CINCINNATI (AP) -- Cincinnati Reds pitchers are striking out batters at a sizzling pace, and their fans are eating it up.
A local restaurant chain promises free pizza for ticket-holders any time Reds pitchers whiff at least 11 opponents. It's paid off seven times already in the season's first three weeks, resulting in more than $100,000 worth of pizzas being given away by LaRosa's Pizzerias.
"First of all, you'll be talking to another guy the next time you call," Pete Buscani, LaRosa's executive vice president for marketing, replied jokingly when asked Tuesday what would happen if the Reds pitchers continue to deliver free pizza at this rate.
Tuesday night's 13-strikeout performance in a 10-inning loss gave the Reds six straight games with at least 10 strikeouts for the first time in modern Reds franchise history — Saturday's game ended with 10 strikeouts, the other five were free-pizza games. Buscani said the Reds had 13 free-pizza home games last year, the promotion's first season.
The Reds promote the strikeouts deal on their scoreboard. There's often a buzzing in the stands as the team's pitchers near double digits, and cheers erupt when they hit 11. Fans have seven days to redeem tickets, getting an eight-inch pizza with any four toppings, a pie that sells for $6.79.
"I think the promotion is fantastic," fan John Rentz of Cincinnati said via email Tuesday. He said he cashed in nine or 10 times last year and likely will easily top that number this year. "I was actually surprised to see LaRosa's continue it after the high frequency of times the pitching staff hit 11 strikeouts last year."
While LaRosa's officials might hear some good-natured grousing from store operators about all the pizza they give away, the chain considers it a big hit.
"The real reason to do this is to underscore awareness of our brand and get people to visit," Buscani said. "This is the best promotion we've done in a long time."
He said many customers buy other items when redeeming their game tickets. And, importantly, he said, people come into the stores with big smiles as the promotion builds positive feelings about LaRosa's, a privately held chain which has 65 stores mostly in the Cincinnati region. The only tweak LaRosa's has made is asking fans not to cash in until the day after the game, because some stores got swamped by pizza-hungry fans immediately after games, Buscani said.
Free food giveaways for sporting events are often popular promotions. Taco Bell offered free tacos for stolen bases during the last World Series, and Louisville, Ky.-based Papa John's International has had free pizza promotions during NFL seasons and the Super Bowl.
LaRosa's had abandoned an earlier stadium promotion for pizza deliveries to fans phoning from their seats because there weren't enough takers to justify the manpower needed.
They decided last year on the strikeouts deal, after calculations showed they could expect 11 to 13 free-pizza games a year. But with high-strikeout starters such as Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos and Homer Bailey combined with hard-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman, the Reds are nearly halfway to last year's total with more than five months left.
LaRosa's has been seeing a 13 percent redemption rate among eligible fans, but that could grow as the strikeout tallies gain more attention. At any rate, Buscani said LaRosa's likes being associated with a winner — the Reds won their division last year and entered Tuesday night's play in first place.
"It's exciting to be part of what's been been going on at Great American Ball Park the last two seasons," Buscani said.
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