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Home plate umpire Harry Wendelstedt looked like a USDA inspector grading eggs last Friday night in Cincinnati, so often was he asked to examine the baseballs being thrown by Reds pitcher Norm Charlton. The requests came from sundry San Francisco Giants batters, whose manager, Roger Craig, was convinced the lefthander was cleaning up on his team with a lot of spit and very little polish.
"He's got one of the best split-fingers in the league," Craig said, "and an occasional spitter." After all, how else to explain Charlton's three-hit, 7-0 win in the first game of the four-game series, a W that widened the Reds' lead in the National League West to 5� games over the Giants? Surely the Giants, who were 8-2 against Cincinnati this season going into that game and who had swept the Reds in four home games only 12 days before, were having their great expectations for this series dampened—literally—by great expectorations on the Riverfront Stadium mound.
On Sunday, when the Giants couldn't hit Reds reliever Rob Dibble, either, the balls again were being submitted to saliva tests, and the ill will between the teams continued to brew. In any case the Reds, who lost Saturday's game 4-2, made certain with their 6-4 win in Game 3 that they couldn't lose ground in the division race during this series. The best the Giants could do was finish where they started, 4� out of first. But they fell 6� back after the Reds came from behind to beat them 6-5 Monday night.
Reds manager Lou Piniella was no doubt referring to the whole season when he shouted in the celebrating clubhouse on Sunday, "We're gonna beat 'em.... It's that plain and simple. No 'Humm Baby.' We're just gonna beat 'em."
Of course, Piniella was equally animated on July 26, 27, 28 and 29 in San Francisco, but for those four days he was more apt to be poking out light bulbs behind the visitors' dugout at Candlestick Park, as he did after one of the losses. For a man making such a mess, Piniella talked an awful lot last month about cleaning house should the Reds, who have been in first place every day this season, blow the division race to the Giants, who were 14� games out on May 28.
Even as late as July 24 the Reds led the Giants by 11 games. That was on the second day of what would prove to be the worst trip to California since the Joad family fled Oklahoma. It was an odyssey during which the Reds lost eight of 11 games, counting those four straight in the Stick. And while the Reds pitching and clutch hitting went south out west—they squandered two 3-0 leads to the Giants-there were those in Cincinnati who fingered former Reds pitcher Pedro Borbon for the team's headlong slide. The day the Reds departed for California, Borbon played in an old-timers' game at Riverfront. Borbon, you will recall, placed a hex on the Reds when he was traded to the Giants in 1979, saying, "I'm going to call my voodoo out and put it on Cincinnati. They soon be in last place. And watch out for the Giants—they go up." He was right. Since that season, the Reds have failed to win a division title, while the Giants have come out on top twice. And even though Borbon removed the hex at the old-timers' game, some fans believe it is still in effect.
The Reds returned to Riverfront after their California expedition and lost five of the first seven games of their most recent home stand. The Giants came into town having lost four of six themselves and didn't merit a molehill of respect, either. "This is ours to lose now," Piniella told his team.
Not so, said Craig. "I was with the Cardinals in 1964, and that was the year everyone said the Phillies blew the pennant. Well, this game can humble you."
Humbled Cincinnati fans, acutely aware that the team's recent history of second-place finishes is rivaled only by the Democrats', began booing the Reds with both barrels.