Cubs 4, Reds 1
CINCINNATI (AP)—Sammy Sosa was back. The adulation was gone.
Sosa cracked his bat as he singled the first time he made contact, later hit a prodigious homer and made a sliding catch in his first game back from a suspension for using cork.
No matter what he did, the reaction was the same. One of baseball’s most beloved player was booed by a capacity crowd.
Sosa heard some cheers in his return, but they were drowned out by reminders that it will be a while before his popularity is restored.
“He can erase a lot of stuff with his performance,” manager Dusty Baker said. “His performance is what shot him to that pinnacle in the first place.”
Sosa has fallen hard since his bat broke in half and the umpires found cork June 2 at Wrigley Field, raising suspicions from fans and fellow players about his three 60-homer seasons.
Some fans yelled “Cork!” and “Corky!” during his at-bats on Wednesday.
“I’m a tough man,” said Sosa, who was 2-for-4. “I pray every night. I’m strong physically and mentally. Anybody else probably would be home, but I’m not.
“Whatever the situation, you’ve got to fight for it, you’ve got to deal with it. It happens, and you’ve got to face it.”
Sosa’s fifth-inning homer off the top of the batter’s eye in center field against Jimmy Haynes (1-6) showed he’s ready to get on with it, even if some fans won’t let it go.
On the last day of his suspension, he asked fans to forgive and forget. Many of the 39,053 fans at Great American Ball Park weren’t ready to do either.
The Reds sold 7,835 tickets when the windows opened, their biggest walkup sale of the season for only their eighth sellout. Some Cubs fans wore Sosa jerseys and held up supportive signs. They were in the minority.
The last time Sosa was in town, he heard cheers and got a standing ovation for hitting career homer No. 500 on May 4. The mood was much different this time.
“Controversy follows great players, and the fans react to that,” Reds shortstop Barry Larkin said. “If he wasn’t as impactful a player, the boos wouldn’t have been as loud. They always want to boo the star player, especially when he comes to your house.”
Sosa heard the taunts, but didn’t react to them.
“Some of them had things to say, but that’s part of the game,” he said.
They booed when he singled to right field the first inning, cracking his black bat toward the handle. Plate umpire Jeff Kellogg matter-of-factly handed it to the bat boy, who deposited it in the dugout.
It recalled Sosa’s first-inning at-bat on June 2, when he grounded out to second and snapped his bat. The umpires found cork in the lower half, bringing an ejection.
Sosa explained that he used the corked bat for batting practice to hit crowd-pleasing drives, and mistakenly brought it to the plate that night. X-rays cleared the rest of his bats, and an original eight-game suspension was reduced to seven.
“Whatever happened is in the past,” he said. “You can’t bring it back. I’m the type of person who likes to go forward.”
He put on a show for several hundred fans in batting practice, hitting impressive drives to every nook and cranny of the first-year ballpark. He got a loud ovation as he left the batting cage, and tipped his cap.
The mood soon changed. He lay on a white towel in the outfield, stretching with the help of a trainer, when the public address announcer read the lineups. His name drew the loudest boos.
He was jeered even before he started digging his right foot into the back of the batter’s box in the first inning, and boos drowned out the cheers every other time he came up.
Sosa did his trademark home-run hop in the fifth, when the ball left the bat with a loud crack and soared to center, smacking off the top of the enormous batter’s eye party room. Sosa again was booed as he rounded the bases with his head down on the homer, estimated at 464 feet.
It was his first since May 1, a span of 69 at-bats, and his seventh of the season.
“I just hit it very good, but I don’t want to make a big deal out of it,” Sosa said.
Wood took it from there, holding the Reds without a runner until Reggie Taylor lined a single to center with two outs in the sixth. Jose Guillen led off the seventh with his 12th homer.
Wood (6-5) didn’t walk a batter and struck out nine in his first complete game of the season. He got some help in the ninth from Sosa, who got a late break on Larkin’s sinking liner, then made a sliding catch.
The Cubs went 3-4 without Sosa, but managed to hold onto first place in the NL Central. His return has them optimistic.
“I don’t think we’ve played our best baseball yet, but we’re still at thetop,” Wood said. “Hopefully we’ll put together some wins in a row.”
1B Hee Seop Choi took batting practice with the rest of the Cubs. Choi rejoined the team on Tuesday, 10 days after a collision with Wood left him unconscious at Wrigley Field. He’s eligible to come off the disabled list on Monday. … Ken Griffey Jr. was out of the Reds lineup for a second consecutive game with weakness in his right leg and hip. Manager Bob Boone says he’s just being cautious and might not play Griffey in the final game of the series Thursday. … Haynes gave up 10 hits and four runs in 5 2-3 innings. In threestarts against the Cubs this season, he’s 0-3 with an 11.93 ERA.