Nothing much has changed about the Cincinnati Reds since they played the Indians last month. Same lineup. Same pitching staff.
So what's different about the Reds in July? Their record, and their attitude.
The Reds didn't even have to leave Ohio to improve baseball's best road mark as Eddie Taubensee singled home two runs in the sixth, and Steve Avery remained unbeaten at Jacobs Field in Cincinnati's 3-2 win Friday night over Cleveland.
Since being swept by at home by the Indians, the Reds have won 16 of 22 to climb to the top of the NL Central. They entered the night tied with Cleveland for the best road mark in the majors, but with their 23rd win in their last 29 away games, "The Big Road Machine" rolls on.
"We played them well in Cincy," said Reds manager Jack McKeon, whose team is 28-12 on the road. "They just got a couple more key hits and a little better pitching. When they left town we realized we can play with them. We looked at it as a challenge then and have been playing with confidence."
The Indians, like the rest of baseball, have noticed.
"They are a tough ballclub," said Indians starter Dave Burba, who played with the Reds before being traded to Cleveland. "People are saying, 'How about the Cincinnati Reds?' But how about the Cincinnati Reds three weeks ago when they played us tough as nails?"
Avery (6-7) limited the Indians to four hits in 5 1-3 innings before turning it over to the top bullpen in baseball. Stan Belinda, Dennis Reyes and All-Star rookie Scott Williamson combined for hitless relief over the final 3 2-3 innings.
In he past 43 games covering 157 2-3 innings, Cincinnati's relievers have a 2.40 ERA. Williamson got three outs for his 11th save but got a scare in the ninth when he walked Manny Ramirez leading off.
"You look at that Cleveland lineup, what a great team," McKeon said. "Everybody that comes up there scares you. Like in the ninth. All we had to do was face Ramirez, Thome and Sexson. One swing and we're in trouble."
Burba (7-5), who grew up a Reds fan, allowed just three runs and five hits in seven innings.
The Reds snapped a 1-1 tie with two runs in the sixth, set up by a leadoff walk and a play Indians second baseman Roberto Alomar probably should have made.
Burba walked Michael Tucker walked to open the inning and Sean Casey followed with a high hopper that Alomar tried to play to the side. The ball skipped off his glove into short center as Tucker raced to third.
One out later, Barry Larkin walked to load the bases and Taubensee followed with a two-run single to center.
There is one new trend for the Reds: they're playing their best against the best.
"At the start of the year we didn't play well against the top-notch teams," Taubensee said. "We beat everybody else. It just seemed that we went on the road in June and everything started to click. We turned it up a notch and have a lot of confidence."
Cleveland closed within a run in the bottom of the inning on Ramirez's run-scoring groundout, his 92nd RBI this season. Ramirez's RBI total is the third highest in baseball history at the All-Star break, trailing only Hank Greenberg's 103 in 1935 and Juan Gonzalez's 101 last year.
In the bottom of the inning, the Indians placed runners at second and third with one out. But Indians shortstop John McDonald, making his first major league start, was called out at hird on the front end of a double steal and Avery got out of the inning by getting Kenny Lofton to ground to short.
Cleveland tied it in the fifth when McDonald grounded into a bases-loaded double play.
- In their sweep last month in Cincinnati, the Indians won by scores of 8-6, 4-3 and 7-3.
- Avery is 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in four starts at the Jake.
- A powerful thunderstorm rolled through the city about an hour before game time, forcing the Reds to cut short batting practice and delaying the start by 26 minutes.
- Ohio Gov. Robert Taft threw out the ceremonial first pitch, a soft toss that didn't veer right or left.
- Before the game, the Indians worked out center fielder Pedro Mendez, who defected from the Cuban National "B" team in 1998. Mendez, a 23-year-old center fielder, lives and plays in Spain.
- Cleveland catcher Sandy Alomar joined the Indians Double-A Akron team on their road trip to Altoona, Pa., on Friday night to continue his rehab assignment. Alomar, on the DL since May 17 following a knee surgery, went 1-for-3.
- Taubensee played 26 games for the Indians in 1991.
- Reese has gone 62 games without an error.
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