06/16/2003 10:18 PM ET
Longball dooms Reds
By Chris Haft / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- The Reds received a vivid reminder Monday night of the challenge they face in the National League Central.
The league's most balanced division, featuring four teams bunched within a four-game margin in the standings, remains wide open, though the first-place Chicago Cubs slowed the Reds' pursuit with a 4-3 victory before 28,669 fans at Great American Ball Park. Cincinnati (34-34) trails Chicago by four games.
Trimming that difference, at least in head-to-head competition against Chicago, will require the best from the Reds. And that's because the Cubs pitchers they confront are the league's best -- or at least close to it.
The Cubs, who rank second in the NL with a 3.63 ERA, controlled the Reds in the series opener with impressive efforts from starter Matt Clement (5-6) and relievers Kyle Farnsworth, Antonio Alfonseca and Joe Borowski. "It's tough. You have to grind all night," Reds manager Bob Boone said.
Matters get no easier for the Reds in the series' next three games. Tuesday, they'll oppose Carlos Zambrano, who sports a career 0.57 ERA in eight appearances against Cincinnati. Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, who need no introduction, follow Wednesday and Thursday.
"It doesn't let up," Reds third baseman Aaron Boone said.
No wonder the Cubs' starting rotation, which includes ex-Red Shawn Estes, has accounted for 29 of their 38 victories. "They've got the best one through five probably in the game," Reds left fielder Adam Dunn said.
And there's no dropoff with Chicago's bullpen -- not with Farnsworth flinging fastballs at 98 mph, as he did Monday, and the likes of ex-closer Alfonseca, master lefty Mike Remlinger and Borowski, who converted his eighth save opportunity in a row and 14th overall.
"You had better be on top of things if you're going to be successful against those guys," Aaron Boone said. "Clement -- he's tough. Farnsworth comes in and fires away, Alfonseca, Borowski -- they beat us."
The Reds outhit Chicago, 10-8, but mustered one hit after the fifth inning -- Jose Guillen's single with two out in the ninth inning off Borowski. Dunn walked, bringing the crowd to a frenzy, before Barry Larkin struck out.
"You have to take advantage of as many opportunities as you can have," Boone said, explaining how to overtake the Cubs. "Because over the course of a series and a season series, you're probably going to have less opportunities against them."
Reds center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. demystified the Cubs somewhat: "They're just like anybody else. If you can get to them early and get to the 'pen, you're ahead."
Cincinnati tried to follow these instructions, scoring twice off Clement in the first inning. But the right-hander recovered to last six innings and extend his personal winning streak to three. "It seemed like his stuff got better as the game went on," said Dunn, who singled and scored in the first inning before striking out and popping up against Clement.
The Reds nearly matched the Cubs' stinginess. Jimmy Anderson (1-3), whose contract was purchased earlier Monday from Triple-A Louisville, performed capably in his return appearance for the Reds. The left-hander worked six innings, more than he logged in any of his five outings before Cincinnati designated him for assignment on April 19, while allowing four runs and seven hits.
Anderson, who posted a 6-1 record and a 3.12 ERA in nine starts at Louisville, owned a 3-2 lead when he yielded back-to-back home runs to Moises Alou and Eric Karros with one out in the sixth inning. Both homers Anderson surrendered came on change-ups.
"It was weird. I probably threw only four (change-ups) all game," Anderson said. "The one I left up to Alou was really bad. It was right in the middle and waist-high. Nobody's going to miss that. The one to Karros, I just tried to go away (outside). It was away, but it was up."
It's too early to tell whether Anderson's performance will help him secure a full-time spot in Cincinnati's rotation. For now, he's replacing right-hander John Riedling, who's on the disabled list with elbow tendinitis. Riedling isn't eligible to leave the DL until June 27, which will give Anderson one and possibly two more opportunities to prove himself.
"Wait and see," Bob Boone said regarding Anderson's status.
The evening's one-run difference seemed wider, since the 13 strikeouts by Cubs pitchers gave them an aura of dominance. Yet there were the Reds in the ninth, mounting the type of threat that had helped them pocket 17 come-from-behind victories and 17 wins in their final at-bat.
Instead, they emerged with their seventh defeat in 23 one-run decisions.
"It's tough to lose those one-run (games) when you have a chance," Aaron Boone said. "But we've been on the good side of a lot of those."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.