You are watching a human sacrifice. It's the bottom of the sixth inning in Cleveland on Sunday, and New York Yankees reliever Tim Stoddard comes in to pitch with two on, two out and the Indians leading 4-3. Julio Franco hits a single. Willie Upshaw walks. Stoddard throws a wild pitch. Joe Carter walks. Suddenly the score is 6-3.
Stoddard walks the first batter he faces in the seventh. He has nothing, nothing at all. But New York manager Billy Martin has no one warming up in the bullpen. Brook Jacoby doubles. Still no action. Ron Washington walks. Bases loaded. Dave Clark walks. Cleveland leads 7-3. Finally, Martin relents. He brings in Charles Hudson. Andy Allanson hits a grand slam on Hudson's second pitch. The final score is 11-3.
In his office after the game, Martin calmly picks at the greasy ribs on his plate. "I didn't know Stoddard was going to throw that wild pitch," Martin says. "I didn't know he was going to throw three straight walks. Sometimes you've got to go down the drain with a guy."
Great leaders understand the importance of sacrifice. After Sunday's debacle, the Yankees were still in first place in the American League East, although their lead was just half a game over the surging Detroit Tigers and two games over surprising Cleveland. Nonetheless, it was mid-June already, and the Bronx Bombers had only 97 games left to play. With New York, things can blow at any moment. As rightfielder Dave Winfield had said before the series against the Indians began on Friday, "If we drop all three, the lid will really blow off the kettle. It'll be one steamy locker room."
June 26, 1988
The Yanks lost only two of three, but George Steinbrenner, the Culver military academy graduate who heads the Yankee military-industrial complex, doesn't like to watch his outfit lose at all. Especially in his hometown. Especially to a franchise he once tried to buy. And especially when that franchise finished 1987 with the worst record in baseball.
But this is a different sort of Indians team, one that draws power as much from uplifting thoughts as from its cleanup hitter. "If positive thinking were horse manure," says manager Doc Edwards, "I could grow grass on my desk."
Something has certainly made the Indians grow healthier. Last year's pitching staff had a collective ERA of 5.28, the league's highest since 1956, and no pitcher won more than seven games. At week's end, this season's staff had the league's fifth-best ERA, 3.81, and Greg (Zeke) Swindell and John Farrell were a combined 17-8.
Swindell had been 10-1 before losing three consecutive decisions: he didn't pitch in the New York series. Once known mostly for his overpowering fastball, Swindell, at the precocious age of 23, has become a control freak, allowing only 16 walks in 108 innings. A three-time All-America at Texas, Swindell brings a kind of frat-house enthusiasm to the Cleveland clubhouse. When the Tribe needs runs, Swindell orders his teammates in the dugout to turn their hats backward. He bestows a Zeke of the Week award—a refrigerator-door magnet in the form of the Indians' mascot, Chief Wahoo—to a deserving teammate. "Zeke shows us the game is fun—you can't take it too seriously," says Carter.
Cleveland hasn't been taken seriously so late in a season for years. Perhaps that's why Indians leftfielder Mel Hall downplayed the New Yorkers' visit. "It's nothing serious," he said. "It's just on the schedule." Doug Jones, the red-hot righthanded relief pitcher, felt otherwise. "Anything associated with the Yankees is important," he said. "You tend to put them in a different category. But eventually you realize they put their jocks on the same way we do."
Yet according to Cleveland's designated hitter, Ron Kittle, there's a difference between the two teams. Kittle, who spent parts of the last two seasons with the Yankees, says, "We're out to beat them. And they're out to bury us."
While the Indians were hoping to establish some credibility, New York was trying to debunk its image as a "coaster." The trendy magazine Spy coined the term, which it defines as an entity distinguished by its high profile and low productivity. A coaster sails along on the memory of bygone glories. Spy lumped the Yankees in with Mel Brooks, Bob Dylan, Henry Kissinger and England.
New York has been doing a lot of coasting this year. To be sure, part of the problem has been injuries—10 players have been on the disabled list. "We've had more war stories than all the other teams combined," says Winfield. "Injuries, controversies, infighting...."
Winfield and Steinbrenner still have not spoken this season, because Win-field's autobiography appeared with unkind comments about Steinbrenner and Steinbrenner called Winfield a liar. Caught in the cross fire as usual is the 60-year-old Martin, but, also as usual, he has had problems of his own. First he got sucker-punched by a stucco wall in a topless nightclub in Texas; then he was suspended for three games for throwing dirt at an umpire.
In this, his fifth tour as Yankee skipper, Martin's dual managerial responsibilities—his team and himself—seem to be exacting a heavy price. His eyes are dark and sunken, his skin sallow and cadaverous. Since March, he has become increasingly isolated. He refuses to be interviewed in his office at Yankee Stadium after games, preferring to hold court while seated on the buffet table in the middle of the locker room, and only then in the presence of more than one reporter. He says he doesn't want to be misquoted.
"The New York press either makes you out to be far better or far worse than you really are," says Yankee pitcher Rick Rhoden. "There's no in-between, no room for mediocrity. No matter how well you're doing, you always get the feeling somebody is looking down on you."
On Friday night, that someone was Steinbrenner, who surveyed the action from a private box in Cleveland Stadium. More than 56,000 fans were on hand, as much to jeer the Yankees as to cheer the Indians. In the lower grandstand, a boom box blared the lyrics "My baby really hates the Yankees" over and over again.
The first ball was tossed out by Kirk Alyn, the first actor to portray Superman in the movies. But the real Man of Steel was Kittle, whom the Chicago White Sox signed out of a Gary, Ind., foundry in 1978. Kittle led off the bottom of the second inning by welding a John Candelaria fastball to a seat in the leftfield bleachers. Though he hit 12 homers in 59 games for the Yankees last year, New York never tried to re-sign him. "Problem was, I wasn't making enough money to crack that lineup," he says. "You've got to make two million a year to break in."
In the fourth Kittle smacked another Candelaria fastball over the fence. That was his fifth homer—along with two doubles and seven RBIs—in his last four games. "This is the best I've felt since Little League," he said after the game.
Cleveland's crowning blow in the 6-4 win was a two-run sixth-inning single by pinch hitter Hall. Hall wears such a large cap that Carter swears Hall "doesn't have a forehead; he has a five-head." But Hall is known more for his glove than for his bat or his hat. That's not because of his sterling outfield play, but because he had used an old mitt, named Lucille, for 11 years. He got a new one in March.
While Cleveland was eating up Candy, the Tribe's pitcher, Farrell, a native of Neptune (New Jersey, that is) was befuddling the Yankees with an otherworldly assortment of what he calls "slow-motion changeups, slow-motion fastballs and fast-motion slowballs." Farrell was just an ordinary minor leaguer until last year, when Rick Peterson, his pitching coach with the Triple A Buffalo Bisons, got him to change the way he wore his cap. Farrell had always set it jauntily on his head. Peterson had him pull the bill farther down, to just above his brow, so that he would have a tougher look. "Have you ever seen an infantryman in a war movie who wore his helmet up?" said Peterson. "It's the same with pitching." Since Farrell developed tunnel vision and came up to the Indians last August, he has gone 12-5 with a 3.32 ERA.
Nobody ever taught the hat trick to Jones, who relieved Farrell in the eighth inning and got his 12th save in his last 12 appearances, one shy of the major league record set last season by the Philadelphia Phillies' Steve Bedrosian. Jones had shuffled around the minors for most of 10 seasons before hooking up with Cleveland two years ago, and he may be the only late-inning reliever whose out pitch is a changeup. "Hitting is timing, and pitching is throwing the timing off," he says. "Swinging a bat at a ball is an aggressive thing. The slower you pitch, the longer the batter has to wait. You've got to play with him."
Martin didn't want to play with anybody after the game; he chased all the reporters out of his office. "I'm tired of being second-guessed about the rotation," he said. Martin has been taking a lot of high hard ones from the press lately over the way he handles his staff. On Friday the back page of New York Newsday carried a photo of Martin next to the headline GETTING STRANGE. Martin has sometimes gone with what may be baseball's first seven-man starting rotation. Starters sometimes relieve, and relievers sometimes start.
And both sometimes complain. Starter Richard Dotson protested after being used twice out of the bullpen. Candeleria, who has a history of arm woes, missed a turn with a stiff elbow after having pitched his fourth complete game. And relief ace Cecilio Guante, who was sidelined much of last season with a sore shoulder, is second in the league in appearances with 32.
Tommy John, the 45-year-old lefty, was stunned two weeks ago after Martin had him start twice and work 4‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings in relief during a four-game span. "I had no chance at all," John says. "It's tough enough to pitch in the big leagues when you're ready. It's doubly hard when you have no bullets in your gun."
The rotation could be expanded to eight when the Yankees' erstwhile ace, Ron Guidry, returns to action. Guidry, who's recovering from rotator-cuff surgery, pitched "an abbreviated simulated game" on June 14, according to a Yankee press release. Whether play was called because of a simulated rainout is unclear.
New York's starter in the second game against Cleveland was Rhoden, whose role, he says, is "to start every Saturday." That's not exactly true. Two weeks ago he started twice—on Friday as the pitcher and on Saturday as the designated hitter. When he arrived at the ballpark for that Saturday game against Baltimore Orioles lefthander Jeff Ballard, Yankee pitching coach Art Fowler told him, "Rick, you're DHing today."
"Get outta here!" said Rhoden.
"You're the designated hitter, dammit! Billy has you DHing."
"Come on! I haven't taken batting practice since spring training."
Rhoden, who hit .239 as a righthanded batter in 13 seasons in the National League before joining the Yankees last year, wound up batting twice in the game. He bounced weakly to third and hit a game-tying sacrifice fly.
"Why did Billy do it?" Rhoden says with a small laugh. "I think to tick people off who weren't hitting." Slumping sluggers Mike Pagliarulo, Claudell Washington and Jose Cruz—all left-handed hitters—were left on the bench. "Cruz only has about 700 lifetime hits off lefties," said Rhoden.
Against Cleveland, Rhoden left the hitting to Winfield, who on Friday had failed to reach base for only the fifth time all year. On Saturday, with one man on, Winfield cracked his 15th homer as New York won 6-3. At week's end he was leading the league with 57 RBIs, was second in home runs and was third in hitting (.351).
On Sunday, Cleveland started righthander Tom Candiotti, who had lost his last five decisions. But he had gotten only two runs from his teammates in each of those games. "I must be jinxed," he said, and he asked fans for help. They obliged, and now his locker is decorated with lucky pennies, chocolate baseballs, pipecleaner puppy dogs, lime-colored rabbits' feet and an I HATE THE YANKEES HANKEE. "I think it's neat," says Candiotti. "It gets the community involved in what I do."
In the first inning, Carter singled in the two runs that put the Indians ahead for good. From then on, Candiotti jumbled fastballs with fluttery knucklers and swooping sidearm curves. The Yankee hitters flailed away hopelessly, as if they were trying to swat butterflies with sledgehammers.
Yankee second baseman Wayne Tolleson, who was subbing for the disabled Willie Randolph, pulled a hamstring and disabled himself. Hall's new mitt made a daredevilish play in the leftfield corner. "She's called 'the Glove with No Name,' " said Hall, who calls himself Gunfighter.
In the sixth, Stoddard took his brutal beating. You half-expected Steinbrenner to gaze down and render the final judgment. Thumbs up or thumbs down? Then again, maybe the Boss will wait another week and a half. By that time, the Yankees will have played six games with Detroit and four more with Cleveland.