CINCINNATI – Jason LaRue’s meaningful moments have been few and far between this season. The timing on his latest was perfect.
LaRue’s one-out homer in the 11th inning sent the Cincinnati Reds to a 5-4 victory over the San Diego Padres on Tuesday night and tightened the NL playoff race.
When it looked like Cincinnati was about to fade away, LaRue provided a win that kept the Reds thinking there’s still enough time to elbow their way back to the front of the pack of contenders.
“It’s been that way all year,” manager Jerry Narron said. “Every time the wheels start to fall off, we come back and win a couple. This is a league of runs, and we’re capable of putting together a solid run.”
Cincinnati won for only the fifth time in its last 16 games, moving 2 1/2 games behind San Diego for the NL wild card. Four teams are now bunched within 2 1/2 games of the Padres.
“You’d figure at this point you’d be getting some clear scenarios for some teams, but that’s just not the case,” said San Diego’s Mike Piazza, who hit a solo homer. “We just have to hang in there. Teams can pick up ground or lose ground quickly.”
LaRue had an awkward swing-and-miss on the first pitch from Doug Brocail (2-2), then connected on the next pitch for his eighth homer. LaRue, batting only .180, got into the 3-hour, 34-minute game in the late innings.
Scott Schoeneweis (1-0) escaped a threat in the 10th to get the win.
Sensing the importance of the series, the Reds offered half-price tickets and $1 hot dogs, hoping to draw big crowds. They sold only 15,820 tickets for the opener, which started on time after a daylong rain.
Abreu, Matsui lead N.Y.
NEW YORK – Bobby Abreu finished off the Devil Rays all by himself – in the first inning. Hideki Matsui kept getting applause all night.
Abreu hit a three-run homer and a three-run double in a nine-run first and finished with a career-high seven RBIs in the New York Yankees’ 12-4 laugher over Tampa Bay on Tuesday.
“It was crazy,” said Abreu, who went 2 for 3 with a third-inning sacrifice fly and fourth-inning flyout to the warning track, just missing a grand slam.
Matsui, returning from the broken left wrist that ended his consecutive games streak on May 11, went 4 for 4 with a walk, earning several standing ovations and tying his major league high for hits in a game. As fans rose before his first at-bat, he showed rare emotion, taking off his batting helmet and waving it at the crowd of 52,265.
“When I got to the plate, I never even imagined I would receive such an ovation,” he said through a translator. “I felt nothing but appreciation.”
Derek Jeter batted in each of the first four innings without getting an official at-bat: He had three walks and was hit by a pitch. He didn’t bat again, and his career-high 21-game hitting streak remained intact under baseball’s rules. With three runs scored, he increased his total to 102 and broke 100 for the 10th time.
Yankees manager Joe Torre at first forgot about the streak when he pinch hit for Jeter in the seventh.
“I apologized,” Torre said. “He said, ‘I wasn’t going to catch him, anyway,”‘ a reference to Joe DiMaggio’s record 56-game streak.
Then Torre found out that Jeter’s streak continued under the rules. Jeter, whose .346 average is second in the AL to Minnesota’s Joe Mauer (.348), can’t avoid the streak these days.
“You notice it because every time you’re on deck, somebody in the stands is yelling to get a hit,” Jeter said.