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Steve Rushin
August 20, 1990
The first-place Reds held off the surging Giants as the War of the West took a wild turn
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August 20, 1990

This Race Is A Kick

The first-place Reds held off the surging Giants as the War of the West took a wild turn

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A typically innocent target was reserve infielder Ron Oester, who shaved his head on July 30 in hopes of changing the team's luck (SI, Aug. 13). He promptly got some mail from a fan in Ashland, Ky., who assumed that Oester's anti-coif made him a neo-Nazi skinhead. "There's no place for that in baseball," the guy wrote.

"Yeah," confessed Oester. "I was the guy hiding in the bathroom, waiting for Morton Downey Jr."

Cincinnati centerfielder Eric Davis, who is hitting .228 with 15 home runs and 54 RBIs, has been getting the chilliest reception in the Chili City, FANS AIM WRATH AT $9 MILLION MAN was the headline in Friday's Cincinnati Post, and indeed, 48,685 fans, the second largest crowd of the season, showed up that night to aim still more wrath at him. The $9 Million Man, meanwhile, appears oddly touched by the taunting. "I've accepted it," says Davis. "I take it for what it's worth. People only boo when they care."

Of course, not everyone in Friday's crowd came solely to deliver Davis another care package. Some also were attracted by The Beach Boys' postgame concert. "Who's here after the game?" the 60-year-old Craig inquired Friday afternoon. "Madonna? I might stay."

The Reds, meanwhile, were in their clubhouse, watching a short inspirational tape about a 39-year-old paraplegic woman named Winnie who takes up riflery and becomes a competitive sharpshooter. Each player was duly moved by the mandatory viewing of the tape, the star of which, not coincidentally, was Reds owner Marge Schott's sister.

The story that unfolded on the field that night was subdivided into many compelling subdramas. Aside from Craig vs. Charlton, there was Reds rightfielder Paul O'Neill making his final mortgage payment on San Francisco starter Don Robinson, of whom O'Neill is now officially the proud owner. Entering the game, Robinson was 8-2 this season, including 2-0 in three starts against the Reds, but O'Neill had three home runs and all eight of the Reds' RBIs against him in 1990. So in the first inning Friday night, O'Neill hit a Robinson fastball five feet beyond the 375-foot mark in right-field to give the Reds a 2-0 lead. In the third, O'Neill drove a curve 385 feet out of Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood to give his team a 4-0 lead and himself a season total of 14 home runs and 56 RBIs—a good share of them off one man. "I don't think I got a hit off him before this year," said a baffled O'Neill. "Seriously." In fact, O'Neill had had three hits and no homers off Big Don lifetime.

Robinson was relieved by Francisco Oliveras, who was relieved by Kelly Downs in the sixth. Downs had just come off the disabled list that day, and one of his first offerings sailed straight at Davis's chin. On the next pitch Davis hit a 442-foot shot, the longest dinger dinged at Riverfront this season. It was a bigger homer than Reds broadcaster Joe Nuxhall, which, as we shall see, is saying something.

Stunned, perhaps by the applause, Davis was unable to leave the batter's box for several moments before doing his home run lap. "It wasn't like a big sigh of relief," he said of his and the team's scoring outburst. "We weren't gonna jump off the Empire State Building or nothin' like that."

"Now we know we can beat them," said Charlton, an erstwhile Nasty Boy reliever who is 3-2 with a 1.52 ERA since becoming a starter in mid-July. "We haven't played well against them all year, and they've played over their heads against us."

"It's a loss, plain and simple," said Clark. "Tomorrow we bounce back."

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