CLEVELAND (AP) -- Only a few inches separated Ken Griffey Jr.
from making history.
Griffey rocketed two balls off the wall in Jacobs Field but
stayed stuck with 498 career home runs as the Cincinnati Reds lost
to the Cleveland Indians 6-5 in 11 innings on Friday night.Pinch-hitter Lou Merloni drew a two-out, bases-loaded walk in
the 11th off Phil Norton (0-1) for the Indians, who rallied from a
three-run deficit.Merloni's jog to first came on a night when 27,308 fans were
hoping to see Griffey make a home run trot or two. He almost did."He just missed," said Reds manager Dave Miley.Griffey went 3-for-5 with two doubles, the first of which off
starter C.C. Sabathia nearly went for career homer No. 499. With
two more homers, he'll be the 20th member of the 500 club.In the lineup as Cincinnati's DH, Griffey hit a shot to right in
the third inning that started off nicely but one-hopped the wall
for a long single.He came within inches of his 18th homer in the fifth, driving a
double the opposite way to left that struck the padding on the
19-foot-high wall just below the yellow line."I knew it had a chance," Miley said. "But I knew that big
green wall was there, too."Griffey came in just 1-for-5 against Sabathia, but made solid
contact in all three at-bats against the left-hander."Golly," Sabathia said, shaking his head. "That's the old Ken
Griffey out there. Fastball away, he hits it off the left-field
wall. Fastball inside, off the right-field. I can only imagine
facing him back in the day."Griffey doubled again in the seventh. The Indians shifted on him
in the ninth and he grounded out to second baseman Ronnie Belliard,
who was 30 feet deep in the outfield grass.Belliard laughed when asked if he was looking for a cut-off man
before throwing to first."We played him just right on that," he said.Casey Blake, who had a tough night in the field, singled with
two outs in the 11th and went to second on a wild pitch. Travis
Hafner and Belliard were walked by Norton to load the bases for
Merloni, who worked the count to 3-2 before taking a high pitch.Blake was happy to chip in after making an error, striking out
twice with two runners on and misplaying another ball."I had to do something to get the crowd off me," Blake said.
"I would have been booing me, too."David Riske (3-2) stuck out five in two innings as the Indians
won the opener of the three-game interleague series against their
NL in-state rivals.Coco Crisp went 4-for-4 for the Indians, who improved to 4-7 in
extra innings.The Reds have lost four straight.Cincinnati starter Paul Wilson was in line to improve to 8-0
before the Indians rallied to tie it 5-5 in the seventh on
Belliard's two-run double off John Riedling.Wilson allowed two runs and eight hits in 5 2-3 innings.The Indians turned back the clock to celebrate the 1975 season
by wearing their all-red replica uniforms -- tops and bottoms -- a
look that fortunately didn't catch on.The onslaught of red looked particularly unfashionable on the
6-foot-7, 300-pound Sabathia, who was reminiscent of former Indians
first baseman Boog Powell.Powell once described himself in the all-red ensemble as the
"world's largest blood clot."The Reds, meanwhile, wore '75 throwback uniforms popularized by
the "Big Red Machine" teams of Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony
Perez, Joe Morgan, and Ken Griffey Sr.Sabathia didn't get much help offensively or defensively as his
frustrating season continued. The left-hander, who has had four
wins blown by Cleveland's bullpen, allowed three earned runs and
seven hits in five innings.Sabathia was visibly angered by Blake's error in the fifth when
the Reds scored twice."I can't be disappointed with my defense," Sabathia said.
"They're playing as hard as I am. They don't get mad at me when I
give up a home run."
If he hits No. 500 this weekend, Griffey will become the
third player to reach the plateau in Cleveland. Babe Ruth (1929)
and Ted Williams (1960) also connected for their milestones here.
... Griffey also hit his 300th at Jacobs Field. ... Belliard let
out his braided hair, giving him an Afro like the one Oscar Gamble
sported while playing for the Indians in the '70s. ... Barry
Larkin's strained abdomen has improved but he remained in
Cincinnati for rehab. ... Wily Mo Pena hit a foul ball in the 11th
that cleared the pedestrian walkway and flew out of the ballpark.