Reds move forward while Griffey remains on hold

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 17, 2004

CINCINNATI - No historic homer. The capacity crowd had to settle for a nondescript single and another late-inning comeback by the home team.

Ken Griffey Jr. didn't seem to mind.

Griffey remained stuck at 499 homers, but everything else went well Wednesday night for the Cincinnati Reds. Tim Hummel had three hits, and Ryan Freel's double broke an eighth-inning tie and set up a 7-4 victory over the Texas Rangers.

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"Anytime you get a chance to do something, it means a lot," said Griffey, who was 1-for-4 with a walk. "When the little guys do it, it helps the big guys. We get more of a spark from them than they do from us.

"When those guys do it, it's more fun for us."

Freel's bases-loaded double snapped a 3-all tie in the eighth, and Barry Larkin followed with a two-run single as the Rangers' bullpen had a second straight meltdown.

The crowd of 42,000 stood, screamed encouragement and took photos every time Griffey came to bat, hoping to see the long-awaited homer. Instead, the night belonged to his teammates, who have been energized by the attention to Junior.

"I think we're feeling the intensity," Freel said. "It's like chasing history with him. If you look in the dugout when he comes up, you see everybody up at the railing."

With his family watching nervously from the front row next to the dugout, Griffey didn't come close. He hit a routine fly, fouled out and walked against left-hander Nick Bierbrodt, who was called up from the minors before the game and wound up in a surreal setting.

"That was nice," said Bierbrodt, who lasted six innings. "After a couple of years pitching in Tampa, it's nice to have fans screaming at you."

Bierbrodt didn't make a big mistake against Griffey, who appears to be pressing to get No. 500 out of the way.

"The guy flies in here to Cincinnati yesterday, and I've never seen him play," Texas manager Buck Showalter said. "The next thing you know, he's trying to keep Ken Griffey Jr. in the ballpark."

The bullpen held him down, too.

Griffey singled off reliever Ron Mahay in the seventh, then grounded into a double play that ended the decisive rally in the eighth.

Griffey is one homer from becoming the 20th player to reach 500. He has one more chance to get it in his hometown _ the Reds complete their three-game interleague series Thursday, then head for St. Louis.

"Everybody wants to see 500, and you can't blame them," Freel said. "You've got 39,000 people who want to see 500, but they want to see the Reds win, too."

Frank Francisco (1-1) allowed the Reds to load the bases with none out in the eighth, and Freel doubled to center to send the Rangers to their third straight loss. Phil Norton (1-2) pitched the last two innings, giving up a solo homer to Michael Young.

Undefeated Paul Wilson also came up empty again after turning a 3-2 lead over to the Reds' bullpen. Wilson is 7-0, but the bullpen has blown save chances in each of his last three starts.

Alfonso Soriano had an RBI single for Texas in the first. He also singled in the third, stole second and came around on David Dellucci's slump-busting single.

Dellucci hadn't gotten a hit since May 30, going 0-for-20.

Hank Blalock homered to center in the seventh off reliever John Riedling to tie it at 3, keeping Wilson stuck at seven wins. It was the fourth time this season that the right-hander left a game with the lead, but the bullpen blew it.

Bierbrodt gave up three runs and six hits, three to Hummel.

Adam Dunn led off the second inning with his 19th homer, a high drive that carried into the first row in right field.

Hummel, who wears No. 60 and has played only 45 games in the majors, led off the third with his first homer of the season and the third of his brief career. Larkin's sacrifice fly in the fifth put the Reds up 3-2.

Notes: C Rod Barajas was out of the Rangers' lineup because of a swollen right thumb, bruised in a home plate collision with Griffey the previous night. Tests found no serious injury. … Reds OF Austin Kearns, on the DL since June 8 with a sore on his right thumb, began a rehab assignment with Triple-A Louisville and went 2-for-3 with a single and double. … RHP Aaron Harang will start for Louisville on Friday. Harang has been on the DL since June 4 with an inflamed elbow.