CINCINNATI (AP)—Darren Baker hasn’t yet learned the distinction between old and vintage.
The 9-year-old son of Reds manager Dusty Baker playfully called Ken Griffey Jr. old on Monday, then watched the 38-year-old outfielder end the game with a swing that was as sweet as ever. His two-run shot—the 603rd of his career— sent Cincinnati to a 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Just like old times.
The fifth game-ending homer of Griffey’s career decided a matchup of the NL Central’s bottom two teams. It also suggested he’s far from over-the-hill, regardless of what the manager’s son thinks.
“You try not to do that too many times,” said Griffey, who has 10 homers. “You’d like to play 8 1/2 and shake hands, but shaking hands at home plate isn’t bad, either.”
Griffey connected off Matt Capps (1-3), who started the ninth with a 3-2 lead and gave it away in only six pitches. David Ross opened with a double to deep center that brought up Griffey, who got into the game as a defensive replacement in the ninth.
Griffey was out of the starting lineup, getting some rest with left-hander Paul Maholm starting for Pittsburgh. He had some fun with it before the game, jokingly asking Baker’s son why he wasn’t playing.
Darren Baker’s answer: “You can’t hit lefties, and you’re old!”
Griffey laughed. He also got the last laugh by connecting on Capps’ changeup for his third homer off a left-hander this season. Griffey was batting only .200 against lefties, one of the reasons he sat until the ninth.
“It just worked out like that,” Dusty Baker said. “We were hoping to get him into the game. They’ve got a ton of left-handers over there.”
Capps, a right-hander, finished June in a fitting way. The closer converted his first 15 save chances before blowing one on June 10. He has now blown four of his last six chances.
“It’s been a rough month,” Capps said. “I gave up a home run to a Hall of Famer tonight. Tonight’s was probably the easiest one to do. He’s a pretty good hitter. It was down and had some movement on it.”
Francisco Cordero (3-1) escaped a bases-loaded threat in the ninth, helping the Reds move a percentage point ahead of the Pirates.
Adam LaRoche hit a sacrifice fly and a two-run homer off Aaron Harang, allowing the Pirates to take a 3-2 lead into the ninth. LaRoche hit the sacrifice fly in the second, and broke a 1-all tie in the sixth inning with his eighth homer, one of his three hits overall.
It was a breakout game for LaRoche, who was batting .196 in his last 27 games.
“We’ve been waiting on it,” manager John Russell said. “You see signs of it. I think he’s starting to feel a lot more comfortable. That would be a big lift for us if he gets going like he’s capable.”
It came down to the two bullpens.
Harang had just finished icing his shoulder and was standing in the clubhouse by his locker, talking to Adam Dunn, when Griffey came to bat.
“Dunner said he had a feeling Junior was going to do something,” Harang said. “Ross got the double, and the next thing you know Junior is going around the bases.”
With little at stake in the standings, the Pirates used the series opener to experiment with the batting order. For the first time since 1957, their starting pitcher batted somewhere other than last.
Maholm moved up to eighth and shortstop Jack Wilson batted ninth, making the Pirates the third NL Central team to try the unorthodox move this season. St. Louis and Milwaukee also have batted their pitchers eighth.
Russell’s move didn’t have much effect on the outcome. The bottom three batters in the order were a combined 2-for-10 and failed to score or drive in a run. Wilson ended up leading off an inning twice after Maholm made a final out.
“Interesting,” Russell said. “It kind of worked in our favor a couple of times.”
The Pirates also had to make one unplanned lineup move. Leadoff hitter Nate McLouth was a late scratch because of a sore left knee.
Russell tentatively plans to start RH John Van Benschoten on Wednesday. … The Pirates hadn’t batted their starting pitcher higher than ninth since April 18, 1957, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. … OF Jason Bay extended his hitting streak to eight games. … OF Jason Michael struck out four times. … In his first eight games, Bruce batted .552 with three homers and seven RBIs. In his last 24 games, he’s batting .194 with one homer and eight RBIs.