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Reds rise to the occasion

The Associated Press

The Reds forced a playoff for the NL wild-card spot, beating the Milwaukee Brewers 7-1 late Sunday night on a County Stadium field soaked by about 10 hours of continuous rain.

Monday, October 04, 1999

The Reds forced a playoff for the NL wild-card spot, beating the Milwaukee Brewers 7-1 late Sunday night on a County Stadium field soaked by about 10 hours of continuous rain.

After a rain delay lasting nearly six hours, Cincinnati kept its postseason hopes alive and set up a one-game showdown Monday night against the New York Mets at Cinergy Field.

Greg Vaughn hit a three-run homer, and Pete Harnisch and Ron Villone combined on a six-hitter. The Reds nearly blew their postseason chances by losing twice to Milwaukee during the weekend, but Cincinnati convincingly won the majors’ last scheduled game of the 1999 regular season.

”We’ve got to go 163 games now, but it was worth the wait,” Cincinnati manager Jack McKeon said. ”Hopefully, we’ve just started something big.”

The sixth one-game playoff for a postseason berth in baseball history will begin at 7:05 p.m. EDT. The likely starters are the Mets’ Al Leiter against the Reds’ Steve Parris.

”Adrenalin will take care of whatever fatigue we might have,” said Harnisch, who threw 5 2-3 shutout innings.

Originally, that possible playoff was to begin at 2:05 p.m., but it was pushed back to give the Reds time to get home. The Mets, having beaten Pittsburgh 2-1 much earlier in the afternoon, took a flight to Cincinnati, just in case.

This is the second straight year that a one-game playoff will decide the NL wild card. Last season, Chicago beat San Francisco 5-3.

Cincinnati controlled its own playoff destiny two days earlier, but consecutive losses to the lowly Brewers over the weekend let the Mets back in the race. New York swept a three-game series from Pittsburgh, and Houston beat Los Angeles to win the NL Central title.

”It took a total team effort to get this one,” said Vaughn, whose 45th homer of the season was the difference. ”This gives us some momentum going forward from here.”

Sunday’s game got underway at 9:52 p.m. EDT, a delay of 5:47.

There was no record of the longest rain delay in history, but on July 2, 1993, the first game of the San Diego at Philadelphia doubleheader was held up for a total of 5:54 because of three rain delays.

Cincinnati started the third inning with four straight singles off Milwaukee starter Cal Eldred (2-8), pulled for a pinch-hitter in the bottom half of the inning. Barry Larkin and Sean Casey drove in runs before Vaughn, the NL Player of the Month for September, hit a towering homer into the empty left-field bleachers.

Harnisch (16-10), the Reds’ winningest starter, retired nine of the first 10 Milwaukee batters. He gave up four hits in 5 2-3 innings before being pulled for Villone, who retired his first eight batters.

”My arm wasn’t feeling very good tonight. I knew I had to stay out of trouble tonight,” said Harnisch, who also beat the Astros 4-1 in a critical game last Tuesday.

Villone gave up an RBI single in the ninth to Geoff Jenkins before getting his second save.

Eddie Taubensee drove in the Reds’ sixth run with a grounder in the fifth, and Michael Tucker hit a solo homer to open the eighth. The Reds had lost three straight, but the win made them the only team in the majors this season to never lose four straight games.

Cincinnati planned to put tickets to the one-game playoff on sale at 7 a.m. EDT, and fans were already lining up late Sunday night.

The Reds weren’t anxious to play the game after the delay, particularly given the swampy nature of the outfield. McKeon ventured into the outfield with umpires several times during the rain delay to test the turf, and appeared to be trying to convince crew chief Dana DeMuth that the game should be called.

”I wanted to make sure the field was right,” McKeon said. ”In those situations, you want to be safe.”

The Brewers sold 55,992 tickets to the game for the largest regular-season single-game total, but about 500 fans were in the stands for the first pitch. This was to be the final game at County Stadium before a July crane accident postponed the opening of Miller Park for one year.

It was 45 degrees at gametime, and some players wore stocking caps in the dugouts. Many of the players’ frosty breath could be seen, and the outfield was still covered with standing water.

Reds right fielder Dmitri Young lost his footing and took a nasty spill near the foul line in the first inning, though he suffered nothing worse than soaked uniform pants.

”I’m just sorry we couldn’t get a better effort on a night like this,” Brewers interim manager Jim Lefebvre said.

Notes: The Brewers announced that fans would be able to use the stubs as rain checks for any game played at County Stadium in April 2000, except opening day. … One fan’s sign read, ”Got Dome?” … Brewers All-Star catcher David Nilsson, in what was almost certainly his last game after eight seasons in Milwaukee, grounded into a double play in the fifth inning as a pinch-hitter. The crowd gave a standing ovation to Nilsson, who missed all of September with a hand injury. He has said he expects to leave Milwaukee as a free agent.