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Rijo’s ‘tales’ as good as his sliders

CINCINNATI — The stories were flowing this weekend, many of them true, when the 1990 World Series champion Cincinnati Reds were honored in Great American Ball Park.


Jose Rijo spotted me in the The Handlebar, a nice little bistro in the right field corner, and invited me to sit for a spell. I sat for an hour listening to tales from the Dominican Dandy who won two World Series games and was the MVP.


Shortstop Barry Larkin was seated close by and was talking about the toughness of the 1990 team and said, “You know, we probably had more fights among ourselves in the clubhouse than we had against other teams.”


And they had plenty of those on-the-field skirmishes.


Rijo laughed and recalled a fight he had with Chris Sabo in the dugout at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. It wasn’t 1990, it was 1991 and many of the same players wore the Reds uniform.


“We had lost eight straight games,” said Rijo. “Sabo and I got into a little shouting match and he ended up throwing a punch and the fight was on,” said Rijo. “We then won about 12 straight. Then we lost a couple and manager Lou Piniella pulled me aside and said, “Josie, why don’t you pick another fight with one of your teammates?”


Rijo recalled Game Four of the World Series against the Oakland Athletics. The Reds had won the first three and only needed to win Game Four to end it. But during the course of the series the Reds lost outfielders Eric Davis and Billy Hatcher to injuries. And Rijo was pitching Game Four and probably couldn’t pitch again.


“It was the seventh inning and we were down, 1-0,” said Rijo. “I came into the dugout and I told Larkin and the guys, ‘If we lose this game, we are going to lose the World Series. We won’t win another game. Just get me two runs an then forget it. It’s over.”


Sure enough, in the eighth inning the Reds scored two runs and at the end of the inning Larkin said to Rijo, “You got your two runs, so let’s go.”


And they won.


Rijo never visited the trainer’s room, never encased his shoulder in ice after he pitched. He had his own home remedy, snake oil, complete with the snakeskin at the bottom of the bottle. He rubbed it on his arm and shoulder before every game.


When Rijo was traded to the Reds from Oakland, another pitcher came with him, Tim ‘Big Bird’ Birtsas. Said Rijo, “The Reds are fortunate that they got two arms in the trade. Unfortunately, both arms belong to me.”


THE ABSENCE OF pitcher Tony Cingrani is about to end. The lefthanded bullpen inhabitant has been AWOL, as far as fans are concerned. He has warmed up several times, but has not appeared in a game in 11 days.


Manager Bryan Price says that is about to change.


“Tony’s time has come,” said Price. “He made the team as a long guy, the second lefthander. If I wanted to use a lefty for one hitter or a short outing, I went with Manny Parra.


“We’ve played a lot of close games so I’ve been reluctant to use Tony when he might face only a couple of hitters,” Price added. “That’s what has made it more problematic for me to get him in.”


Price, though, is about to change Cingrani’s role, based on the low quality relief work by others so far in the bullpen.


“The time has come now that regardless who is coming up, left or right, that Cingrani gets his opportunity. It is his time. He should be provided the opportunity to come in to pitch with some regularity.”


Price wa bluntly honest about his reasoning and said, “We’re not getting the performances we expected from some of the other guys and they’ll continue to pitch, but Tony hasn’t been given the same opportunity and it is his opportunity, his time has come to be given more opportunity.”


Cingrani has been held back because Price always worried he might need him for two, three or four innings, but said Sunday morning, “I can’t worry about length any more. I have to worry about who is the best in the late-game situations.”


ONE OF THE VICTIMS so far has been Burke Badenhop, brought in because he has been a ground ball machine throughout his career, always able to get a double play when needed. It hasn’t happened this season.


“I see a lot of pitches elevated,” said Price. Badenhop gave up four runs in the 11th inning of Friday’s 7-3 loss, including a two-run double to Chicago’s David Ross that came within inches of being a grand slam home run.


“He is throwing a lot of pitches between the thigh and the belt right now,” said Price. “He has definitely been one of the game’s better ground ball pitchers over the last handful of years. We have to find a way to get him back to the bottom of the strike zone instead of a lot of high fastballs and high change-ups that are easier for the hitters to elevate. I don’t think he has lost the ability to get ground balls, he is just in the wrong region of the strike zone right now.”


STRUGGLING JAY BRUCE, who stranded five runners in the last three innings of Friday’s 7-4 11-inning loss to the Reds, making the third out in two innings with runners in scoring position, was not in Saturday’s lineup.


“I’ve given every one a day with the exception of Zack Cozart and Joey Votto,” said Price. “It is an opportunity to get Brennan Boesch in there to keep him fresh. Yes, it is a combination of where Bruce can get a blow, get Boesch in for a game, and Bruce will be back in there tomorrow.”


QUOTE OF THE DAY: Manager Bryan Price, who used 77 F-bombs in a rant last week, has a sense of humor about the incident. Asked about a player, Price said, “Here is another overused work, other than the ‘F’ word, when you describe a player as having a new perspective.”


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