From 60 feet, 6 inches, Greg Maddux still can throw an 86 mile-an-hour fastball that hits the head of a pin. His show against the Reds on Monday night was straight out of 1995. But címon. Madduxís ERA last year was 4.61. His record since 2005 is 31-31. Heís 41 years old.
Madduxís utter domination of Cincinnatiís hitters Monday night had as much to do with the Reds as it did with Maddux. About the only thing Reds batters didnít do was bring white flags to the plate and wave them.
Itís not that the Reds are losing. Itís how. With every loss, a little life leaves them.
The perception builds that this isnít just a rut; itís the road. To beat a guy like Maddux, you have to take your brain and your will with you to the plate. On Monday, the Reds did neither. Maybe because each is in short supply.
Itís not all Jerry Narronís fault his team had lost 11 of 13 before Tuesdayís game. It is 100 percent his problem. Talk all you like about Narronís musical-chairs lineups, his lefty-righty obsessions and the way he uses his horrible bullpen. Those are ripples in his ocean of issues.
Hereís the big wave: Players don't respond to him.
Thatís it. The best any manager can do is create an atmosphere where his players want to come to work every day prepared to win. Do you see that in this team?
Baseball is a six-month, daily mind-bender. Someone needs to keep the attitudes right. In some cases, itís the manager, out of respect or fear, or both: Lou Piniella, Jim Leyland, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, to name a few. If youíre not in that group, youíd better have a veteran player or two to run your clubhouse. Narron doesnít.
This team lacks urgency. Itís passive. It drifts. Itís in big need of a foot in the rear. Narron isnít that kind of guy.
It was telling, after Narron embarrassed Edwin Encarnacion mid-game more than a month ago, for a perceived lack of hustle, that no player came to the managerís defense. Instead, what you heard privately in the clubhouse was that Encarnacion didnít see the popup heíd hit, thought it was out of play and shouldnít have been made an example of. The first time any player has offered a defense of Narron came from Ryan Freel, before Mondayís loss.
Maybe the Reds will rally on the rest of the current road trip and return home with some momentum for an eight-game homestand against two beatable teams, Washington and Pittsburgh. I hope so, for Narronís sake. The Reds have had 10 managers in the 19 years Iíve been here. Only Piniella and Davey Johnson put a powerful, personal stamp on their teamsí performances. The rest were in the spot Narronís in now. None survived it.
Players get managers fired. General managers get managers fired. Fans who stop coming to the games get managers fired. About the only thing Jerry Narron can do now is exactly what he has been doing, and thatís not good enough.
If heíd had more clubhouse leadership . . . if heíd had more star players with forceful personalities . . . if his own personality werenít so gentlemanly and outwardly subdued . . . if heíd had a few relievers who could get through the eighth inning without filing an insurance claim . . .
Narron has tried to put his personal stamp on the Reds. He has stressed fundamentals and demanded hustle. Each time neither edict is followed, another kernel of his credibility is lost. At some point, all thatís left is husk.
To fix something, you have to acknowledge itís broken. Right now, the whole organization is in a weird state of denial. Thirty-nine games into it, weíre still hearing that the pitchers need to pitch, the hitters need to hit and the Brewers arenít as good as theyíre playing. Thanks for that.
If you could look at 11 losses in 13 games and see a team capable of winning 11 of 13, you might accept the notion that things will get better. Itís hard to see it that way.
The talent isnít there, especially in the bullpen. The passion isnít there. The leadership isnít there.
The manager is, though, and heís catching the heat. Thatís how it works in baseball