SAN FRANCISCO — Having blown 5-1 and 4-1 leads while losing twice to the Atlanta Braves, the Cincinnati Reds flew to the West Coast Tuesday night unaware that the Dodgers had wasted a 7-0 lead in a 10-8 loss to the Houston Astros.
Red Manager Lou Piniella said he found the news as much of an eye-opener as his room-service coffee Wednesday morning, but beyond that he didn't have a reaction.
"We've got to go in and beat them ourselves," Piniella said of the Dodgers and a three-game series that begins in Los Angeles Friday night. "I mean, what difference does it make what they do against somebody else?"
Plenty, of course.
That was clear again Wednesday night, when his Reds ended their 11-game losing streak at Candlestick Park and defeated the San Francisco Giants, 5-3, to move 7 1/2 games ahead of the Dodgers and 9 1/2 ahead of San Francisco.
Even the fact that Piniella lost his pregame composure and was ejected for the fifth time didn't hurt the Reds.
But the loss was painful for the Giants, who had been hopeful after picking up two games in the standings while the Reds were losing those two in Atlanta.
"They've given us every chance in the world," Giant left fielder Kevin Mitchell said of the Reds. "Sometimes it's hard to tell if guys are pressing or just tired."
Said teammate Will Clark: "We beat 'em two games and we're almost back in it. It's all or nothing now. Sweep and we see a ray of light."
Before the game, Piniella sprawled on the floor of his clubhouse office, watching the New York Mets play the Pittsburgh Pirates on television.
"Everybody points to the frustration level of the team that's leading, but it's just as frustrating for the teams behind us not to make up significant ground when we struggle," he said.
"Those are the teams that have squandered opportunities. I mean, every time we struggle people expect us to collapse because we've never won, but we've bounced back, held our position and learned a lot from the experience.
"I feel good about our situation. It's in our hands."
Their victory wasn't stylish, but the Reds did take things into their hands with 14 hits, including eight doubles, tying the league's season high. First baseman Hal Morris raised his 81-game average to .350 with two doubles and a solo homer. Norm Charlton, expelled as a bullpen Nasty Boy when he moved into the rotation, scattered six hits over seven innings to improve his earned-run average to 1.54 for 11 starts.
Piniella was ejected by plate umpire Jim Quick in the fifth inning, his third ejection by the crew that was present Aug. 21 in Cincinnati when a furious Piniella, twice hurled the first base bag, prompting a radio station to sponsor a base-throwing contest at Fountain Square in downtown Cincinnati. Piniella was ejected that time, too.
This time, he was ejected while in the dugout for sniping about a strike call on Barry Larkin in the fifth inning, the umpire later saying Piniella attempted to intimidate him.
It was a Quick thumb in more ways than one, and Piniella raced out, engaging the plate umpire in a finger-pointing debate and having words with umpires Terry Tata at third and Dutch Rennert at first. Because he was concerned about fan abuse and threats the last time the Reds were here, Piniella eventually asked a security officer to accompany him to the clubhouse door in the right-field corner.
This all followed a pregame attempt at detente by Piniella and Giant Manager Roger Craig, who participated in a war of words the last time their teams met. Piniella and Craig talked by clubhouse phone Wednesday night and agreed that it was an out-of-character and out-of-proportion chain of events that will not affect their relationship.
"We'd like to win the division by 10 games," Red first baseman Todd Benzinger said after the game, "but if we maintain what we have we'll be fine. We just can't give other teams the feeling that they're creeping up on us. If we can keep it at 5 1/2 or 6 1/2, maybe they'll start to see it's a hopeless cause."