Monday, September 27, 1999

Reese gives Reds a powerful poke


A hero with dramatic HR

BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Pokey Reese does not know his own strength. He figured his momentous home run Sunday afternoon for a line drive in the gap. Then he delivered a little love pat that was a lot more like a punch.

        “Look at this,” Reds manager Jack McKeon said Sunday afternoon, holding up his right hand to reveal a bright purple bruise. “Pokey did this. I held out my hand and he came down and POW.He said he was sorry. But I told him, "You can do that all you want.' ”

        In the giddy aftermath of the Reds' latest excellent adventure — Sunday's 7-5, 12-inning, comeback conquest of the St. Louis Cardinals — McKeon regarded his swollen palm as a badge of honor. Center fielder Mike Cameron saw the day's developments as proof that, "someone's watching over us.” Joe Nuxhall took a seat in the coaches' quarters and declared, unprompted, "If you don't like this, you don't like baseball.”

        Reese's three-run homer with one out in the 12th res cued the Reds from a one-run deficit and provided the home team sole possession of first place in the race for the National League's wild-card playoff spot. With one week remaining on the schedule, Reese's homer ranks as the Reds' most important shot of the season, and was even more memorable than Mark McGwire's 60th, struck in Sunday's eighth inning.

        The only other Reds home run of 1999 that rivals Reese's for dramatic staging was the pinch-hit shot Chris Stynes struck in the 12th-inning to beat Pittsburgh on Aug. 17.

        “It's unbelievable,” said third baseman Aaron Boone. “There was no way we were going to win this one, right?”

        The Reds stranded 12 baserunners Sunday — three of them after loading the bases with one out in the 11th inning for Sean Casey and Greg Vaughn — yet none of their failures proved fatal. Even some of their mistakes worked in mysterious ways.

        With two outs in the St. Louis second, and J.D. Drew on first base, Cardinals catcher Marcus Jensen sliced a hit to right field. The ball took a big bounce off the turf, glanced off the outstretched glove of Dmitri Young and carried over the fence for a ground-rule double. Drew was forced to stop at third base on a ball that might have scored him without Young's participation. He was still there when the inning ended.

        “In the game of baseball,” Pokey Reese said, "you can't give up.”

        Reese had not driven in a run since Sept. 4. He had eight hits in his previous 52 at-bats (a .154 batting average) when he trudged toward the batter's box to do battle with Ricky Bottalico in the bottom of the 12th.

        But Bottalico's first pitch eluded Jensen for a passed ball, and the Reds runners advanced to second and third base, eliminating the possibility of a double-play and reducing Reese's job to getting a fly ball deep enough for a game-tying sacrifice fly.

        Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa later said if Bottalico's next pitch had been a ball, he would have walked Reese intentionally to set up a force play at home for Mark Lewis. When Bottalico's next pitch was a hanging slider, the point was moot.

        “I don't think I've ever hit one like that before (to win a game),” Reese said. “Maybe in Little League or A-ball.”

        When Reese leaped triumphantly on home plate, he was immediately engulfed by teammates, several of whom hoisted him off the ground with their bear hugs. He left the field exchanging high-fives with the grounds crew, his shirttail hanging out, his manager taking pleasure at the pain in his hand.

        “It's the biggest RBI of my career,” Reese said. "I'm going to write that on the ball and I'm going to give it to my mom.”

        This time, he should try to be gentle.

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

        SULLIVAN ARCHIVE