THE ROSE GARDEN
The Reds have suddenly become the National League's glamour team. "Is this the World Series?" asked Buddy Bell last week as reporters crammed the Reds' Shea Stadium clubhouse for an Eric Davis press conference. No one disputes that Cincinnati has the best young talent in baseball, with Davis, Kal Daniels, Barry Larkin, Kurt Stillwell and Tracy Jones. And Davis, Daniels and perennial MVP candidate Dave Parker have taken from Toronto the title of "best outfield in baseball."
But the biggest reason the Reds have reversed last year's 6-19 start is their bullpen, and the way manager Pete Rose handles it. "There's no better bullpen around," boasts Rose. Supporting him are the combined numbers of John Franco, Ron Robinson, Rob Murphy and Frank Williams through Sunday: four wins, 11 saves, 1.45 ERA. In 92 relief appearances, the opposition scored only 13 runs. The star of stars has been Franco, who accounted for six of those saves without allowing a hit. In fact, only one of the first 32 batters he faced reached base, on a Bell error.
The 26-year-old lefthander, who pitched in Frank Viola's shadow at St. John's, was so lightly regarded after signing with the Dodgers that he was a throw-in (after Brett Wise) in a deal for the immortal Rafael Landestoy in 1983. Rose says Franco's forte is his guts, but Franco credits his success to a dead-fish changeup he learned from Dodger minor league instructor Dave Wallace. "People look for it all the time, although I think I've thrown only eight or nine all season," says Franco. He also has an 88-mph fastball he throws three different ways. "He is as tough on righthanders as he is on lefties," says Rose. That's because Franco can turn the changeup over, making it act like an off-speed screwball.
Rose has flourished by giving each of his four relievers specific roles, the way Dick Williams handled his A's staff in 1973-74 and Whitey Herzog tag-teamed the '85 Cardinal pen. Only once in 12 outings has Franco gone more than one inning. Only thrice has any member of the Reds' foursome been asked to go more than two innings. "He has us set up perfectly," says Franco.
"What makes them so good as a group is that they are all different," says catcher Sal Butera. Franco throws fastballs and change-ups. Righty Robinson comes with hard fastballs and curves. Lefty Murphy is a power pitcher with a slider. Righthander Williams comes sidearm and has allowed just one extra-base hit to a right-handed batter in two seasons. Rose never lets hitters get two looks at any reliever in a game, so their contrasting styles are more effective.
Cincinnati's starters are another story. After Bill Gullickson and converted reliever Ted Power, the Reds need help, and general manager Bill Bergesch is searching for it. The Astros, Giants and Dodgers have better starters, but no team has better finishers than Rose's Reds.
Philadelphia passed up Detroit's offer of Dan Petry for John Russell, Rick Schu and Kent Tekulve. Then the Tigers showcased Petry in an exhibition game against the Reds—they wanted Cincinnati's Tracy Jones and talked about Nick Esasky. The Reds said no, so Detroit next discussed a Petry-for-Gary Ward swap with the Yankees but couldn't reach an agreement. Meanwhile, Willie Hernandez returned to the Tigers from the DL and broke down in his first outing, so Eric King will probably have to stay in the bullpen and Petry will no longer be expendable for a muchneeded power hitter. Error-prone Darnell Coles has been all but written off at third base, and Sparky Anderson is so frustrated by Chester Lemon that he's platooning him with Billy Bean in centerfield. Anderson has often said that good teams shouldn't platoon at more than two positions. He is now platooning at five. "I'm trying to motivate a couple of guys, display a couple of guys and stay away from a couple of others," says Sparky....
The Brewers were wondering what was wrong with ace Ted Higuera when he lasted only four innings against Oakland on April 29. Then they discovered he has had tendinitis in his left ankle since spring training but hadn't said anything about it. While Higuera favored the ankle, tenderness developed in his left knee. To be safe, the Brewers are on the lookout for one more veteran starter after having already given a minor league contract on April 28 to Len Barker....
Outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. of Cincinnati's Moeller High is expected to be chosen in the first round of next month's draft.
With the Padres poking along at a 123-loss pace, manager Larry Bowa finally had to bench first baseman Steve Garvey. Bowa tried to make it clear that Garvey, who is hitting .216, isn't a scapegoat, but he did admit that he asked club president Ballard Smith to trade Garvey at last December's winter meetings. When no deal was made, "he [Smith] told me to do whatever I wanted with Garvey," Bowa said. "He put the monkey on my back." San Diego's one bright spot so far is rookie catcher Benito Santiago, who is hitting .303, is leading the club in homers (5) and RBIs (16) and has thrown out 16 of 34 would-be base stealers, including Vince Coleman twice and Eric Davis once....
Cubs manager Gene Michael collects $5 every time that first baseman Leon Durham makes an out after chasing a pitch up in the strike zone and gives Durham $1 every time he takes one. Durham is $11 ahead since Michael's fine system went into effect and is off to the best start of his eight-year career....
The Cleveland bullpen has blown 14 of its first 18 save opportunities this year and manager Pat Corrales had to move Steve Carlton into the starting rotation and return his best starter, Scott Bailes, to the pen.
Pete Rose says his return to the active roster must wait "because we're playing so well." But in all probability he will return, if only to postpone, until 1993, his eligibility for the Hall of Fame. Why? Rose does not want to get in the way of his friend and former teammate Tony Perez, who becomes eligible in 1992 along with Tom Seaver. The active players who, Rose feels, have proved they belong in Cooperstown are Mike Schmidt, Reggie Jackson, Phil Niekro, Steve Carlton and Nolan Ryan....
The war between AL umpires and Texas manager Bobby Valentine has gotten out of hand. Valentine is a vicious bench jockey who has been ejected by 12 different umps in two years. Ranger G.M. Tom Grieve has requested a meeting with league officials for this week when Texas visits New York....
On Jan. 8, Doyle Alexander turned down the Braves' offer of $2.37 million for two years. On May 5 he re-signed for two years at $350,000 per, plus incentives that could double his earnings. The Red Sox did not punish Rich Gedman, however. Their final offer had been three years at $800,000, $900,000 and $950,000. Gedman re-signed for his preferred two years at $820,000 and $980,000. And, because $300,000 of this season's salary is deferred, his docked pay for missing 25 days is less than $75,000....
Mariners G.M. Dick Balderson has taken a lot of heat about some of his trades in the last year and a half. He may have gotten the worst of deals that sent Darnell Coles to Detroit and Matt Young to the Dodgers, but righthander Scott Bankhead has been the staff leader after coming from Kansas City for the moody Danny Tartabull, and shortstop Rey Qui nones has established himself as the best player in the deal with Boston for David Henderson and Spike Owen, both of whom are on the Red Sox bench.
At the time, the Tigers were 9-15 but leading the league in earned run average.
THE DEAN CHANCE AWARD
Houston pitcher Danny Darwin entered his May 5 start against the Phillies with two hits and 20 strikeouts in 26 career at bats. Against Philadelphia's Shane Rawley he doubled and singled, then was allowed to bat with two out, runners on first and second and the game tied in the seventh. He cleared the bases with a triple. Fellow pitcher Jim Deshaies leads the Astros with a .462 on-base percentage after going 1 for 8 with five walks in 13 plate appearances.
A MAN OF RESOLVE
Roger Clemens says that two of the most important aspects of pitching are shutting out the opposition in the first inning and shutting them down after his teammates score. In his last 55 major league starts, Clemens has been scored upon in the first inning three times.
•The Cubs outhomered their opponents 20-5 in their first 15 home games, and the wind hadn't blown out in any.
•The Cardinals' 17-10 win over the Padres on May 7 is the only 17-10 game in this century.
By May 10, Charles Hudson had two more complete game victories (4) than any Yankee starter in 1986.
•In one three-start stretch, Yankee pitcher Dennis Rasmussen allowed 10 homers in a span of 80 batters—all with the bases empty.
•The Orioles sent down Floyd (Honey Bear) Rayford, who was 1 for 13 this season, and recalled catcher Dave Van Gorder from Rochester, where he was 1 for 14.
•The Giants have had so many injuries that between April 17 and May 7 they made 12 roster moves.
•Through last weekend, the Cleveland pitching staff was last in the American League in earned run average and second in shutouts. The only Indians with more than one win are Phil Niekro, Steve Carlton and Greg Swindell.
•With John Cangelosi, Mike Lavalliere, Rafael Belliard, Onix Concepcion and Houston Jiminez, the Pirates have five players under 5'9".
•Brewer DHs—principally Cecil Cooper and Billy Joe Robidoux—were hitting .151 with no homers and 11 RBIs through last weekend.
•In 1986 the Yankees had a 24-29 record in games started by opposing lefthanders, 66-43 when righthanders started against them. With lefthanded hitters Mike Pagliarulo, Dan Pasqua and Don Mattingly off to slow starts this season, the Yankees were only 9-7 against righties but were 10-4 against lefties.
•Oakland's first baseman Mark McGwire went 5 for 11 in last week's three-game series at Detroit. All five hits were homers.
Baltimore first baseman Eddie Murray last week became the first major leaguer to hit home runs from each side of the plate in two consecutive games. Since Wally Schang of the Philadelphia Athletics hit homers lefty and righty in one game in 1916, that feat has been accomplished 64 times. Here, according to The Sporting News 'The Complete Baseball Record Book 1987, are the career leaders and when they played:
1. MICKEY MANTLE (1951-68)
2. EDDIE MURRAY (1977-)
3. REGGIE SMITH (1966-82)
4. ROY WHITE (1965-79)
5. TED SIMMONS (1968-)
6. TOM TRESH (1961-69)
7. ROY SMALLEY (1975-)
8. PETE ROSE (1963-86)
9. ELLIS BURTON (1958-65)
10. JIM RUSSELL (1942-51)