August 17, 1986

The team that moved out to a six-game lead in the American League
East last week plays in a ballpark that opened six days after the
sinking of the Titanic. Due to the many painful events the Fenway
Park faithful have experienced in the intervening 74 years, including
countless lost leads and not a single world championship since 1918,
no one nowadays questions whether there's an iceberg on the Boston
Red Sox' horizon. Inquiring minds only want to know what it will look
Will it have pinstripes? (The Yankees hope so.) A bit of acid rain
corrosion? (That would mean the Blue Jays.) A pronounced list to
port? (The Tigers feast on righthanded pitching.) Will it be
refrozen, after at least two partial meltdowns (and herald an Indian
summer)? Or will it have on its top a rookie singing Oh, What a
Beautiful Morning? (That would be the Orioles, who found a smash-hit
understudy named Jim Traber to play the part of Eddie Murray.)
Strange things have been happening in the AL East all season,
including a flood, a lightning bolt and crowds in Cleveland. Last
week the Orioles, Tigers and Yankees fought over second place, while
the Blue Jays fought each other. A major league record three grand
slams were socked during a game in Baltimore. A couple of guys in
their 40's pitched dazzlingly. And another song Bird, Rick Dempsey,
unwittingly summed up the whole scene when he grabbed a microphone
during a rain delay in Baltimore Wednesday night and lip-synched
Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On.
Everyone, except possibly the last-place Brewers, who stood 10 1/2
games back at .500 (as well as under four feet of water after rains
submerged the first four rows at County Stadium), was contending as
of Sunday night, and all of them, the Brewers included, had narrowed
the gap on the Red Sox in recent weeks (see boxes beginning on page
24), despite some glaring deficiencies. Give Milwaukee another
lefthander to match Ted Higuera (15-7, 2.54), for instance, and the
Brewers would rise through the division like yeast. Why? Because the
Blue Jays are 8-15 against lefties, the Yankees 16-25 and the Tigers
The YANKEES (6 games back) can thank the White Sox for supplying
them with help for the stretch. On July 29 Chicago owners Jerry
Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn, evidently taking their Second City tag
seriously, sent shortstop Wayne Tolleson, catcher Joel Skinner and
outfielder Ron Kittle to New York. In return, Chicago received minor
leaguer Carlos Martinez, a player to be named later and catcher Ron
Hassey, whose gimpy knees were no secret to anyone in the league
except the Reinhorn Boys.
Although Kittle is 1 for 14 with eight strikeouts since donning
pinstripes, Tolleson seems to have solved the Yanks' problems at
short. The five previous shortstops -- Bobby Meacham, Paul Zuvella,
Dale Berra, Mike Fischlin and Ivan DeJesus -- had a cumulative 23
errors and fewer RBIs (17) than RLIs (runs let in -- that is,
unearned runs attributable to an E-6). The trade didn't, however,
address New York's most dire need. Yankee pitchers, with a combined
ERA of 4.28, will almost certainly be the first New York staff in 36
years to finish a season above 4.00. Just the same, Dennis
Rasmussen, Ron Guidry and rookie Doug Drabek threw encouragingly last
week, and 43-year-old Tommy John, who had just finished a
rehabilitative stint in the minors, was masterful in pitching 7 2/3
innings of a 2-0 blanking of the Royals Friday night. ''I have mixed
emotions,'' said John upon being recalled. ''I think I may have been
in line for Player of the Month in the Florida State League.''
The Yanks can only be grateful to have finished their season's
series with the Brewers, who took six of the last seven. And they can
only hope their owner avoids the sort of second-guessing for which he
is so infamous. The red phone on manager Lou Piniella's desk rang
minutes after Tuesday's 2-1, 10- inning loss to Milwaukee, in which
umpire Dave Phillips ruled that Skinner's seventh-inning would-be
bloop double landed in foul territory (replays clearly showed the
ball bounced fair). It was George Steinbrenner who proceeded to argue
strenuously with his manager for not arguing the call strenuously
enough. Reporters standing by heard Piniella murmur a few O.K.'s and
Yes, sir's into the phone during the harangue.
Two days later, Piniella was asked whether John would be the
starter on Friday. ''What do I know?'' he said. ''I'm only the
manager.'' As if to emphasize that point, the Yanks celebrated Billy
Martin Day on Sunday by losing again. ''If we were 10 or 12 games
out, then Boston's results would be important to us,'' says Willie
Randolph. ''But we can catch them easy enough. It's up to us. . .''
New York, New York.
Only a few packs of unfiltered Raleighs ago, ORIOLES (7 back)
manager Earl Weaver was moping about his team. Then on July 10 Eddie
Murray went on the disabled list with a pulled hamstring, after which
Traber was summoned from Rochester to replace him at first base; and
on July 25, in what has become known as the Great Purge, regulars
Alan Wiggins, Mike Young and Floyd Rayford were shipped to the
minors. The O's have gone 15-13 since that chain of events began and
crept to the middle of the pack from 10 back. ''This is so good,''
says outfielder Lee Lacy, ''I get up early every morning to read the
No fewer than 11 O's have shuttled between Rochester and
Baltimore. But Traber, the erstwhile Oklahoma State quarterback and
star of such stage musicals as Oklahoma! and Guys and Dolls in high
school, has performed better in the role of Power Hitter than anyone
thought possible. He has hit .341 with 8 homers and 22 RBIs since the
All-Star break. Murray came off the DL and returned to first base
last week, and Traber stayed in the lineup, going a cool 3 for 11 in
three games as a DH.
Without reliever Don Aase, who was sidelined briefly after
spraining his back playing with his 4-year-old son, Kyle, Baltimore
dropped four in a row, including a couple to Texas by scores (13-11,
9-8) that belonged in the lacrosse agate. The 13-11 game featured
those three grand salamis, including one each by Orioles Larry Sheets
(who had four homers in six games last week) and Jim Dwyer in the
same inning. (The Rangers' Toby Harrah hit the other one.) But it
also exposed the O's thin bullpen. Aase's health -- a tender pitching
elbow has been bothering him for weeks -- will determine Baltimore's
fortunes. Says Weaver, ''It would be easier to pick a horse at the
racetrack than to pick the winner of this.''
The TIGERS (7 1/2 back) blew a golden opportunity to cut Boston's
lead, losing three straight home games to the Bosox last weekend.
Still, Detroit plays 13 of its next 16 games at home. The Tigers
still need hitting from the right side -- the starting righthanded
DHs have only five RBIs off lefty starters all year -- and pitcher
Dan Petry, who is scheduled to pitch next week after being disabled
since June 6, may not be able to help.
But Detroit has clawed back into the race since the All-Star
break. Dwight Lowry, a Mendoza Liner in one-plus years in Triple A,
has hit .323 while catcher Lance Parrish mends a bad back, and
Cleveland manager Pat Corrales calls Tiger rookie starter Eric King
''the best young pitcher I've seen this year.'' Says Detroit manager
Sparky Anderson, ''Everybody had us buried in the grave on July 13.
So we're just walking ghosts.'' The Red Sox treated the
Tigers as just that last weekend, beating them 6-1, 8-7 and 9-6. But
the Tigers almost prefer their position to the big lead they opened
up during their championship season two years ago. Says Darrell
Evans, ''In '84, all we could do was lose it. Here, the story line
would be 'We win it.' ''
! When the INDIANS (8 back) won 10 straight early, Corrales
says, ''I didn't want to say it, but I wanted them to realize it --
that it's a real world.'' Cleveland learned the lesson, but the Tribe
had also acquired a taste for victory. And so, after stumbling a bit,
the Indians ran off a 9-out-of-10 streak beginning June 27, getting
game-winning RBIs from seven different players.
Beyond the core of the rotation -- AL East castoffs Phil Niekro
(Yanks), Ken Schrom (Blue Jays) and Tom Candiotti (Brewers) --
Cleveland's pitching is thin, and youth can cost a team in a pennant
chase. In the midst of four straight losses to the Tigers last week,
one of the Indians' many fine young players let down the eldest of
those pitchers. Rookie shortstop Cory Snyder dropped a double-play
peg from Niekro, leading to four unearned runs and touching off a
15-1 rout. Cleveland has gotten off to a 6-9 start in a
42-game stretch against AL East opponents, and will likely tumble
below .500 before this intramural foray is over. ''We just have to
stay close until September,'' says Indian outfielder Brett Butler.
''That's when we'll play the West, and the East will be banging heads
with each other. The last time we played the West, we gained five
games on Boston.''
The defending division champion BLUE JAYS (8 back) are putting up
quite a fight. Toronto's Dama(sayitain't)so Garcia attacked teammate
Cliff Johnson outside the batting cage before a game last Tuesday,
after Garcia, who wanted a few extra cuts, became miffed that
designated hitter Johnson, still on the disabled list, was trying to
get extra hacks himself. Garcia told Johnson to leave the cage,
whereupon Johnson dared Garcia to make him, and the matter
degenerated from there. The Great DL-DH-BP-TKO prompted G.M. Pat
Gillick to hold a closed-door meeting, after which the Jays beat
Kansas City twice.
But it's a mark of this season, during which the Blue Jays have
spent 36 days in last place, that Toronto then went on to lose two of
three to Texas despite scoring 21 runs. Between pitcher Dave Stieb
mouthing off at umpires and outfielder George Bell bumping one (and
receiving a two-game suspension, pending appeal), and pitchers Doyle
Alexander and Jim Acker bellyaching their way into trades to Atlanta,
the combative Canadians have been a sort of Natural Gas House Gang.
Just the same, insists manager Jimy Williams, ''The Red Sox can be
For that to happen, the Blue Jay pitching must right itself,
starting with Stieb. Unlike Jimmy Key, who began the season
miserably and straightened out, Stieb has been consistently bad,
surrendering 41 of his 101 runs in the first two innings. The
hard-hitting (they lead the league in runs scored) Jays' 9-7 loss to
Texas Friday night was a microcosm of their season: Stieb hammered
early; Jays rally to go ahead; bullpen fails late.
Stieb has been so inept that the publisher of his autobiography,
after delaying the book's release, possibly in the hope that the
author and subject would work things out, lost patience, and Tomorrow
I'll Be Perfect will be in book stores on Sept. 8. Alas, for Stieb
and the Jays it's either Today I'll Be Adequate or Tomorrow I'll Be
Given every chance last week, however, the Red Sox did not fold,
spindle or mutilate. Boston had lost 14 of 21 going into Detroit,
averaging 2.1 runs per game in those 15 losses. The Bosox stood last
in the league in fielding and stolen bases, and 10th in runs.
Fatigue seemed to have set in: Bill Buckner was hobbling around the
bases, and Steinbrenner's prediction that ''(former Yankee Don)
Baylor's bat will be dead by August'' appeared to have come true. The
chief justice of Boston's Kangaroo Court had just three hits in his
first 23 at bats in August.
But the somnolent Boston bats showed signs of coming alive.
Manager John McNamara bumped Wade Boggs and his major league-leading
.460 on-base percentage into the leadoff slot Wednesday night, and
the Bosox promptly beat Chicago 9-0 on Bruce Hurst's three-hitter.
They have scored a total of 41 runs since the Boggs move as he went
10 for 15. And on Sunday Baylor hit two homers against the Tigers.
Boston shouldn't get mired in another protracted hitting slump,
for this isn't the typical Red Sox lineup, chockablock with
righthanded power hitters taking Green Monster-inspired hacks at
breaking balls. Everyone but Baylor is using a short, opposite-field
stroke, and Jim Rice is batting .330, with only 12 double-play balls,
as a result. ''(The short swinging) may cost us a bit at home,'' says
hitting instructor Walt Hriniak, noting Boston's five shutout losses
at Fenway. ''But it should help us in the long run.''
The disappearance of the Red Sox' ''can't'' may owe itself in
large part to the return of the Can. Oil Can Boyd pitched well in his
first outing since his suspension for going AWOL, and Boston had its
top five starters -- Boyd, Hurst, Tom Seaver, Al Nipper and Roger
Clemens -- in regular rotation for the first time since Memorial
Could some divine force finally be looking after them? A lightning
bolt struck the Tiger Stadium flagpole a couple of hours before game
time Friday, singeing Old Glory. Seaver, the 41-year-old Natural,
then went out and five- hit Detroit.
Afterward, Oil Can reached into the beer cooler in the visitors'
clubhouse and pulled out a celebratory can of ''oil.'' As if to
demonstrate that Boston still has its bite, he popped the top with a
vicious gnashing of his teeth.
So grows the bittersweet legend of the Can. And so, too, may the
bittersweet legend of the Red Sox finally be altered after all these
years. END

Photo(s): CHUCK SOLOMON The Yankees, mobbing Dan Pasqua (21) after a game-winning HR, didn't look worried . . . JERRY WACHTER Boggs was out at third against the Royals. Will the Red Sox bog down and be out, too? TONY TOMSIC . . . nor did the revived Indians, who saluted their young, homer-hitting star Snyder (28). TONY TOMSIC Piniella, who got into a rhubarb during an Indians game, has found getting into first harder. NO CREDIT NO CAPTION NO CREDIT NO CAPTION CHUCK SOLOMON Traber's bravura performance with a bat has been drawing ooh's and ah's from the O's. NO CREDIT NO CAPTION CHUCK SOLOMON Tom O'Malley was called up to the Orioles, then arrived safely at second in Toronto. HEINZ KLUETMEIER Detroit's Dave Collins (left) made this catch as third baseman Darnell Coles skipped by. NO CREDIT NO CAPTION CHUCK SOLOMON As Lloyd Moseby demonstrates, the Blue Jays have been missing chances all year. NO CREDIT NO CAPTION JERRY WACHTER With Boyd back, Red Sox fans hope the team's starters will carry them to a pennant. NO CREDIT NO CAPTION

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