Marge Schott, Cincinnati Red owner, called it disgusting. Red players were embarrassed. The National League office said it was disappointed.

The Reds and Atlanta Braves once again failed to sell out Riverfront Stadium for Game 2 of the National League championship series. It was the most empty seats for consecutive playoff games since the Oakland Athletics drew 27,497 and 24,265 in Games 4 and 5 in the 1973 American League championship series.

"We shouldn't be mad at the fans. We're to blame for the empty seats," Red General Manager Jim Bowden said. "Baseball is going through a tough year with the strike. I'm disappointed, but I was disappointed too when we got to L.A. and saw all of the empty seats.

"They don't even have a football team and they couldn't sell their stadium out."

The Reds were stunned when they walked onto the field and were surrounded by a sea of empty seats for Game 1 Tuesday night. Attendance in the stadium was 36,762, following Tuesday's 40,382. Those were people actually in the stadium. Tickets sold for Tuesday night were 40,382, for Wednesday 44,624. Capacity is 52,952.

"We couldn't believe it," Reggie Sanders said. "We walked out at 7:30, and we're thinking, 'Wow, where is everybody. Hmm, maybe they'll come later. They never came."

While everyone offered excuses, Bowden insisted that the lingering aftermath of the strike was responsible.

"We can't overlook the problems of the game," Bowden said. "We need to do something for the game. We need to get a labor agreement. We need to get a TV contract. We need to get a commissioner. If we do the right things, we can bring back baseball."

Said Leonard Coleman, National League president: "Obviously, we're disappointed . . . I can't really explain it except for the lingering effect of the work stoppage."


It has become the worst nightmare for Red right fielder Sanders.

He may have been an all-star during the season, batting .306 with 28 homers and 99 RBIs, but he has been a bust in the postseason.

He is batting .143 and has only one hit in his last 14 at-bats. In that span, he has struck out 10 times and has not hit the ball out of the infield.

Hal McRae, Red batting coach, recommended during batting practice that Sanders narrow his stance by six inches. Sanders decided to give it a try. "This is a situation where you can be on top of the world or the bottom of the world," Sanders said.


How surprising was the fact that the Reds hit into five double plays Tuesday?

They hit into only 92 double plays during the season, second-lowest in the league, and the Braves turned a league-low 113 double plays.


Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox, when asked if Red shortstop Barry Larkin is the finest he's seen: "For me, it's Luis Aparicio, and then Larkin. Larkin's the second-best I've seen. He's an MVP-type player.

"[Dodger catcher] Mike Piazza is a strong candidate and one of the toughest outs in the game, but [Larkin] does more than hit."


Rafael Belliard, Atlanta shortstop, started ahead of Jeff Blauser on Wednesday because of a bruised right thigh Blauser suffered in the second inning of Game 1. He is expected to return Friday.

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