CINCINNATI (AP)—Jack McKeon’s homecoming was triumphant all around.
A tobacconist gave him cigars. Fans shouted encouragement. And his team rewarded him with a rare road sweep.
“Very nice return,” McKeon said. “Everybody had been talking about how this was the ‘Friendly Confines,’ how good of a hitter’s park it is. I was hoping our guys would take advantage of it, and they did.”
Derrek Lee had three hits, including a solo homer, and Mike Lowell hit his 16th homer off Danny Graves to complete the Marlins’ first three-game sweep on the road since August 2000—against the Reds at Cinergy Field.
The Marlins tied a club record with 10 extra-base hits—seven doubles, a triple and two homers. They’d been last in the NL in hitting with runners on base when they arrived with a six-game losing streak.
They relaxed and broke out during the three-game series at Great American Ball Park, scoring 19 runs as McKeon reveled.
“He’s let us play,” said Lowell, one homer behind Cincinnati’s Adam Dunn for the NL lead. “He’s let us relax. His message was to have fun, and to have fun is to win. We have the talent to win.”
McKeon was an integral part of one of the Reds’ most remarkable seasons. He won the NL Manager of the Year Award for leading Cincinnati to 96 victories in 1999, when it missed out on the playoffs by one game. He was fired after the Reds finished second again in 2000 after winning 85 games.
The Reds have not had a winning record in their two seasons under manager Bob Boone, whose contract expires after this season. McKeon said fans yelled encouragement to him from the stands during the series.
“What did they say? ‘Come back. We miss you. We need you,”’ McKeon said. “A lot of them said, ‘Beat them!”’
A 21-year-old rookie beat them Sunday with his best game in the majors. Willis (2-1) gave up only six hits and one walk while striking out a career-high nine. Only three Reds reached second base while he was in the game.
The left-hander was promoted from Double-A, and opponents hit .351 in his three previous starts.
“I told myself to be aggressive, no matter what happens,” said Willis, who left with a 6-0 lead after throwing 102 pitches on a rainy afternoon. “I was going to be myself. That’s one of the best offenses in the game. To put zeros on them is awesome.”
The 6-foot-4 pitcher has a big leg kick and turns his back to the batter before throwing a 93 mph fastball or a nasty slider with a three-quarter delivery.
“He’s all legs and arms and he comes kind of from the side and he had command today,” Boone said. “It’s tough when he comes crossfire at you, even for right-handers. And he kept the ball down. We hit a lot of worm-burners.”
After opening the homestand with two victories over Atlanta, the Reds lost four in a row, falling two games under .500 (24-26) for the first time since May 7.
Ken Griffey Jr. was out of the lineup, a day after he went 4-for-4 with two homers. Griffey was sidelined by a dislocated shoulder for 5 1/2 weeks, and will get an occasional day off to rest it.
Graves (3-3), a former closer who has developed into Cincinnati’s best starter, lost for the first time since April 15, a span of eight starts. The Reds’ rotation has gone 10 games without a win.
The Marlins are 6-7 since McKeon took over for Jeff Torborg on May 11. … C Ivan Rodriguez was out of the Marlins’ lineup, a day after he bruised his foot. Rodriguez also missed three games on the road trip because of an illness in the family. … Ozzie Guillen was back as the Marlins’ third base coach. He missed the last two games to attend his son’s high school graduation in Florida. … OF Wily Mo Pena started his second game of the season for the Redsand went 0-for-4, leaving him 2-for-24 with 10 strikeouts.