Rain ruins Reds debut

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 4, 2000

The Associated Press

When he reflects on his homecoming, Ken Griffey Jr.

Tuesday, April 04, 2000

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When he reflects on his homecoming, Ken Griffey Jr. will come back to those things. Maybe by then, he’ll have dried out.

Junior’s hometown debut turned into a baseball footnote Monday – the first opening game in 35 years to end in a tie. Griffey went 0-for-2 as the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers slogged to a 3-3 tie after five innings before the game was called because of unrelenting rain.

”It looked like it was going to be a good day, but Mother Nature wasn’t having it that way,” Reds outfielder Dante Bichette said.

Griffey had to settle for a few good hours instead.

After playing most of his 11 years with Seattle in a domed stadium that was shelter from the Pacific Northwest rains, Junior made his first appearance in Cincinnati’s open-air stadium and got drenched.

”As a kid growing up in Cincinnati, you dream of just playing on this field,” he said.

He wasn’t on it for long. Home plate umpire Randy Marsh, who lives just across the Ohio River, called for the tarp when the game was less than two hours old and it was obvious that the rain wasn’t going to subside.

The rain did stop long enough to allow the game’s most anticipated moment: Junior’s pregame introduction.

After manager Jack McKeon and teammates Pokey Reese and Barry Larkin were introduced and took their spots along the first baseline, Junior’s named was called and the largest crowd to attend a regular-season game in the stadium erupted.

The 55,596 fans cheered for 20 seconds, prompting Griffey to wave his cap in all directions. The warmth of the welcome surprised him.

”It was awesome,” Junior said, wearing a team warmup jacket and his cap turned backwards in his trademark style after the game. ”It was something I wasn’t expecting. It was fun.

”The biggest thing is it reminded me of my first opening day 12 years ago.”

In the dugout, Ken Griffey Sr. was taking it all in and getting unusually emotional. The Reds bench coach had been so excited about the day that he didn’t sleep much the night before.

”It was just great to have him home,” he said. ”My emotions were mixed. The ovation was great. I didn’t know how I was going to handle it. I had a little tear in my eye.”

The only member of the Griffey family who didn’t savor the moment was Birdie, who got caught waiting for the stadium elevator when her son was introduced.

”I missed it,” she said. ”Don’t worry, the elevator operator heard about it.”

There was another ovation and a spray of flashbulbs when Griffey ran to center field for the first time. He got applause when he backed to within a step of the wall and caught Geoff Jenkin’s fly for the last out in the first.

When he came to bat for the first time with Larkin on second and the Reds already up 1-0, everyone expected something big. Junior had homered in each of his last three openers and has seven homers overall in his 11 openers, one shy of Frank Robinson’s record.

He was so nervous that all he managed to do was make the Reds’ first out of the season, on a pop-up.

”I was just trying to pick out and good pitch and I swung at some pretty bad ones,” he said.

His second at-bat produced a ground out to shortstop Mark Loretta, who was playing on the first-base side of second as part of a Griffey shift.

Junior never got a third at-bat. He would have been first up in the bottom of the sixth, if the rain had let it get that far. It didn’t.

Ultimately, both teams blew chances for a five-inning win. The Reds went up 3-0 after two innings, with Larkin’s RBI double and Michael Tucker’s solo homer the big hits.

The Brewers scored twice in the second with the help of Bichette’s error in right, and had a chance to take the lead as the rain came down when they loaded the bases with none out in the fourth.

Marquis Grissom’s broken-bat single drove in one run to tie it, but Pete Harnisch struck out Loretta and got Jeromy Burnitz to fly out and keep it tied at 3.

There it stayed until it was called, the first time since April 12, 1965 that a major league opener ended in a tie. St. Louis and Chicago finished 10-10 after 11 innings because of darkness at Wrigley Field.

It was the first time since 1996 that the Reds didn’t finish an opener. The game was postponed in the top of the first inning that year when home plate umpire John McSherry collapsed and died.

All the statistics from Monday count, but the game will be replayed from the first inning tonight. If Griffey homers, it won’t count among his season openers. If the Brewers win, it won’t go down as Davey Lopes’ managerial debut.

Instead, it will be the completion of a wet and weird start to a season and a Cincinnati career.

Notes: The Brewers and Reds had never opened the season before. Cincinnati opened against the Milwaukee Braves three times, going 1-2. The only Reds win came in 1954 behind left-hander Joe Nuxhall, now a Reds announcer. … Lopes got into his first argument as manager in the second inning, when Bichette threw out Kevin Barker on a close play at third. Lopes stood and waved his arms in front of third base umpire Ron Kulpa, one of those promoted to the NL staff last August. … Scott Sullivan’s wife gave birth to the couple’s second child at 8:32 a.m. Monday.