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Cincinnati Reds fans likely to hit 20 free pizzas

CINCINNATI (AP) — There likely will soon be some 20-game winners at the Cincinnati Reds' ballpark: pizza-loving fans.

A local restaurant chain's promotion tied to opponent strikeouts has seen Reds pitchers hitting the winning total of 11 whiffs in 19 home games. LaRosa's Pizzerias has redeemed game tickets for 190,000 free small pizzas, with nearly two dozen home games left. That's at least a half-million dollars' worth of pizza.

Most of the privately held chain's franchise operators agree that the promotion has been a success, despite the higher-than-expected giveaway total, Pete Buscani, executive vice president for LaRosa's marketing, said Monday as the Reds began a weeklong homestand. He said customers come in smiling, and often order other items.

"Even some of the most cynical (franchise operators) agree this is the best thing we've done in a long, long time," Buscani said.

Based on past seasons, LaRosa's projected 13 free-pizza games. This was the second year for the promotion for the 64-restaurant company.

But the Reds have several starting pitchers who record a lot of strikeouts, backed by a bullpen featuring closer Aroldis Chapman, who can throw 100 mph. The Reds promote "pizza for strikeouts" on the Great American Ball Park scoreboard, and fans begin buzzing as the strikeout total nears 11, then chant and cheer when it's recorded.

Some Reds fans have grumbled about cheers for free pizza during losses, such as in a recent trouncing by archrival St. Louis in which Reds pitchers gave up 13 runs while combining for 13 strikeouts.

Buscani said there has been discussion about that issue, but it was decided "it's going to be a real downer for fans who aren't purists to get to 11 strikeouts and then not get the pizza if the Reds lose."

The Reds have a young pitching staff, so LaRosa's is considering the potential for giving away many more pizzas in seasons to come.

"Let's just get through the season, and then let's see if we make any changes," Buscani said.

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