesday night by wearing many of the elements of their road ensemble. Their jerseys and their pants were white with red pinstripes, but the black sleeves, batting helmets and two-tone caps said “visitors.”

        “I wanted it to be as close to the road uniform as possible,” said Rick Stowe, the clubhouse manager in charge of equipment and superstitions. “What do you think would happen if we wore the gray?”

        Good question. Fresh from the most startling road trip since Hannibal's elephantine swing through the Alps — a 7-0 run through Arizona and Houston — the Reds returned to Cinergy Field Tuesday night with a rally out of Parts Unknown. Reds starter Steve Avery couldn't have been much wilder had he taken the mound in a tie-dyed tuxedo — he walked a career-high nine hitters — but the Reds rescued him with a dramatic three-run ninth for a 5-4 victory over the Diamondbacks.

It's no fluke
        Yes, Arizona manager Buck Showalter might have contributed to the Reds' comeback by allowing Vicente Padilla to make his major-league debut in a save situation. Still, this was the kind of victory that could go a long way toward shaking the image of a team that has been transcendent on the road (26-10) and troubling in front of its own fans (16-21).

        “We didn't think there was any urgency to win this game to show the fans we are for real,” Reds catcher Eddie Taubensee said. “But it's great that we did.”

        Baseball is a gradual game. Trends take time to establish, and longer to reverse. Taubensee figures the Reds' home-road disparity should eventually even itself out. The more meaningful trend, meanwhile, is the one that finds the Reds in first place after a sluggish start.

        “I remember about two or three weeks into the season, I was sitting with (Aaron) Boone and he couldn't believe we had lost another tough game,” outfielder Michael Tucker said. “I told him, "Think about how many tough games we've played already. How many tough games has the rest of the league played?'

        “I honestly think winning comes from putting yourself in that situation over and over 'til you have the confidence to win.”

Superstitious? Who, us?
        Ballplayers have a talent for turning any set of circumstances into a theory, and any happy coincidence into a charm. Against all empirical evidence, ballplayers have been known to attach strategic significance to a certain pair of socks or a favored T- shirt. Reds first baseman Sean Casey discards his batting gloves when he becomes convinced they have no more hits left in them, and other players often wear their caps inside-out to promote rallies.

        If they thought there were any runs in it, some players surely would appear in the dugout in pink pajamas and a Viking helmet.

        Asked what attire he would recommend Tuesday night, Reds outfielder Dmitri Young reached an arm to the top shelf of his locker and silently patted his road uniform. Though the Official Baseball Rules state, “a league may provide that each team shall have two sets of uniforms, white for home games and a different color for road games,” there is no specified sanction for wearing the wrong one.

        “Tell them to wear their home uniforms,” National League Vice President Katy Feeney said. “Tell them to get a grip on reality. The longest winning streaks have included both home and road games.”

        The Reds' winning streak is eight games. Maybe it's not the clothes.

        Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your e-mail at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

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