To borrow a line from former Oriole skipper Earl Weaver, the Giants have "crawled out of more coffins than Bela Lugosi." San Francisco, the injury-afflicted National League champion, came from behind to beat the division-leading Reds three straight times last week before shutting them out 4-0 on Sunday on Scott Garrelts's one-hitter. In sweeping Cincinnati, the Giants moved to within 5½ games of first, the closest they've been since April 24.
"We felt all along we could catch them, but even more so now," said San Francisco manager Roger Craig after Saturday's 11-inning, 3-2 victory. "We're on their tails, baby, and they know it."
The Giants have been led all season by Will Clark, by Kevin Mitchell and by Matt Williams, but the Big Three went only 7 for 37 (six singles and a double) in the first three games against the Reds. Some unlikely heroes stepped forward instead—perhaps a sign that something special is happening in San Francisco. The Giants fell behind 3-0 in the first inning in each of the first two games, but outfielder Rick Leach, who's no power hitter, homered in each game to help the Giants to a pair of 4-3 wins. Seldom-used catcher Bill Bathe won Game 2 in the ninth inning by poking a pinch hit single off Cincinnati closer Randy Myers, scoring Garrelts, who was a pinch runner, in a close play at the plate.
In Game 3, San Francisco trailed 2-1 in the ninth inning, but pinch hitter Dave Anderson tied the score with a home run—his first of the season and only his fourth RBI—off Tom Browning. The Giants won the game on Mitchell's RBI bloop single. In Game 4, Garrelts, one of the few San Francisco pitchers who have been healthy all season, had a no-hitter through 8⅖ innings, until Cincinnati outfielder Paul O'Neill singled to center.
Williams, who had 83 RBIs through Sunday, will probably lead the league in that category. If he does, he'll become the third Giant in a row to do so; Mitchell won last year's RBI title, and Clark was tops in '88. The Giants would thus join the Yankees as the only team to have three different players lead the league in three successive seasons. Bob Meusel, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were the American League RBI leaders in 1925, '26 and '27, respectively.
But the Giants aren't concerned about that; they just want to catch the Reds, whose seven-game losing streak through Sunday was their longest of the season. "They haven't beaten us, we've beaten ourselves," said Reds manager Lou Piniella, who closed the clubhouse doors for 20 minutes after Saturday's defeat. He later said he had given his players a pep talk, not a tongue lashing.
Before last weekend's series at Candlestick Park, Reds reliever Rob Dibble said, "I think we're going to win three out of four. And if we do that, we'll bury them." This year Cincinnati is 2-8 against the Giants, 0-7 at Candlestick. The teams next meet in Cincinnati, where they'll play a four-game series beginning on Aug. 10.
NOT SO FREE
Given the stumblings of this year's big-money free agents—that is, the poor efforts being turned in by the Angels' Mark Langston, the Royals' Mark and Storm Davis, the Mariners' Pete O'Brien et al.—it would appear that baseball's owners might be reluctant to shell out big bucks to the players who will become free agents at the end of this season. On the other hand, an arbitrator recently found baseball's owners guilty of colluding to limit player salaries, the third such ruling since September 1987. So curiosity is building. Will the owners continue to sling outrageous fortunes at the 1990 crop? The answer is: Probably, but not without misgivings.
Jack McKeon, general manager of the Padres, signed free-agent outfielder Fred Lynn ($650,000 for one year) and reliever Craig Lefferts ($5.35 million for three years) last December. He also traded for outfielder Joe Carter, who had told the Indians he would leave them for free agency after the 1990 season. The Padres gave Carter a three-year contract worth $9.2 million. "We spent a lot of money last year, and look where we are," says McKeon (page 38). "I don't know what other teams will do [about free agency], but we'll take a serious look."
John Schuerholz, general manager of the Royals, will also take a more cautious approach. "What has happened may cause some people to look at things differently," he says. "Just when you think the time has come for sanity to surface, it doesn't. Obviously, we were big players in the free-agent market last year, and our record [46-54 through Sunday] speaks for itself. There's no guarantee for performance, only for payment."
Cleveland general manager Hank Peters isn't sure what the market will be like in November. "No owner is crying poor man, but you have to ask yourself how many high-priced players you can have," says Peters. "Assuming you take care of your own players first, how much you can spread on free agents might be very slim. It used to be a painless way to build, but it isn't that way anymore. Look at the Athletics. They have a fine team, a very fine team. But their payroll next year may be $30 million. Can they let it go much higher? I don't know the answer to that one."
Still, as the sky-high prices for the 1989 free agents proved, the owners have learned their lesson on collusion. The possibility that damage awards to the 76 players involved in the most recent collusion arbitration may reach a total of $250 million should reinforce that knowledge. Thus, potential free agents like George Bell and Darryl Strawberry should still be able to command outlandish contracts. Willie McGee and Vince Coleman, who are having big seasons, should also do well. And the ever-present lack of pitching will mean that Teddy Higuera and Mike Boddicker will be in demand. However, lesser lights such as Juan Samuel and Phil Bradley may find that clubs are not as eager as they were last year to spend so lavishly.
Despite Michael Jordan's heroics in the batting cage in Chicago last week, there are probably more major leaguers who could hold their own in an NBA game than NBA players who could play big league baseball. "That's because our game is the hardest," says Cincinnati pitcher Tom Browning. With that in mind, here's our major league all-star basketball team.
Guards: DELINO DeSHIELDS, 6'1", Expos. A blur. Had signed to play guard at Villanova. Can do a 360-degree dunk. "I think I could play in the NBA," he says. TONY GWYNN, 5'11", Padres. Assist man. Played four years at San Diego State. "The guys here rag on me for only averaging eight points a game in my career," he says. ERIC DAVIS, 6'3", Reds. A high school star in Los Angeles, he scored 28 points a game as a senior. "If he wanted, he could be in the NBA," says Gwynn.
Forwards: LEE SMITH, 6'6", Cardinals. Played at Northwestern State in Louisiana. In his prime, Smith was a bull. DAVE WINFIELD, 6'6", Angels. Drafted by the Hawks in the fifth round of the 1973 NBA draft. "Kids only know about Bo Jackson playing two sports," says Winfield, "but I could have done it long before him."
Center: RANDY JOHNSON, 6'10", Mariners. Was offered a try-out with the Southern Cal basketball team. "People always ask me if I played," says Johnson, with a smile. "Sometimes I just tell them that I'm Tom Chambers."
FAIR TO MIDDLIN'
Setup men, the faceless guys who take care of leads before giving way to the big-name closers, are finally getting some acclaim this year because several of them have accumulated quite a few victories. At week's end, Barry Jones of the White Sox had 10 wins in relief, Mark Williamson of the Orioles had eight, and Juan Berenguer of the Twins, John Candelaria of the Blue Jays and Bill Sampen of the Expos each had seven.
While relievers agree that most of their wins are attributable to being in the right place at the right time, this year's top setup men have been both lucky and good. "People see a middle reliever get a win and they say, 'Oh, he vultured it,' " says Williamson. "But I know this year when I come into games, if I give up a run, I'll get an 'L' next to my name." At week's end, Williamson had allowed only two runs in 21⅖ innings in his seven victorious outings. Jones had yielded just two runs in 13‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings in his 10 wins, and Berenguer had given up one in 14 innings in his seven wins.
One member of the middle relievers' fraternity recently took a step up when the least prominent—and perhaps most talented—of Cincinnati's Nasty Boys, Norm Charlton, was put in the starting rotation after 3½ months of setup work. "I think setup guys are starting to be noticed a little more," says Charlton. "They're making more money. Berenguer is a $1 million [a year] setup man. Setup men, middle men have value."
THE O'S HAVE IT
Baltimore is back in the American League East hunt thanks mainly to its '89 trademark: defense. Through Sunday, the Orioles had allowed 29 unearned runs all season—only 10 more than Detroit pitcher Jack Morris had. The O's have also gotten a lift from rookie pitcher Ben McDonald, who allowed only two runs in 15⅖ innings while winning his first two major league starts. "If I were the Blue Jays," says one scout, "I'd worry more about Baltimore than Boston."
...Houston first baseman Franklin Stubbs did not have a putout in a 5-1 victory over the Braves on July 25. Stubbs, who played the entire game, is the 15th first baseman ever to do that in a nine-inning game. "I didn't even know," says Stubbs. "I was more concerned about getting hits, not putouts."
...Montreal pitcher Oil Can Boyd no longer slam dances in the dugout between innings. Nor does he throw 90 mph anymore, yet in his last 15 starts, through Sunday, he was 4-2; had allowed more than two earned runs in only three of those appearances; and had struck out 57 batters while walking 22. "I'm relying on my know-how," says the Can. "But I still like to show people I can punch hitters out." He's one reason that the plucky Expos are still contending in the National League East race....
Daniel Boone, the 36-year-old knuckleballer Baltimore signed last winter out of the Senior League (SI, July 23), pitched a seven-inning no-hitter for Triple A Rochester against Syracuse on July 23. "I had to fight back the tears the last three innings," says Boone. Doug Melvin, the Orioles' farm director, said Boone's chances of being recalled in September are improving. "I suggested that we could have Coonskin Orioles Cap Day," said Melvin, smiling. "I was told to stay out of marketing."
Says LaValliere of the likeness, "I can almost understand it. If you put anyone in catcher's gear, he'd look like one—if you have a broad mind." LaValliere received a plaque at his induction and put it in his locker, "along with all this other Ninja Turtle stuff I've gotten," he says. "I have to clean it out. People send me things all the time. Some lady even sent me a picture of a real turtle."
On July 25 Royals first baseman George Brett became the first player this season to hit for the cycle. Not much was made of it, but hitting for the cycle is rarer than throwing a no-hitter. In major league history pitchers have thrown 212 no-hitters, including seven this year through Sunday. Batters have hit for the cycle 201 times. Brett has done it twice. Babe Herman and Bob Meusel hold the record for career cycles, with three each.
Last Friday the Dodgers left 25 runners on base in a 12-inning, 5-4 victory over the Braves. By way of comparison, all the rest of the teams in the National League West combined left 27 runners on base that night. "If we had lost that game," said Los Angeles manager Tommy Lasorda the next afternoon, "you all would have been coming to my funeral today."
BY THE NUMBERS
•A grand slam home run was the first hit of the game for two teams recently. On July 22 Gary Redus of the Pirates hit a grand slam after three walks in the second inning. A day later, Phillie shortstop Dickie Thon broke up a bid for a no-hitter by Frank Viola of the Mets with a grand slam in the sixth inning.
•At week's end the Cubs' Andre Dawson needed five stolen bases to reach 300 for his career and become the only player besides Willie Mays and Bobby Bonds with at least 300 homers and 300 steals.
BRINGIN' HOME THE BACON
Mike Greenwell is in the company of some anemic hitters when it comes to sending base runners across the plate. On the other hand, Barry Bonds is more effective than a lot of people realize. Here are this year's five best and worst run producers. (RBI totals are minus homers.)
RUNNERS ON BASE
Jose Uribe, Giants
Mike Greenwell, Red Sox
Kevin Seitzer, Royals
Craig Worthington, Orioles
Juan Samuel, Dodgers
Barry Bonds, Pirates
Matt Williams, Giants
Rafael Palmeiro, Rangers
Kirby Puckett, Twins
Kelly Gruber, Blue Jays
Minimum 200 base runners through July 28
SOURCE: STATS, INC.