May 3 (5-14): With two outs, starter John Denny fails to field a chopper off the bat of Keith Hernandez that rolls foul. Given new life, Hernandez hammers a two-run homer and the Reds tumble to the Mets 4-1. As he storms about the dugout after being yanked, Denny, a born-again Christian, throws a bat at a TV cameraman.
May 4 (5-15): Owner Marge Schott suggests sending a priest to the clubhouse, but Rose rejects the idea. Plenty of time for last-place rites. Asks a still-interested Dave Concepcion, "Can he hit?" Concepcion, who earlier in his career had jumped into a clothes dryer in order to get hot, showers with his uniform on.
May 5 (5-16): When pressed, G.M. Bill Bergesch says the biggest disappointments have been reliever Ted Power and cleanup hitter Nick Esasky. After saving 27 last year, Power (0-3, 7.36) says he's unable to pitch inside effectively but can't figure out why. Esasky, who was second on the team in homers and RBIs in '85, slugs like Babe Ruth in batting practice but swings like Ruth Buzzi in games. One Reds fan holds up a banner that reads: END THE CURSE, SACRIFICE SCHOTTZIE. Security personnel take away the banner of the infidel. Even Marge can't help spanking Schottzie, whom she drags down to the field from her office for good luck in the 10th inning of an 11-inning, 4-3 loss to the Braves.
May 6 (6-16): Buddy Bell dons glasses, perhaps to distinguish his tiny .164 average from those of other Opening Day starters Esasky (.164), Ron Oester (.187) and Eric Davis (.194). To clean up his swing, Bell begins taking 250 to 300 extra cuts before games.
May 8 (6-17): For the 11th time, Cincinnati falls behind in the first as the first four Braves to face Denny (1-4) score. "We're fine till we step on the field," says rookie outfielder Tracy Jones. In the seventh inning, a foul liner off Ozzie Virgil's bat strikes Schott in the left shoulder. She's treated for a bruise, and for some reason returns to see the finish of the 10-5 loss.
May 9 (6-18): Soto (2-4) allows but three hits. Two of them, however, come in the same inning as the Reds fall 2-1. After being 39-18 in one-run games last year, Cincinnati is now 1-7.
May 10 (6-19): Rose fields his 19th lineup. In desperate search of the right combination, he considered at one point putting nine names in a hat and arranging his starters blind. "The only reason I didn't was because the way we were going I know Parker would end up batting ninth," he says. Tom Browning (0-4), who pitches well but is backed by only three hits, says, "We've just lost that fire. Last year we were surprising everyone and this year everyone's going after us and we're not rising to the challenge."
Then comes May 11. Eureka! Euphoria! You gotta be kidding!
The punchless Reds chase baseball's best after just five innings, as Dr. K is saddled with his first L since last Aug. 31. Ahead 3-0, Cincinnati squeezes out a 3-2 win for its second victory in 13 tries against the two division leaders, Houston and New York. If ever a May win meant more than just a May win, this one did, though none of the Reds was stressing its import. "We're not going to come out of it at once," says Oester. "It's going to take time. But we have time. It's not like '82 or '83, when it seemed so hopeless. We know we have a good club."
That was the theme sounded in the players' pregame meeting, which Rose ordered but did not attend. Bell talked about how much better the current Reds are than some of the execrable clubs he played for in Texas and Cleveland; Denny and Tony Perez compared the team favorably to the '83 Phillies, who won the NL pennant. Schott wandered the field before the game to lend encouraging pecks on the cheeks and gentle reminders to win one for Mother's Day. She was to appear Monday with Schottzie on Late Night with David Letterman. (Schottzie, who hates to fly, was to be driven in a limo from Cincinnati to New York.) In a weak moment Marge mused, "Maybe I'll breed my own team."