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ON THE STICK

July 10, 1989
July 10, 1989

Table of Contents
July 10, 1989

Giants
Bislett Games
An American Summer
  • Our intrepid vacationer and his family picked an exciting river in Utah for the wild, wet opening leg of their summer on the road

Golf
Faldo & Lyle
Perspective
Point After

ON THE STICK

Power and pitching have offset woeful injuries and put the Giants atop their division, fueling dreams of a Bay Bridge Series against the A's

"I'm definitely not a scientist. I just throw the ball up there and take my chances."

This is an article from the July 10, 1989 issue Original Layout

If by October there are enough able-bodied souls left standing on their two fine teams, Bay Area fans could be in for quite a World Series. But then again, keeping the Giants and Athletics healthy would seem enough to tax the resources of a Clara Barton. Take the Giants. They began last week with four starting pitchers on the disabled list and finished it with a fifth on the shelf when Scott Garrelts pulled a hamstring while running out a triple in an otherwise rewarding 12-2 win over the Cubs at Candlestick Park Thursday evening.

Their ablest body on the mound was the portliest. Rick Reuschel looks no more like a 20-game winner than does your overweight 40-year-old uncle, but he's having the kind of season—12-3 after last Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Cubs—that has Cy Young written all over it. "He is the complete pitcher," says Giants manager Roger Craig. "I've seen pitchers with his control, but none who could throw three pitches to the same spot, all at different speeds. He holds runners on base better than anyone in the game. He's a Gold Glove fielder [twice], and every game he starts he'll give you six-plus innings of three runs or less. He's just a remarkable athlete."

He's also a remarkable physical specimen. Reuschel stands 6'3" and weighs, oh, maybe 250 (officially, he's listed as a kindly 240). He has a generous waistline, massive shoulders and a walk like a duck's. It's not for nothing that he is called Big Daddy. Giants trainer Mark Letendre—a man who, in keeping with his profession, is slim—is baffled by Reuschel's unique fitness. "He's able to do things you'd never think anyone like that could do," he says. "He may not have the best body on the pitching staff, but it's the healthiest."

Maybe Big Daddy's durability stems from the way he pitches: as effortlessly as if he were throwing in his backyard. "He just gets the ball and throws it," says Craig. "No fuss at all." But at 40 he can still crank up a fastball in the low 90's, and he has a good slider and a natural sinker. But it's his ability to change speeds that makes him so effective, Giants catcher Terry Kennedy insists. "He might throw at 20 different speeds in a game," says Kennedy. "He plays to the hitter's greed. He knows what he's doing all the time. I haven't gone once to the mound to talk to him this year. He doesn't want anybody out there."

Reuschel's approach to his craft is simplicity itself. "I'm definitely not a scientist," he said after Saturday's loss to the Cubs. "I just throw the ball up there and take my chances. When you make your living getting guys to hit the ball to your fielders, you can't expect them to hit it to them every time."

An intensely private man, Reuschel doesn't do much talking on or off the field. In the clubhouse he is a silent presence, usually situated sphinxlike before his locker, a book or a crossword puzzle at hand. "He will read anything that's printed," says Robin Carr, the Giants' assistant director of media relations. In recognition of his 200th career win in Montreal on May 12, a San Francisco bookstore rewarded him with a gift certificate good for 200 books.

Two hundred wins was a milestone that long seemed beyond his reach. After all, Reuschel missed all of the 1982 season after rotator-cuff surgery, then sat out most of'83 and '84 while recovering and regaining his form. At the end of the '84 season he was given up for finished by the Cubs and virtually ignored until the Pirates rescued him from near oblivion in February 1985. "People have been saying he's fat and washed-up ever since," says Craig. "But when the bell rings, he's there."

Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the rest of Craig's pitchers. Last Friday he learned that two of the infirm, Mike Krukow and Atlee Hammaker, would be sidelined longer than expected—Krukow perhaps forever. What the Giants had assumed was bursitis in the 37-year-old Krukow's pitching shoulder turned out on further examination to be a torn rotator cuff, in many cases a career ender.

Garrelts joined Krukow, Hammaker (strained biceps), Kelly Downs (capsulitis of the shoulder) and Dave Dravecky (who had a malignant tumor removed from his pitching arm in the off-season) on the rolls of the temporarily sick. And yet at the end of the week, the Giants were just one game behind the A's for the best record in baseball, thanks largely to a pitching staff ranked second only to the Dodgers in the National League.

So, as Craig testily says, "I must be doing something right." There are critics, however, who insist he must be doing something wrong, since this year's pitching misfortunes are but a repeat of those of last year, when Downs, Dravecky, Krukow, Mike LaCoss, Terry Mulholland and Joe Price each went down at one time or another. Craig's disabled list alone would staff most pitching rotations.

Craig's detractors have blamed his pitchers' troubles on his pet pitch, the infamous split-finger. Pure nonsense, says Craig, who maintains that the pitch never hurt anybody. Just ask his pitchers. Craig did, and, he says, "not one" of them blamed the pitch for his ills. "You can hurt your arm throwing any pitch, but none of our guys has been hurt throwing the split-finger," Craig says. "Garrelts hurt himself running the bases. Krukow injured his shoulder diving from a ball. And Dravecky...well, with what he had it's a plain miracle that he'll pitch again. And he will. We expect him back by late July or early August. Garrelts and Hammaker ought to be back after the All-Star Game. And Downs is throwing in simulated games. If we can hang on until after the All-Star break, we'll be in pretty good shape."

Actually, even with a riddled staff, the Giants' pitching hasn't been in bad shape. Because of all the injuries, Craig has already used 11 different pitchers as starters this season, and so effective have been the various youngsters (Trevor Wilson, 23, and Jeff Brantley, 25) and veterans (Don Robinson, 32, LaCoss, 33, and Reuschel) whom Craig has used to plug the holes in his staff that he and general manager Al Rosen felt secure enough to trade two promising young starters, Dennis Cook and Mulholland, to the Phillies on June 18 in exchange for the closing reliever they so desperately wanted, Steve (Bedrock) Bedrosian, the 1987 National League Cy Young Award winner.

Bedrosian says he was "ecstatic" to leave the dreadful Phillies for a contending team, and he quickly showed his gratitude by saving the first five games he appeared in. When he blew the sixth opportunity by giving up a homer to Houston catcher Craig Biggio, he was advised by his own catcher, Terry Kennedy, "Bedrock, five out of six will do just fine."

With Bedrosian, the Giants now have a superior bullpen. Craig Lefferts, a seasoned lefthander, has 14 saves in 14 opportunities, and among the setup men for him and Bedrock is that legendary closer himself, Goose Gossage. The Goose, now 37, was released in the spring by the Cubs and is happy just to have a job. "I want to pitch in any capacity," he says, pooh-poohing the notion that he might himself want to be the stopper. "Sometimes, you have to go backward a little before you can go ahead again."

Popular slugger Will Clark sees "attitude" as the big difference between this year's contender and last year's fourth-place team. "I think we're all a lot more comfortable with each other this time around," he says.

Theirs is not a raucous clubhouse, unlike so many others. No monstrous tape player discharges thunderous rock music inside the Giants' peaceful sanctuary. But they are not without a certain playfulness. In the sixth inning of last Thursday's laugher against the Cubs, Chicago's Mitch Webster hit a line drive down the rightfield line that skipped into foul territory and headed straight for the little shack that houses the bullpen staff. The ball, in fact, rolled through the shack's open door. The door was promptly closed—by Lefferts—leaving Giants rightfielder Candy Maldonado standing, as it were, out in the cold. When Webster's hit was declared a ground-rule double, the door opened and Lefferts peered innocently out at the crowd.

The ongoing saga of San Francisco's pitching staff has sometimes obscured the fact that the Giants are not lacking in muscle. They lead the league in team batting average (.259), runs scored (358), hits (699), triples (32), total bases (1,093), slugging percentage (.404) and on-base percentage (.331). In Clark—who at week's end was hitting .342 with 13 homers and 58 runs batted in—and major league home run (25) and RBI (72) leader Kevin Mitchell, they have the game's most feared one-two punch now that the Bash Brothers across the Bay, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, have been temporarily defused by an injury to Canseco (box, right). But not even Clark and Mitchell, the newly proclaimed Pacific Sock Exchange, have been immune to the injuries that have plagued the Giants. Mitchell is hampered by a severely inflamed left-knee capsule, which has caused fluid on the knee. An examination on Friday revealed that the injury isn't serious, but Mitchell, who was used by Craig in a pinch-hitting role on Saturday, is likely to endure some pain and soreness throughout the remainder of the season.

The Giants' leadoff and number two hitters, Brett Butler (.299) and Robby Thompson (.275), respectively, have consistently gotten on base ahead of Clark and Mitchell. Thompson, who leads the league in runs scored and triples and has hit nine home runs, has been a pleasant surprise in the power department.

But it is on defense that this team most excels. Gossage says the Jose Uribe-Thompson double-play combination is even better than the Bucky Dent-Willie Randolph combo of the old Yankee champions for whom he pitched so superlatively. And Butler, ordinary arm aside, is an excellent center-fielder. "The heart of this team is pitching and defense," says Clark.

Craig, of course, is holding his breath and hoping that nothing further happens to his pitchers. Not even Reuschel is completely healthy, but in spite of a slight groin pull, he pitched his first complete game of the year on Saturday, struck out a season-high nine batters, threw out a runner at the plate trying to score on a squeeze, got a base hit and laid down two sacrifice bunts. All that in a loss to the Cubs that, galling though it was, nevertheless left him second in wins only to Houston's Mike Scott and in winning percentage only to Montreal's Dennis Martinez. Not bad for a washed-up fat man.

PHOTOV.J. LOVEROWill Clark helps form—with Kevin Mitchell—the Bay Area's most potent one-two power punch.PHOTOV.J. LOVEROStyle takes a backseat when Reuschel makes a fielding play.PHOTOV.J. LOVERODespite an inflamed knee, Mitchell is the explosive force in the Giants' gratifying surge.PHOTOV.J. LOVEROGarrelts legged out a triple but pulled a hamstring in the process.PHOTOMICKEY PFLEGERAs Thompson pointed out, Uribe had the ball, forcing the Cubs' Jerome Walton at second.