The battle for the inside corner of the plate (INSIDE BASEBALL, June 18) continues to escalate. Last week five players suffered broken bones when hit by inside pitches and consequently will miss significant numbers of games.
Tiger outfielder Gary Ward was the first to go down, when a pitch from the Mariners' Billy Swift broke the middle finger on his right hand. Ward is expected to be sidelined for four to six weeks. Next came the Padres' Benito Santiago, who was leading National League catchers in batting (.317), homers (nine) and RBIs (33) when a pitch from the Giants' Jeff Brantley fractured the ulna in his left forearm. Santiago, who will be out at least six weeks, had thrown up his arm to protect his face from the pitch.
Then Expo second baseman Delino DeShields was felled by a pitch by the Cardinals Joe Magrane while attempting to drag a bunt. DeShields suffered a broken left index finger and will be sidelined for four to six weeks. Last Saturday, a pitch from the Rangers' Brad Arnsberg fractured the right ulna of Seattle right-fielder Jay Buhner, who had missed most of the season's first two months with an ankle injury. In 16 games in June, Buhner, who will miss eight weeks with his latest injury, had five homers and 17 RBIs. The rest of the Mariners had hit only one homer in those games. Finally, the Cubs' Jerome Walton took a pitch in on the hands from the Phillies' Ken Howell and broke a bone in his left hand. He will be out for three weeks.
Of the five players, the most difficult to replace might be Santiago. Until he heals, Mark Parent, a standout defensive catcher who doesn't hit well, will replace him.
In the game in which Santiago was injured, Parent had already been lifted for a pinch hitter. That left San Diego without a catcher. Manager Jack McKeon asked for volunteers, and infielder Joey Cora said he had caught before, even though he had not. He worked two innings without trouble.
Still, the spectacle of Cora, who is 5'8", 150 pounds, as receiver was humorous. "He looked like a giant catcher's mitt back there," said San Diego pitcher Mark Grant. The Padres have since called up Ronn Reynolds, who is a catcher, to back up Parent.
Going into the season, things looked bleak for the Expos. They had lost four players to free agency, including pitcher Mark Langston, who six months earlier had cost them three young pitchers in a trade with the Mariners. Montreal was so desperate for arms that it signed free-agent pitcher Oil Can Boyd, who had won a total of 13 games for the Red Sox in the previous three seasons, and Joaquin Andujar, who was pitching in the Senior Baseball League at the time.
But the Expos have been one of this year's biggest surprises. At week's end they were 36-28 and trailed the first-place Pirates by three games in the National League East. They were playing terrific defense, led by shortstop Spike Owen, who had not made an error all season. They were second in the league in pitching with a 3.12 staff ERA. And they were leading the league in steals with 111.
"This team has really progressed the last couple of months," says Owen, who has developed into the Montreal leader. "We have a good blend of veterans and young players. We're not worried about everything like we were last year. Last year we felt we had to win. We're all a lot more relaxed this season. We're playing hard. We're playing together. We're having a lot of fun."
The pressure to win began in earnest on May 25, 1989, when the Expos dealt pitchers Randy Johnson, Brian Holman and Gene Harris to Seattle for Langston. It was a big gamble because Montreal knew it might lose Langston to free agency after the season, but the Expos were taking their best shot at winning their first pennant in the team's 21-year history. Montreal didn't come close, finishing at .500 for the second straight season. Langston won 12 games, but only three of those victories came in the last two months of the season, when the Expos collapsed. After Langston opted to become a free agent, along with fellow pitchers Bryn Smith and Pascual Perez and outfielder Hubie Brooks, Montreal looked like it was a lock to finish fifth or sixth.
Contributing mightily to the Expos' unexpected success has been DeShields, who was the leading candidate for National League Rookie of the Year when he broke his finger last Friday. Until then, DeShields, Montreal's leadoff hitter, was batting .304, with 23 stolen bases and 35 runs scored. In 1989 the Expos' leadoff men scored 87 runs, second fewest in the league. DeShields had been igniting the Montreal offense like a classic point guard, which he once was. DeShields signed to play basketball at Villanova but then chose pro baseball instead.
Another rookie, outfielder Marquis Grissom, has also been sidelined with a broken finger. He had 12 steals before getting injured diving back to second base on May 28. Grissom should be back in a week to add his speed to that of Tim Raines (24 steals at week's end) and Otis Nixon (21 steals despite playing in only 35 games). More important, Grissom joins Raines and rookie rightfielder Larry Walker in what has become perhaps the league's best defensive outfield.
That improved defense has helped the Expos' pitching staff. Through Sunday, Boyd had a 2.25 ERA in his last eight starts. Dennis Martinez (2.62 ERA) had been solid as usual. Kevin Gross (8-4) was close to matching his 1989 total of 11 wins. Dave Schmidt, a free agent who left the Orioles after last season, had filled in for injured closer Tim Burke (hairline fracture of the right fibula) with seven saves. Rookie Bill Sampen, drafted out of the Pirates' organization in December, was 5-0.
Now there are rumblings that Gross and Zane Smith, a lefthanded starter, will test free agency this winter—or will be traded before then. General manager Dave Dombrowski is shrewd and fearless, and his minor league system continues to produce top-quality players. In addition, Montreal had 10 of the first 53 selections in the June draft. The Expos' future looks better than anyone expected.
When the owners' Expansion Committee met in Cleveland last Thursday to chart the course of baseball's growth, some sign-carrying baseball fans from Buffalo marched in front of the hotel where the owners were meeting, cheering and chanting about how much that city wants a team. Afterward, the owners announced that the National League, which has two fewer teams than the American League, would add two clubs in 1993. Unfortunately for Buffalo, which last year drew 1.1 million fans for its Triple A team, it appears to be trailing the two generally accepted front-runners, Denver and Tampa-St. Petersburg.
The owners set up a schedule for reviewing presentations from Denver, Tampa-St. Pete, Buffalo, Miami, Orlando, Phoenix, Washington, D.C., and others over the next several months. However, it looks as if the major leagues won't expand again for a while after 1993, so the losers could have a long wait. Tampa-St. Pete is a leader because it recently completed a 43,000-seat domed stadium to lure a team. Denver's 76,000-seat Mile High Stadium—a multipurpose facility that's the home of the Triple A Zephyrs—and history of strong support for its teams have helped the city's chances of landing a team.
HELD IN CONTEMPT
The Philadelphia clubhouse is a looser place this season and not just because of the Phillies' surprising winning record. The head prankster is reliever Roger McDowell, who has established a kangaroo court for the pitchers. The self-appointed judge, McDowell got the idea for the court from his former team, the Mets. But, he says, "ours is better."
Fines, usually a few dollars, are levied for allowing a hit on an 0-2 count, for walking the leadoff batter in an inning, for permitting a pitcher to get a hit and for not executing a successful sacrifice bunt. Pitchers can get rewards from the court for successfully executing a sacrifice bunt, for breaking an opposing hitter's bat, for getting a hit and for throwing a shutout. If a Phillie pitcher hits a homer, he receives $25. At week's end, Dennis Cook was the only one to have earned that bonus.
Fines are also administered to any pitcher who embarrasses the staff. When righthander Darrel Akerfelds entered the clubhouse one night earlier this season, coach Larry Bowa asked him if it was raining outside. Akerfelds replied, "I don't know, the tarp is on."
That answer cost Akerfelds a few dollars.
AFTER THE FALL
The reason the Cubs, 12½ games out of first as of Sunday, won't be repeating as National League East champs is that their pitching has become laughable. At week's end, Chicago was 11th in the league in ERA (4.53) and had allowed 10 or more runs seven times-one time fewer than it did all of last season. What's more, closer Mitch Williams is out for at least eight weeks with a knee injury.
In a 19-8 loss to the Mets at Wrigley Field on June 12, Chicago outfielder Doug Dascenzo pitched the ninth inning, allowing one hit and no runs. In that four-game series against New York, Cub pitchers yielded 46 earned runs over 36 innings. Dascenzo was the only Cub to pitch at least an inning and not allow a run. Asked if his teammates had kidded him, Dascenzo, who is 5'7", said, "Mitch had the best line. He said I was really a short reliever."
Dascenzo's outing was his first on the mound since the 1985 College World Series, when he made a brief appearance for Oklahoma State. "I came in with the bases loaded," he said, "walked two guys and went back to the outfield where I belonged."
Chicago's pitching got even more absurd on June 13. In the first game of a doubleheader, a 15-10 loss to the Mets, reliever Les Lancaster started the seventh by allowing four singles to the first five Mets he faced. Lancaster was then moved to leftfield. His replacement, Paul Assenmacher, faced three hitters, none of whom he retired. Lancaster came back in from leftfield and got the final two outs, but New York had already scored five runs. Of his stint in the outfield, Lancaster said, "I wanted to make a play and maybe throw someone out at home—those were my earned runs out there on the bases."
In the ninth inning of the second game, relievers Joe Kraemer and Dean Wilkins came out of the bullpen to turn a 4-3 squeaker into a comfortable 9-6 New York win. The Wrigley Field faithful were heard chanting, "We want Doug."
Oriole shortstop Cal Ripken is in a slump but not because of his consecutive-game streak, which reached 1,313 on Sunday. If he was tired, wouldn't his defense suffer as well? At week's end, Ripken was hitting .220, but he had only one error, on April 13, a Friday.
On June 12, when he moved past Everett Scott with the second-longest streak in history, Ripken was booed at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. That is sad. For a streak that impressive, the fans should have carried him off the field on their shoulders. The last time Ripken didn't start a game, Don Mattingly had no major league hits, Orel Hershiser had no victories and Jose Canseco had no home runs....
How about the Giants? On May 28, they were 17-28, 14½ games out of first place in the National League West. On June 17, they were four games over .500 and 7½ games out. In winning 17 of 19 games, San Francisco out-scored its opponents 133-56. Will Clark and Kevin Mitchell have been tearing the cover off the ball, but the Giants' surge also coincides with the loss of rightfielder Kevin Bass, who went down with a knee injury on May 27. One of Bass's replacements is Rick Parker, 27, who had to be coaxed into quitting his job at Texas Instruments in 1985 to sign a minor league contract with the Phillies. He was buried in Philadelphia's system last season when he came to the Giants as part of the trade that brought reliever Steve Bedrosian to San Francisco. As of Sunday, Parker was hitting .360 with 12 RBIs in 24 games....
The Phillies are excited about pitcher Jose DeJesus, who made his National League debut on June 13, allowing one run in six innings against the Expos. Stolen from the Royals for infielder Steve Jeltz in March, DeJesus's fastball was clocked at 96 mph during batting practice at Triple A Scranton this season. DeJesus claims to have been clocked at 103 mph....
After the pitiful start the Royals have had, look for them to start making some major trades. One could involve the injury-prone rightfielder Danny Tartabull. The Royals may also send reliever Mark Davis back to the Padres. Davis has suffered under the strain that comes with the four-year, $13 million free-agent contract he signed this winter with Kansas City, and he misses San Diego pitching coach Pat Dobson. Says Dobson, "M.D. has a very fragile psyche. It was something that pretty much had to be dealt with every day, keeping him in the right frame of mind to pitch."
BETWEEN THE LINES
When the Pacific Candy Co. introduced the Wade Boggs .352 candy bar this February, it used that number because it was Boggs's lifetime batting average entering this season. At week's end, however, Boggs was hitting only .286—his lowest average this late in any of his nine seasons—and his career average had fallen to .349. Boggs was batting .234 against lefthanders and .204 on the road. "I'm swinging the bat better now than I have in nine years," he says. Boggs blames his slow start on bad luck, an injured left hand, opponents' respect (46 walks, 10 intentional) and hitting in the leadoff spot instead of third, where he sees better pitches. He needs 136 hits in his last 100 games to extend his major league record of consecutive 200-hit seasons to eight.
THE WEENIE WATCH
Until June 13, Mets outfielder Daryl Boston had gone 1,594 plate appearances in 531 major league games without being hit by a pitch. He then got plunked twice in a span of five trips to the plate. The Cubs' Mike Harkey hit him on June 13 with a slider just below the knee. Two days later the Pirates' Walt Terrell got him. Phillie outfielder John Kruk has the most plate appearances—1,934 through Sunday—without getting hit. "Watch, you write about it, and I'll get drilled five times," says Kruk. At week's end Reds outfielder Herm Winningham had 1,546 appearances at the plate without getting an HBP. "Why would anyone want to hit me?" says the weak-hitting Winningham. "Anyway, if it's close, I'm getting out of the way."
ON A SOUR NOTE
Boston catcher Tony Pena defied modern science after he injured his right thumb in a collision at home plate with Cleveland outfielder Candy Maldonado on June 11. Pena wrapped the swollen digit in a hollowed-out lemon filled with salt, saying he was following an old remedy used in the Dominican Republic. According to David Halberstam's book Summer of '49, Yogi Berra once treated an injury to his left thumb the same way.
FAIRY TALES CAN COME TRUE
One of the most interesting sidelights to Nolan Ryan's sixth career no-hitter (page 98), on June 11 against Oakland, is that John Russell was his catcher. After being released by the Braves three days before Opening Day, Russell was out of baseball for a month, during which he painted houses and helped coach a high school baseball team in Philadelphia. The Rangers signed him to a Triple A contract on May 7 and called him up 10 days later. "Before the game, I told Nolan, 'It's a thrill and an honor to catch you.' " says Russell. "He said, 'Let's go get 'em.' So he throws a no-no. It's a storybook ending for me."
IT TAKES A THIEF
Philadelphia pitcher Ken Howell stole the first base of his six-year career on June 12. He even surprised himself. "I was so screwed up," he said, "I slid feet first, got up and dusted off my shirt."
BY THE NUMBERS
•On June 12, Pittsburgh's Sid Bream and Kansas City's Bill Pecota each went 4 for 4, but neither one scored or drove in a run.
•From June 21, 1989, through last Sunday, Cub second baseman Ryne Sandberg had 38 homers and one error.
•Angel outfielder Dave Winfield is the only active player who has driven in 100 or more runs in both leagues. The Padres' Joe Carter, who has driven in 100 in the American League, had 54 through Sunday.
•When Yankee shortstop Alvaro Espinoza homered on June 5, White Sox outfielder Lance Johnson became the leader for most at bats (574 through Sunday) among active players without a home run.