The Houston Astros couldn't touch Ron Villone in their climate-controlled dome. They didn't do much better on a field as hot as a griddle.
The left-hander extended one of the NL's most amazing turnarounds Monday, throwing 100 pitches in wilting heat as the Cincinnati Reds pulled away to a 5-2 victory.
Five days after he outpitched Randy Johnson, Villone (4-2) had another overpowering performance and even had a base hit of his own as the small-market Reds moved back into sole possession of first place in the NL Central.
"I can can't explain it," Astros interim manager Matt Galante said. "We've seen him a number of times, and that's not the same Villone. There are a lot of things like that in baseball that you can't explain."
Villone had a streak of 21 scoreless innings second-longest in the majors this season snapped by Matt Mieske's two-run homer in the seventh. He gave up six hits and two walks in seven innings in what he described as the hottest conditions he's ever pitched in.
"I didn't feel great," said Villone, who got a liter of fluids intravenously before the game to prepare for the heat. "I didn't have my best stuff. The defense helped me. Things went our way."
Danny Graves pitched the ninth for his 11th save in 14 chances.
Aaron Boone had three hits for the second straight game and Mike Cameron homered off emergency starter Chris Holt (1-9) as Cincinnati split the four-game series. The Reds are 8-3 this season against their division rival.
"I think they went back home realizing, 'These guys can play with us. We're not running away with this thing,"' manager Jack McKeon said.
For the second straight afternoon, melting was as much on the players' minds as winning. Officially, it was 89 degrees at the first pitch, but the on-field temperature was much higher.
A thermometer placed in the sun on the artificial turf a few minutes befoe the first pitch registered 154 degrees, 4 degrees higher than Sunday. Waves of heat snaked from the turf, turning the circular stadium into an oven.
It was the nastiest weekend for baseball in Cincinnati in two years. On July 27, 1997, the on-field temperature was gauged at 152 and Braves starter Greg Maddux removed himself from a 3-0 victory after only six innings because it was so hot that he couldn't concentrate. The plastic edge of Jeff Blauser's cleats melted.
Players wrapped their necks with towels soaked in ammonia and cold water Monday. Some turned to an old-fashioned remedy of wearing cabbage leaves soaked in the ammonia under their caps.
"They say that Babe Ruth did it," Cincinnati's Sean Casey said. "If the Bambino can do it, we can do it."
The temperature was twice as high as what the Astros are accustomed to the Astrodome is a constant 72 degrees.
Villone, a New Jersey native who attended college in Massachusetts, knew exactly how to handle the heat. He wasted no time between pitches, quickly wiping his brow with his black shirt sleeves.
"Yesterday, it was exhausting," Cameron said. "Today was a little better. It always helps when you've got a guy who works fast, gets outs and you don't have to stand out in the heat."
Only two weeks ago, the Reds considered sending Villone back to the bullpen. He had gotten the chance to start after 162 career relief appearances and was rocked for 13 runs in 10 innings over three starts.
In his last three starts, Villone has held the Astros to one hit over seven innings, limited Arizona to one hit in eight innings while Johnson struck out 17, and now beaten the Astros again.
"Sometimes a change of scenery will help a guy out," Houston's Jeff Bagwell said. "We used to have a guy in the bullpen named Curt Schilling who's doing pretty good as a starter."
Houston was looking forward to trying to win the series Monday behind Mike Hampton they've lost only twice since his first start of the season. But Hampton was bothered by a sore pitching wrist, which he strained during batting practice last week, and Holt replaced him two hours before the first pitch.
Holt allowed 10 hits and five runs over 5 1-3 innings. Cameron had an RBI groundout in the second, Greg Vaughn and Boone had run-scoring singles in the third and Cameron hit a two-run homer in the sixth for a 5-0 lead.
©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed