ST. LOUIS -- When the Reds were in Milwaukee for the first half of this final road trip of the season, manager Jerry Narron saw the fuss being made about the Brewers finishing '05 with their first non-losing record since 1992. Narron thought it was all pretty silly. "It was a big deal for the Brewers," Narron said. "But to me, it comes down to, 'Are you playing in October?' If not, you're all in the same boat."
The Reds are in that boat, as Sunday's 7-5 loss to the Cardinals closed out the 10th consecutive season in which they'll be nothing more than casual observers of the postseason. The 27-43 record the Reds limped to under Dave Miley at the beginning of the year pretty much ensured that. It was an inauspicious start that quickly doused the flames of the club's preseason aspirations. Then along came Narron -- and a measure of respectability down the stretch. Given Narron's stance, it should come as no surprise that he downplayed the significance of the 46-46 record the Reds put up with him at the helm this year. A non-losing record is, of course, a step in the right direction. But Narron, who had his "interim" tag removed Thursday, believes there are other, more significant steps that were made since he took over. "You measure progress with how these guys' work ethic improved," Narron said before this game. "You measure progress with whether you grind it out or not. There's different ways of measuring progress." If progress can be measured in home run distance, then chalk the Reds up as one of the most progressive teams in the Majors. They ensured the final regular-season game in the long and storied history of Busch Stadium would include some fireworks, as Felipe Lopez, Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns cranked out consecutive solo shots off Matt Morris in the third to put the Reds up, 5-1. It marked the first time the Reds posted back-to-back-to-back blasts since Dmitri Young, Jason LaRue and Pokey Reese did so on Aug. 3, 2001. Even more importantly, the three homers gave the Reds 222 for the season, setting a new club record. But like his managerial record, Narron wasn't very interested in that record. "It tells me you win games with pitching," Narron said. "This game's all about pitching and defense." Indeed, this game proved it. Though they carried long-term significance in the record books, the home runs, in the short term, weren't enough to get the win. That's because Brandon Claussen, the left-hander who, rather surprisingly, became one of the Reds' most reliable arms this season, struggled in his final start. Claussen was unable to protect that big, early cushion. The Cardinals strung together five straight singles off him in a three-run fourth. And in the fifth, he let Reggie Sanders and Chris Duncan connect on back-to-back homers to make it 6-5. "I didn't want to lose this game," said Claussen, who finished 10-11 with a 4.21 ERA. "I had a nice cushion. No excuses. I had a good year. Coming in, I wasn't expected to be where I am. But I would have liked to end with a win." Claussen's teammates felt the same way. But by the time the Cardinals tacked on an insurance run off Josh Hancock in the seventh, the Reds were well on the path to defeat. The loss just punctuated the bottom line for a team that lost seven of its last eight games down the stretch to finish with a 73-89 record. The Reds' October will be reserved for tee times and TV, not a title chase. Said Narron: "It all comes down to, 'Are you playing in October or are you going home?'" And on this day, the Reds went home.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.