Wednesday, August 18, 1999

Stynes' hit just a sign of the times




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[stynes]
Chris Stynes was 'Man of the Hour' Tuesday night.
(AP photo)
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        Chris Stynes? Yeah, right.

        Inning 12. Tie game. Two on. Two outs. The Cincinnati Reds clinging to first place by .003 percentage points. Jack McKeon scours his dugout for a plausible hero and the best he can do is a guy hitting .167?

        Chris Stynes? Get real. Get serious. Get out of town.

        Get used to it.

        For those seeking definitive proof of the karma/mojo/serendipity surrounding the endlessly surprising home team, here's all you need to know: Chris Stynes came off the bench stone cold Tuesday night — having not played on the whole homestand — and promptly proceeded to rock the house.

        He lined Mike Williams' first pitch into the left-field seats for a three-run homer that brought the Reds a 7-4 victory and another night atop the National League Central.

        The Big Red Bandwagon is departing from Gate 1. All aboard.

        “That was awesome,” Dmitri Young said, nearly 20 minutes later. And then he said it again, only louder: “Awesome.

A reserved reserve
        Across the clubhouse, Stynes sat at his locker, slowly removing his shoes, and more slowly allowing a thin smile to emerge on his face. Once upon a time, he had been a prospect, a comet who captivated Cincinnati by hitting .348 over 198 at-bats at the end of the 1997 season. But that was a long time ago by baseball standards, and now Stynes is clearly a substitute.

        He plays when Pokey Reese can't, or when someone else needs a day off, but mostly he watches and waits. He came up to bat Tuesday mainly because McKeon was running out of alternatives. The Reds manager had gone through so many players by that point that pitcher Pete Harnisch started stretching at the end of the dugout in the event he was needed to hit or run.

        “I just tried to tell myself, "Don't go up there taking,'” Stynes said. “Don't try to get a perfect pitch. All we need is a single to win the game. He threw me a slider that was up a little.”

        A professional hitter should pulverize such a pitch — a lot of players would be furious to foul it off — but bench players tend to develop timing problems from prolonged inactivity. Stynes was hitting .091 at the All-Star break, and though he has since raised his average, his stroke is susceptible to trouble. He said he had been “especially bad” in batting practice Tuesday afternoon, and was hard-pressed to hit the ball out of the cage. To expect him to perform under 12th-inning pressure, therefore, required a formidable leap of faith.

        Stynes was asked how long it had been since he had hit a home run to win a game as the last batter.

        “Probably never,” he said. “But I would have been just as happy with a single. Winning the game is all that matters.”

A huge victory
        His demeanor said that his big hit had been no big deal, but he was probably the wrong one to ask. Stynes carries himself with emotions concealed, even in triumph. To know how much his home run meant, you had to watch the way his teammates danced out of the dugout, leaping into the air and laughing, or listen to their glad voices as they recounted the blow later.

        “I picked him up,” Young said. “We're in first place in the middle of the pennant race and you can't help but be excited. Everyone knows their job on this team. Chris Stynes went up there to pinch hit and he showed everybody that he's just as much a part of this team as Greg Vaughn or Sean Casey or Barry Larkin.”

        This was hyperbole, a thrilled teammate trying to be inclusive. Among the Reds' rallying cries this season is that they are a team of 25 players and not a collection of stats-hungry individuals. To that end, a heroic performance by a part-time player is seen as proof of a larger power.

        When that player is Chris Stynes, how can you doubt that it's destiny?

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

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