THE GREAT NORTH SHALL RISE AGAIN
Back in March, most people figured that the Expos would end the season in the cellar. Andre Dawson was gone, Tim Raines had vowed never to return, the Jeff Reardon deal was viewed as a fire sale, the club had lost $5 million in '86 and even Peter Ueberroth admitted concern about "the Team of the '80s."
So, as the season approached its midpoint, the mere fact that the Expos were in mild contention and had their heads above .500 made Montreal a most pleasant surprise. And that goes beyond the won-lost record. "People are standing in lines for tickets for the first time in a while," says Expos VP Bill Stoneman. "The perception is that we really have turned a corner."
Montreal's 1981 division-winning team, which became the Disappointment of the '80s, has been dismantled and reconstructed—the only substantial contributors who remain are the two Tims, Raines and Wallach. With the National League's most powerful offensive infield—Wallach, Andres Galarraga, Hubie Brooks and either Casey Candaele or Vance Law at second—and the improvement of outfielders Herm Winningham and Mitch Webster, the Expos' only real need is consistent starting pitching. The club's past troubles have been blamed on provincial taxes or Gary Carter or Olympic Stadium, but the real culprit has been bad luck with pitching. Charlie Lea, Bryn Smith, David Palmer and Joe Hesketh all suffered serious injury. If any two of them were in prime form, the Expos would be serious contenders.
Instead of crying over what might have been, manager Bob Rodgers has done an impressive job of patching up his staff—which doesn't have a single Montreal farm product—while waiting for the organization to deliver again. Reardon was traded for lefthanders Neal Heaton and York is Perez; Jeff Parrett—stolen out of the Milwaukee organization—is being groomed to be the stopper by 1988. Dennis Martinez has rediscovered his fastball, and Floyd Youmans, who should be the staff ace, is losing weight and turning himself around. In a farm system that has been completely reshaped in the last two years, the most talked-about prospect is 6'10" lefthander Randy Johnson (he would be the tallest major leaguer ever), who has been clocked at 95 mph while going 8-4 for Double A Jacksonville.
And you wonder why the Dodger organization is falling apart? L.A. had the eighth pick in the draft and used it for Dan Opperman, a Las Vegas high school pitcher. Many clubs had backed off on Opperman, concerned about his elbow, but the Dodgers checked him out, drafted him, then gave him $160,000 and sent him to Great Falls of the Pioneer League. While warming up for his first game, he grabbed his elbow; he may need surgery and may also be finished. Days earlier, the Dodgers' No. 1 pick in '86, outfielder Mike White, took his bonus money and quit. Beginning in 1983, the Dodgers have given six-figure bonuses to draftees Erik Son-berg, Mike Cherry, Dennis Livingston, Chris Gwynn, Dan Smith and White—and none has played a game in the major leagues....
The remarkable streak of 13 consecutive saves by the Phillies' Steve Bedrosian was even better than it looked: The major league record of 11 was set by Sparky Lyle in 1973 when the save requirements were far more liberal. And the streak would have been even longer except for one blown-save-turned-victory, which meant that in a stretch of 20 appearances, Bedrock had one win and 19 saves. It was reported that during the streak Bedrosian had twice refused to pitch in blowouts to preserve his shot at the record. But in fact, manager Lee Elia had called the bullpen to ask Bedrosian if he wanted an inning's work because he hadn't pitched in a few days. Bedrosian said no thanks. "I felt I was pretty much in sync even without having pitched," he says. "And my job is as a stopper. But heck, I'll pitch anytime."
THE SOX' SOCKS
There's grumbling on the South Side of Chicago, where White Sox general manager Larry Himes: 1) fined three players for not wearing socks to the ballpark (after a win, Himes actually went into the clubhouse and pulled up Scott Nielsen's pantlegs); 2) issued new stirrup socks for uniforms and ordered that players must show three inches of blue (in protest, the players pulled their uniform pants to just below their knees); and 3) banned all beer from the clubhouse and charter flights. This is not a merry band of warriors. Or talented, for that matter....
Before the season, the Tigers figured they'd have trouble scoring runs. They entered July leading the majors in runs per game, which makes Bill Mad lock look even more like the pickup of the season.... Yes, that was Steve Garvey you spotted in the Wimbledon crowd last week....
The Mariners, continuing their search for a power hitter, are talking to Kansas City about Steve Balboni. Manager Dick Williams said the Mariners were waiting to hear from a couple of clubs concerning deals, then added, "We're also waiting for the slow boat from China." Owner George Argyros was on a trip to the Orient at the time....
Did anyone notice that Mets third baseman Howard Johnson—with 16 homers and 13 stolen bases on July 5—has a chance to reach the 30/30 mark? "All Howard ever needed," says Mets player personnel director Joe McIlvaine, "is to believe in himself. The power, speed and talent was all there waiting for his confidence."
The American League now has five full-time knuckle-bailers. Boston's Al Nipper, whose career was at a crossroads after a May 1986 knee injury, took the advice of pitching coach Bill Fischer and went to 70% knucklers. He pitched three solid games and may be back with Roger Clemens, Bruce Hurst and Oil Can Boyd in what may still turn out to be the division's strongest starting rotation....
Another knuckle-bailer, Charlie Hough, continues to hold together a young, unstable Texas rotation. He has made nine starts on three days' rest and is 4-2, 3.50 in those games....
NL opponents continue to holler about the "right-turn sliders" thrown by the Astros' Mike Scott, Nolan Ryan and Dave Smith, fastballs that allegedly veer out of the strike zone because the balls have been cut. But Giants manager Roger Craig, who tutored Smith and Scott, vows he will catch them. "Dave Smith is a friend of mine," says Craig. "He even worked at my baseball school in San Diego one year. But if I think anybody is cheating, I'm going to do my damnedest to stop it. I'll catch him scuffing one day because I know where he keeps the sandpaper." Giants hitting coach Jose Morales kept a box of balls thrown by Smith and showed reporters where each ball was scuffed in the wide white area where the seams part and loop across the cowhide....
If you're wondering how Dan Pasqua's star fell so fast in New York, several people within the Yankee organization are convinced that Pas-qua is a one-speed hitter who can't adjust to anything out of the 86-94 mph range....
When Cleveland pitching coach Jack Aker was "reassigned to scouting and player development" last week, he went with guns blazing. On catcher Rick Dempsey: "He came here with a reputation of being unable to call a decent game, and that reputation was well deserved. We lost some ball games because the wrong pitches were called." And Jack wasn't through there, either. "It's no secret we have the most porous infield defense in the league," he added. "And when you have a pitching staff like ours, defensive mistakes are magnified."
BETWEEN THE LINES
MAYBE THEY WENT FLAT
Although there was a lot of discussion about juiced-up baseballs, the Dodgers had little reason to join in: Overstocked with 1986 Chub Feeney balls, they didn't break out the '87 Bart Giamatti model until June 29 for a series with the Padres. The first three games with the new "rabbit" balls featured shutouts by Jimmy Jones, Orel Hershiser and Eric Show.
BALLS "R" US
On that same June 29, Red Sox DH Don Baylor found a Regent brand baseball—the kind you buy at any department store—and stuck it in the ball bag. Home plate umpire Don Denkinger never noticed and put it in the game. Boston pitcher Bruce Hurst was just about to make a pitch when he realized he was holding a toy.
A WEIGHTY QUESTION
Pitcher Terry Forster is currently laboring with the Twins' Portland, Ore., farm club in the Pacific Coast League, where his daily weigh-ins are on the honor system. Forster has written in 247 lbs. each day, but farm director Jim Rantz estimates Forster's weight at something closer to 260. When Forster was spotted leaving the ballpark alone on a recent afternoon, manager Charlie Manuel called out, "Where are you guys going?"
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Baltimore manager Cal Ripken, whose Orioles were 5-23 in June and whose starters failed to last the fifth inning in 23 of their first 81 games: "The doctor says I should do a lot of walking. So I walk back and forth to the mound nine or 10 times a game."
THANKS FOR THE HELP
The Braves have had nine players on the disabled list this season. Their farm system has provided seven replacements: Mike Fischlin, Steve Ziem, Darryl Motley, Randy O'Neal, Trench Davis, Paul Runge and Jeff Blauser. The Braves have not received a hit, a run, a win or a save from those players.
Brewer manager Tom Trebelhorn created a six-man infield June 29 against the Tigers. With runners on second and third, Trebelhorn moved two outfielders to the infield, leaving only Mike Felder in right center. Pat Sheridan promptly lined a pitch in front of Felder to score both runs. Said Felder, "I felt like I was back on the kick-return team."
•Over the last three seasons, the Yankees are 12-4 in Toronto, the Blue Jays 12-4 in New York.
•The White Sox have gone 76-98 under Jim Fregosi since he took over for the fired Tony LaRussa last June. Since LaRussa took over in Oakland, the A's have gone 88-71.
•Wade Boggs hit .275 in April, .388 in May and .485 in June. His on-base percentage in June was .589 (49 hits, one hit-by-pitch, and 22 walks in 124 plate appearances).
•The White Sox organization player of the month for June was Mike Yastrzemski, who is batting .314 at Hawaii of Class AAA.
•The Padres won more games in June (15-12) than in all of April (6-17) and May (6-21).
•Yankee reliever Tim Stoddard has inherited 22 base runners this season, and only one has scored.
•The Twins had only one assist—an eighth-inning force play—in their 4-3 loss to Kansas City on July 1. The major league record of zero assists was set on July 4, 1945, by the Indians.
•Cubs reliever Lee Smith blew four leads for Rick Sutcliffe in five weeks.
•The Reds swept the Astros in a two-game set in Cincinnati June 30 and July 1 to take a 9-3 season's lead over the Astros; last year the Astros won the series 14-4. The two don't meet again until September in Cincinnati, then close the season in Houston.
•The Athletics did not hit back-to-back home runs all season until Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco did it on July 4. The next day, Canseco and McGwire—in inverse order—accomplished the feat again.
In the year of the home run, it should be no surprise that strikeouts are coming at a record rate: Bigger swings mean bigger swishes. Strikeouts in both leagues are ahead of the 1986 record pace (AL: 13,058; NL: 11,648). The Rangers' Pete Incaviglia and the Royals' Bo Jackson are both on target to break Bobby Bonds's major league strikeout record of 189, set in 1970. Along with Seattle's Jim Presley, they are also on schedule to break the AL single-season record (185) set by Incaviglia last year. League leaders in strikeouts as of Sunday are listed below. For fantasy's sake, we've indicated what their batting averages would be if all strikeouts were eliminated.
BA without K's
1. Jack Clark, St.L.
2. Dale Murphy, Atl.
3. Juan Samuael, Phil.
4. Chili Davis, S.F.
4. Eric Davis, Cin.
6. Vince Coleman, St.L.
1. Pete Incaviglia, Tex.
2. Bo Jackson, K.C.
3. Jim Presley, Sea.
4. Cory Snyder, Clev.
5. Rob Deer, Mil.
6. Gary Pettis, Cal.