Arroyo got the loudest and longest ovations Wednesday—and a respectful bow from Griffey—in a successful Cincinnati debut. He pitched into the seventh inning and hit his first career homer in his first at-bat, leading the Reds to an 8-6 victory over the Chicago Cubs.
“I’ll take that 50 times over,” Arroyo said.
His do-it-all debut overshadowed a big moment for Griffey, who moved ahead of two Yankees with his first homer of the season.
Griffey’s solo shot was his 537th, breaking a tie with Mickey Mantle for 12th on the career list. It also provided his 1,538th RBI, moving him ahead of Joe DiMaggio for 31st on that list, which doesn’t include anything before 1920, when RBIs became a statistic.
“Those guys are legends,” Griffey said. “You can’t say enough for those guys and what they’ve done for baseball. Both of those guys are arguably in the top 10 players in the history of the game.”
Although Griffey’s homer was the more historic, Arroyo’s was the more memorable. It changed the mood and the music at Great American Ball Park two days after the Cubs opened the season with a 16-7 win.
The Reds got Arroyo from Boston in a trade for popular outfielder Wily Mo Pena on March 20, a move that stunned and unnerved the lanky right-hander. Fans looking for him to prop up the NL’s worst rotation of 2005 gave Arroyo a loud ovation on opening day.
“I definitely noticed it,” Arroyo said. “It just means that people are expecting big things from me. I hope I can come here and satisfy that need for us to have some quality pitching.”
His hitting made the first impression.
Arroyo came to bat in the third inning and homered off left-hander Glendon Rusch (0-1), who got ahead 0-2 in the count before throwing a down-the-middle fastball. Arroyo, a .073 career hitter, timed it perfectly.
Everyone knew the ball was gone long before it landed in the left-field seats, 403 feet away. Arroyo dropped his head and rounded the bases briskly, his shoulder-length hair flapping behind his helmet.
“I was in another world after hitting it out,” said Arroyo, who hadn’t hit one since high school.
Griffey waited for him on the top step of the dugout, grabbed the bill of his own batting helmet and bowed in respect over the shocking swing. Griffey noticed that Arroyo’s batting helmet had protective ear flaps on both sides— something most hitters frown upon.
“It’s amazing for a guy hitting with a double ear flap,” Griffey said. “I didn’t know if he hit left-handed or right-handed.”
It was Arroyo’s first hit since Oct. 2, 2001 at Shea Stadium. Before that swing, he was 4-for-55 career with 33 strikeouts.
Led Zeppelin blared over the public address system while Arroyo, a rock guitarist in his off-hours, warmed up to start the game. When he went back to the mound to warm up after his homer, the videoboard showed a replay while Joey Scarbury’s “Greatest American Hero” played.
“Anytime you come to a new place, everybody wants to be accepted and wanted,” he said.
Rich Aurilia and Griffey followed Arroyo’s homer with their own, helping the Reds pull ahead 7-2 after the fifth inning.
“I fell behind and made a bad combination of pitches,” said Rusch, who threw 85 pitches in only four innings. “Once you get behind in the count, you’ve got to make real good pitches instead of just good ones.”
Each team hit three homers Wednesday in a ballpark where a major league-leading 246 flew out last year. The Cubs scored 22 runs in the two games but managed only a split because their pitching staff—missing injured starters Kerry Wood and Mark Prior—had control problems.
“We’ve got to get our bullpen shored up and do what we can until we get our big boys back,” manager Dusty Baker said.
Aramis Ramirez hit a two-run homer for his 10th at Great American Ball Park, tying Geoff Jenkins for most by a visiting player. Derrek Lee also hit a two-run shot in the sixth, a couple of pitches after catcher David Ross dropped his foul pop for an error.
Arroyo got two outs in the seventh before Kent Mercker relieved and gave up a pinch two-run homer to John Mabry that cut it to 7-6. David Weathers, who led the staff with 15 saves last year, retired all three batters in the ninth for his first this season.
RBIs weren’t kept as a statistic before 1920. … In contrast to the cloudy, blustery opener, the weather was much more favorable Wednesday—sunny and 54 degrees with a light wind blowing out. … The crowd of 27,287 cheered loudly whenever left fielder Adam Dunn caught a fly ball. Dunn was jeered on opening day for dropping one and misplaying another. … Rusch had won his last four decisions in 2005, matching his career high. … It was Mabry’s fourth career pinch-hit homer.