Sitting on his trunk in the Reds clubhouse, Ken Griffey Jr. answered questions Sunday just like it were any other day, or any other game, not that he hadn't just gotten a clutch hit to win a game when it seemed like those were as rare as a music video on MTV.
Griffey singled home pinch hitter Ryan Freel in the 10th inning of a comeback 4-3 victory over Milwaukee on Sunday at Great American Ball Park and despite his team's poor play so far, said it was far too early to panic.
"There's a 162 games, and we've got 144 left, or something like that? There’s a lot of baseball to be played," Griffey said (and for the record, there are 143 games remaining). "You'd rather get through a mini-slump like this in April than in September when you're in it. We were able to battle back today and I think that's a good sign. Hopefully we can carry it on. Tomorrow's a different day, we've got to go out there and do it all over again."
The Reds started the season good enough, winning two of their first three series and splitting the other one. But then came a downward slide in Pittsburgh, where the Reds were swept by the Pirates and then lost their next two in Chicago before winning one. Back home, the Reds lost their first two games of the homestand, before rebounding with Sunday's victory to improve to 8-11 on the season.
Reds fans were optimistic when the team set out on its first road trip of the season because of impressive pitching performances from youngsters Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez, plus the addition of closer Francisco Cordero.
By the time the Reds returned to Great American Ball Park, the calls were out for people’s heads -- Josh Fogg struggled (and is being replaced in the rotation by Matt Belisle), the bullpen wasn't fixed (its 3.92 ERA entering Sunday's game was 10th in the National League), they have no leadoff hitter (Corey Patterson's OBP is .258),there were no right-handed bats, the bench was short and the team couldn't hit in the clutch (hitting .248 with RISP and .115 with RISP and two outs).
Not all of those woes were solved with Sunday's win, nor are the complaints any less valid.
However, the sky-is-falling defeatism may be coming a little early. This team still is in the National League Central race. Despite losing nine of their previous 12 games coming into Sunday, with the victory, the Reds are still only 4 ˝ games out of first place, trailing the Cubs who took over first with St. Louis' loss to the Giants on Sunday.
"We need that one so badly. Big time," Reds manager Dusty Baker said following Suday's victory. "Seeing St. Louis was losing. We're four out. You want to keep everyone in sight until we're rolling. Hopefully that will jump start us big-time. That showed everyone that left, that with this team, the game's not over until that third out."
Aaron Harang was excellent on Sunday, lowering his ERA to 2.83 while keeping his record at 1-2, picking up the no-decision despite going eight innings, allowing just four hits and a run while striking out eight batters and walking none.
"I think we're just in a dry spell right now. We have the guys where we can put a lot of numbers on the board and we play in a ball park where you can do that too," Harang said. "We're trying to get over that setback hill that we're trying to get over. As soon as we start getting that downward hill, we're going to go off. I'm not worried, it's still early in the season. That’s why we play 162 of these games, it's not like football where you have to be perfect every time out."
Griffey, in his 20th season in the majors, was on a team that was 13 games out of first place in August, only to win its division. Griffey said he’s still optimistic about this season.
"You have to be. Our skipper ain't panicked and he's not going to," Griffey said. "We've been battling. It's not a lack of effort. Sometimes you try too hard. A couple of days in Chicago, we were trying to get him a win in Chicago and guys were pressing. We were able to get the last one. It's not a time to panic. We just keep chugging along and get some momentum and hopefully we can catch fire and keep going."