"It's nice to be able to shake hands with my catcher at the end of a game," said the Brewers' Rollie Fingers.
It's nice for Fingers, who earned two saves in less than 24 hours on April 14 and 15, even to be pitching again. The 37-year-old Fingers, who's the major league's alltime save leader (303), blew out his arm in September 1982 during Milwaukee's drive to the American League pennant. When he had pain at the beginning of the '83 season, he paid a visit in Los Angeles to Dr. Frank Jobe, baseball's orthopedic superstar.
"He told me before the operation that it might be like a Tommy John operation, where he'd use the tendon from my left wrist to replace the ligament in my pitching elbow," Fingers says.
But in fact a muscle had torn away from the bone. Jobe reattached the muscle last June 10 and removed some bone spurs, and Fingers did the rest. He started throwing in January, took his time in spring training and then proved to his manager, Rene Lachemann, that he could still qualify as a stopper when he worked three times in five days just before the season began.
He blew a save opportunity against Oakland on Opening Day, but that was a case of bad luck, not bad elbow. It was against the Royals that he pitched those back-to-backers. "My arm was a little stiff the next day," said Fingers, who'll be limited to 30 pitches-per-appearance by Lachemann, "and I'm sure there'll be days when I'm not able to pitch. But if I can get through the rest of the season I think I can pitch a couple more years."
The Dodgers, who used to crush lefties when they had righthanded hitters Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Dusty Baker and Davey Lopes, now have a southpaw jinx. L.A. was 9-21, worst in the NL, against lefties in 1983. So far this season they're 2-5. They certainly need production from Pedro Guerrero, who may be pressing in an attempt to prove he's worth the five-year, $7 million contract he signed in the off-season. Guerrero had only three RBIs in his first 60 at bats through Sunday.
"He's frustrated and embarrassed," said Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda.
Expos righthander David Palmer, who missed all of the '83 season because of elbow trouble, has returned to baseball but good. In his first start, on April 7, Palmer pitched five innings and hit a home run in Montreal's 7-2 victory over Atlanta. Then, last Saturday night in St. Louis, Palmer became only the fourth pitcher in history to get credit for a perfect game that went fewer than nine innings as the Expos beat the Cards 4-0 in the second game of a doubleheader that was called after five innings because of rain.
Palmer, who had reconstructive elbow surgery on Sept. 17, 1982, joins the Twins' Dean Chance (1967), the Philadelphia Athletics' Harry Vickers and the St. Louis Cardinals' Edwin Karger (both 1907) in the select circle of those who have pitched "mini-perfectos."
An ironic postscript: The loser was Bob Forsch, who had thrown the NL's most recent no-hitter last September.
After the world champion Orioles had lost 10 of their first 12 games, pitcher Mike Flanagan was asked what was the best thing that had happened to the team. "Well," he said, "we got our World Series rings on Opening Day."
Dave Kingman paid his first visit to the Seattle Kingdome last week. Pow! Bam! Sock! He had three homers in a game for the fifth time in his career. The Oakland DH missed the three previous games because of a pulled muscle, but after he put on a remarkable show in batting practice he decided to play.
"I was hurting," Kingman said, "but after BP I knew I had to play. The ball flies out of here so easily I can't believe it." At week's end. Kong led the majors with seven homers and the AL with 18 RBIs.
Reggie Jackson, another Pow! Bam! Sock! guy, has started out as if 1983 never happened. Jackson, who hit .194 with 14 homers last year, has four homers and 17 RBIs already. He's not ready to nominate himself for Comeback Player of the Year, however.
"I had a good week and a half," Jackson said Friday before the Angels played the Blue Jays. "I'm fine...up to April 20. Today I'll look to see what happens on April 20. I'm going to take it at bat by at bat and game by game."
On April 20 he went 0 for 6 with three strikeouts.
The Mets' Dwight Gooden, who is 19, the Yankees' Jose Rijo, who is 18, and the Royals' Bret Saberhagen, who turned 20 in the second week of the season, are young pitchers who are talented and not afraid to tell you so.
Gooden, who struck out 300 in 191 innings in Class A ball in '83, was 1-1 with 16 Ks in 13‚Öì innings through Sunday. In his last start, on Thursday, he pitched five innings against the Expos and struck out seven, including five straight batters in the middle of the lineup. After which he said, "I can pitch in this league without my best stuff."
Rijo, who says, "I throw the ball very, very hard," spent almost all of last season in A ball. He had allowed only one earned run and had struck out 14 batters in his first 12‚Öì innings this season before the Rangers shelled him on Sunday. After getting his first save against the Indians on April 18 with a three-inning, five-strikeout effort, he proclaimed, "There are going to be a lot more after this one."
Saberhagen, who split last year between A and AA, was the winning pitcher in his first big league outing last Thursday as the Royals ended the Tigers' nine-game winning streak. He has allowed two earned runs and four walks in his first 17‚Öî innings. Said Saberhagen after the Tiger game, "Nobody told me they were unbeatable."
"He should be a busboy somewhere," said K.C.'s Dan Quisenberry of the slender Saberhagen. "But he knows how to get the ball over the plate. That might sound stupid, but not many people can do that."
Bill Buckner feels he's being held hostage on the Chicago Cubs bench. He's still hoping the Dodgers will ransom him, even though earlier this month Peter O'Malley vetoed a deal that would have sent him back to L.A. Buckner is asking the Dodgers for nothing more than a verbal agreement to a one-year extension of his $600,000-a-year contract if he has a good season.
What must Bill Giles think? The Phillies' president had wanted Buckner included in the deal that sent Gary Matthews and two other Phillies to Chicago for Bill Campbell and Mike Diaz. Giles changed his mind when he found that Buckner wanted not only a contract extension but also a large signing bonus and some help in selling his Chicago condo.
The Cardinals' Ozzie Smith has been considered the best and most creative fielding shortstop in baseball for a number of years. Last week, in the eighth inning of a game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, he made a play to boggle the mind, forcing a runner at second with a 25-foot behind-the-back pass, er, throw.
Smith had to charge a bouncer hit behind the mound by the Cubs' speedy rookie, Henry Cotto. Because Cubs pitcher Scott Sanderson was the runner at first, Smith decided to go to second as he charged the ball.
"But when I looked up I saw I was past second base," Smith said. "What I did was just instinct. It happened before I realized what had happened. But I had done it a couple of times before, taking infield. When I take infield I try to familiarize myself with things that might happen in a game."
When Smith got back to his dugout he was greeted by silence.
"The guys," Smith said, "had their mouths open."
The next day some Cub fans had their mouths open.
"It was 'Hot dog this,' and 'Hot dog that,' " said Smith, who does a cartwheel and a backflip on his way to short before the start of the first and last game of each season. "But I call it flair."
A GLOVE STORY
Amos Otis has a hole in his glove. Literally. The battered piece of leather he uses as the Pirate leftfielder is 12 years old. It is, in fact, only the second glove that Otis has used since he was a sophomore in high school in 1963.
"The first one I had," says Otis, who signed with Pittsburgh when he was dropped after 14 years in Kansas City, "I showed it on national TV and someone stole it."
As Otis' career in K.C. started to wind down and he was eased out of playing centerfield regularly, he wrote little reminders in a felt tip marker on the glove: LEFTFIELD...RIGHTFIELD...PLAYS NO MORE....
Well, the last bit was put there by an anonymous Royal teammate after Otis was benched last season. But if the hole in the glove gets any larger, Otis is going to run out of room to make notes.
When Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman asked why the Fenway faithful—a few of whom have taken to putting paper bags over their heads—had turned sullen and hostile so early in the season, he said, "The Boston fans have been spoiled by the success of the Celtics and Bruins, who win over 60 percent of their games. That's a tough thing to do in baseball."
Especially for a team that allowed eight runs in the first inning of its home opener and has already stumbled through a seven-game losing streak.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
ALVIN DAVIS: Seattle's rookie first baseman went 10 for 23, with five doubles, two homers and eight RBIs. After his third double of the day beat the A's on April 18, one Bay Area newspaper was headlined AL DAVIS RUINS OAKLAND.
BALL PARK FIGURES
This April has been a cruel month indeed for some of the game's strongest men. Their stats through Sunday:
Harold Baines, White Sox
Don Baylor, Yankees
Pedro Guerrero, Dodgers
Greg Luzinski, White Sox
Dale Murphy, Braves
Al Oliver, Giants
Jim Rice, Red Sox
Ted Simmons, Brewers