Monday, June 12, 2000

Improbable win could turn page




By TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        CLEVELAND — Dante Bichette watched the drama unfold from a seat in the training room. His right foot was packed in ice as a safeguard against swelling. His eyes were trained on a television monitor.

        Four hours after Bichette left Sunday's game with a sprained ankle, he watched Manny Aybar strike out David Justice to seal the Reds' remarkable, improbable, 13-inning 7-5 conquest of the Cleveland Indians.

        “That,” Bichette said, “was as positive a win as it could have been negative a loss.”

        Ballplayers are always talking about the importance of "turning the page,” of digesting a day's developments in time to turn one's full attention to the next task at hand. Typically, the phrase is invoked in defeat.

        Yet some pages should be turned slowly, for some stories are worth savoring. This was one of those. Through seven innings, the Reds had produced exactly one single and two baserunners against Cleveland starter Chuck Finley. They then rallied to recover from a five-run deficit to end a five-game losing streak in time for a five-hour flight. It made for a mood swing from despair to delight.

        “Time will tell,” said Aaron Boone, whose two-run single settled the outcome in the 13th inning. "(But) those are the kind of wins that sometimes can be turning points.”

A day of relief
        How much this one game might ultimately mean is speculative, but it was a day of great relief in more ways than one at Jacobs Field. Jack McKeon's bullpen shut out the potent Indians over the final six innings, the last two by last resort Manny Aybar. Ken Griffey Jr. delivered another critical home run — this one a three-run shot that tied the game in the eighth inning — and continued to raise his average with his third straight two-hit game.

        Problems persist. Ron Villone's slide continues. Sean Casey's ailing bat is still a concern, and may lead to a minor-league assignment if it doesn't improve.

        Yet despite Sunday's drizzle, the prevailing weather pattern was sunshine. Dmitri Young, normally a left fielder, made two critical defensive plays at first base. Chris Stynes, normally a bench player, made a leaping catch against the left-field wall to rob Jim Thome in the 10th inning. Aybar, normally a mopup man, earned his first victory and the trust of his teammates.

        “It's a big confidence-builder for me,” Aybar said. “I threw differently today. I didn't throw too many fastballs. I didn't want to throw hard. I wanted to throw controlled.”

"Biggest win of year'
        Aybar's first pitch to Roberto Alomar was comically wild, but he recovered his command to strike out Cleveland's All-Star second baseman. In the 13th inning, he became the first Reds pitcher to retire Kenny Lofton all day, and extended Omar Vizquel's futility to 0-for-7. Travis Fryman then struck a single to bring the tying run to the plate, but Aybar's full-count pitch left Justice flailing for the final out.

        “It was probably the biggest win of the year,” said Reds reliever Danny Graves. “After losing five straight and being down 5-0 to Chuck Finley, who would have thought you'd be able to come back and tie the game up?”

        This is one page the Reds will turn tenderly.

        tsullivan@enquirer.com.

        SULLIVAN ARCHIVE