CINCINNATI - It looks like the Reds are going to have their first 20-game winner in 25 years, but it won't be a pitcher.
It will be their pizza-loving fans enjoying LaRosa's popular free-pizza promotion.
LaRosa's has already given away free small pizzas after 19 home games this season when Reds pitchers had at least 11 strikeouts, and there are 23 home games left.
That amounts to 190,000 free pizzas so far - at least a half-million dollars' worth.
Pete Buscani, LaRosa's executive vice president for marketing, says most franchise operators agree that the promotion has been a success, despite the higher-than-expected giveaway. He says customers come in smiling and often order other items.
Based on past seasons, LaRosa's expected 13 free-pizza games.
How are Reds fans beating the odds?
Reds pitchers are leading the National League in strikeouts (8.26 per game). Only two AL teams, Detroit (8.55) and Boston (8.27), average more.
LaRosa's had to give out seven free pizzas in the first 16 games this season. The Reds struck out 10 or more batters in six consecutive games, and in seven out of eight games between April 18 and April 23, a feat not accomplished since the 1990 World Series season.
And the Reds are on pace to set a season attendance record at Great American Ball Park, meaning there are more fans to cash in on the free pizza deal.
The pizza-for-strikeouts promotion got such weight that in many games that the Reds' staff reached 11 Ks, the loudest cheer came after the third strike of the 11th strikeout.
Reds fans even cheered in the 13-2 loss to the Cardinals on Aug. 2 because Reds pitchers racked up 13 strikeouts despite getting trounced.
The Reds production team at GABP has played into the promotion, making sure to post graphics on the digital ribbons and scoreboard that say "Pizza! Pizza! Pizza!" when there are two strikes on that 11th potential victim.
Don't Waste Your Money reporter John Matarese spoke with LaRosa's CEO Mike LaRosa earlier this season and LaRosa said the pizzamaker was dedicated to the promotion for the long haul.
"We definitely can afford to keep doing it," LaRosa said. "The economics do work out, and guests buy other products when they come in for their free pizza. So there's no danger we'll stop doing it. It [has] been a lot of fun."
By the way, the Reds' last 20-game winning pitcher was Danny Jackson (23-8) in 1988. Johnny Cueto (19-9) just missed last season.