Wood retires first 17 Reds, hurls 3-hitter

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 hit a two-run homer and Kerry Wood pitched a three-hitter

Wednesday night as the Chicago Cubs beat the Cincinnati Reds 4-1 in

their slugger's return from a seven-game suspension.

Sosa heard some cheers in his return, but they were drowned out

by reminders that it will be a while before his popularity is


"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


"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


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 the top," Wood said. "Hopefully we'll put together some

wins in a row."

Game notes

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 three starts against the Cubs this season, he's 0-3

with an 11.93 ERA.