Longballs end Reds long skid

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 21, 2003

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - After a long day of longballs, the Cincinnati Reds left the island with a much-needed win. The Montreal Expos packed up, too, still in first place and ready for their real home opener.

Pinch-hitter Adam Dunn and Felipe Lopez hit consecutive home runs in the ninth inning and the Reds connected six times in all to beat Montreal 7-5 Sunday and stop a five-game losing streak.

Aaron Boone homered twice, Austin Kearns hit his major league-leading ninth shot and Jose Guillen also went deep for the Reds at cozy Hiram Bithorn Stadium.

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''We needed this one so bad,'' Kearns said.

The Expos were hoping to cap their 10-game stay in the Caribbean with a sweep. Even so, it was a productive stay at their part-time home, as the surprise NL East leaders went 6-4.

''After about 19 days of taking suitcases, I'm looking forward to getting to Montreal and finally leaving the clothes in the closet,'' Expos manager Frank Robinson said.

Montreal will play its official home opener on Tuesday night against Randy Johnson and the Arizona Diamondbacks, and a crowd of about 35,000 is expected at Olympic Stadium.

The wrapup of this visit to Puerto Rico attracted a crowd of 11,619 for a game that was delayed by rain for more than an hour. The Expos are playing 22 games here this season, with the next game June 3 against Anaheim.

''It was a beautiful experience, with beautiful fans,'' Expos pitcher Tony Armas Jr. said.

Overall, the first 10 games drew an average of 14,282, topping the Expos' average of 10,031 last season in Montreal. With tickets ranging from $10-$85, the extra revenue will produce a boost for the team owned by major league baseball.

Dunn gave the Reds a boost with his seventh home run. He batted for Scott Sullivan (1-0) and hit his first career pinch-hit homer, connecting on an 0-2 pitch from Luis Ayala (1-1). Lopez followed with his first homer of the season.

''You have to try to block out how small the dimensions are,'' Dunn said. ''If you go up there trying to hit it out, you won't. You just have to hit it square and it'll fly.''

There were a total of seven homers at the ballpark where it's 399 feet to dead center, 315 to left and 313 to right. The Expos, Reds, New York Mets and Atlanta combined for 34 home runs in 10 games at San Juan.

Plenty of other shots almost left the park. Fernando Tatis' bid for a go-ahead drive in the Montreal eighth was caught by Kearns in right-center, up against an outfield billboard that advertised ''Home Rums.''

''A lot of fly balls go out,'' Reds manager Bob Boone said. ''This is the smallest park you'll play in in the major leagues. And with the artificial turf, it's a hitter's dream and a pitcher's nightmare.''

Endy Chavez got the home-run derby started with a leadoff shot in the bottom of the first. His drive off Danny Graves landed in bleachers that were dotted with brightly colored umbrellas, brought by fans to ward off the sun.

The thunder and lightning came later when the Expos were making it 5-all in the seventh on an RBI single by Chavez, and there was a rain delay of 1 hour, 22 minutes after the inning ended.

Armas did not give up a home run in his first 26 innings of the season. The Reds changed that, quickly tagging him for a career-high four.

''He made bad pitches and the Reds were in launch mode today,'' Robinson said.

Kearns homered on the first pitch of the second inning and Boone connected one pitch later. Kearns homered in all three of the Reds' games in Puerto Rico.

''I can always remember coming here,'' Kearns said. ''I've never been a big traveler wanting to go to other countries, but it's definitely enjoyable.''

Jose Guillen hit a solo shot in the third and Boone launched a two-run drive. Boone started the day in a 2-for-26 rut and had been hitless in his last 10 at-bats.

''I think it's the result of the park, a little bit,'' Boone said.

Scott Williamson pitched the ninth for his third save.

Notes: Kearns has 19 hits this season - nine homers and 10 singles. … Chavez hit his first career leadoff home run. … Promoted Saturday night, IF Ryan Freel reported to the Reds and pinch-ran in the ninth. RHPs Chris Reitsma, Jeff Austin and Brian Reith are expected to join the team Tuesday.