Griffey#039;s 499th homer not enough to stop losing streak

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 14, 2004

CLEVELAND - Ken Griffey Jr. feels his personal pursuit of 500 career home runs has become an unwanted distraction for the Cincinnati Reds.

It didn't bother the Cleveland Indians one bit.

As Junior continued to chase history, the Indians chased the Reds out of town.

Email newsletter signup

Matt Lawton hit a two-run homer as Cleveland caught Cincinnati from behind again Sunday, beating the Reds 10-8 to complete a stunning three-game sweep.

Coco Crisp added a three-run homer and Omar Vizquel had a two-run shot for the Indians, who overcame a 7-1 deficit and handed the Reds their season-high sixth straight loss.

''We still believe we have a good ballclub,'' said Reds closer Danny Graves. ''It's just bad times.''

And bad timing, according to Griffey, who hit his 499th homer in the third but failed in his next three at-bats to become the 20th player to reach 500.

Griffey said the Reds are caught up in his quest and it's costing them.

''It's taking a toll on the team,'' he said. ''If we can just get it behind us, I'll think we'll be fine.

"But I'm losing focus sometimes, so hopefully I can get it done in the next few days and we can get back to playing solid baseball.''

The Reds have lost six straight - all on the road - and look nothing like the team that led the NL Central for 20 straight days.

The Indians trailed 7-1 in the fourth, but stormed back with five runs in the sixth and three in the seventh - capped by Lawton's shot off Mike Matthews.

Cleveland outscored Cincinnati 18-3 from the sixth inning on in the series, aided by the Reds' floundering bullpen, which blew saves in each game.

''It's ridiculous,'' Graves said. ''We're major league ballplayers and if you can't throw strikes, they'd better find someone who can.''

Griffey, who nearly hit his milestone homer several times during his weekend at the Jake, went 1-for-3 and walked twice. He just missed hitting No. 500 in the fourth with a shot to right that was caught just short of the wall.

''I hit it off the end,'' said Griffey, who senses that his teammates are trying too hard.

''It's one of those things where guys don't want to mess up,'' he said. ''Look at a no-hitter, it's the same thing. If I hit one (homer), guys start pressing. It's natural.''

Griffey gets his next shot at 500 on Monday in Philadelphia against Eric Milton.

After walking in the first, Griffey connected for his 18th homer - and 10th in 21 games - in the third, pulling a 1-1 pitch from Cliff Lee over the wall in right.

He paused to watch its flight as fans in the lower tier of seats scrambled for the souvenir.

In his next at-bat, Griffey nearly got beaned with the first pitch from Lee, who was immediately ejected by plate umpire Matt Hollowell.

Lee's fastball whizzed behind Griffey's head, and Hollowell tossed the left-hander almost as quickly as the ball reached the backstop.

Lee maintained he wasn't trying to hit Griffey.

''I was trying to go in under his hands, and it just got away from me,'' said Lee, who walked five in 3 2-3 innings. ''He just hit a homer on my last pitch, so it obviously looked like I was throwing at him, but it just got away.''

Several of the Reds came storming up the dugout steps, while Griffey simply leaned on his bat and offered a puzzled look to Lee.

Griffey was asked if he thought Lee was aiming at him.

''I'm not going to answer that,'' he said.

Crisp hit a three-run homer in the sixth off Reds starter Cory Lidle, and Vizquel had a two-run shot in the inning off Brian Reith (2-2) as the Indians tied it 7-7.

Brandon Larson's RBI in the seventh put the Reds back up, but Tim Laker snapped an 0-for-14 slump with an RBI double and Lawton followed with his 10th homer.

Matt Miller (1-0), who bounced around the minors until this season, pitched the seventh for his first major league win. Jose Jimenez worked the ninth for his fifth save in eight tries.

Wily Mo Pena hit his first career grand slam in the first for Cincinnati.

Notes: Reds SS D'Angelo Jimenez was lifted for a pinch-runner in the second after straining his left oblique. … Indians C Victor Martinez missed his third straight game with a sprained foot, but is expected to DH on Monday. … Beginning Tuesday in New York, Cleveland will play 16 of 19 on the road. … The Indians are 13-1 in weekend - Friday, Saturday and Sunday - home games.