CROWD AT THE TOP
On Aug. 17, with six weeks left in the season, Bob Welch of the A's won his 20th game (against only four losses). Normally that would make him the front-runner for the American League Cy Young Award. Not this year, however. The 1990 Cy Young race may be the most competitive in 10 years.
By October, Welch will almost assuredly be joined in the 20-win circle by teammate Dave Stewart (17-8 at week's end), Boston's Roger Clemens (18-5), California's Chuck Finley (16-5) and Toronto's Dave Stieb (16-4). The American League has not had five 20-game winners since 1980. It also has been 10 years since the league has had as many as four 20-game winners who lost fewer than 10 games.
This year's Cy Young race has some other intriguing sidelights. Clemens, who received the award in 1986 and '87, could become the first American League pitcher to win it in two different decades. A third Cy Young would tie him with Jim Palmer for the most in league history. Finally, what if relievers Bobby Thigpen (40 saves) of the White Sox and Dennis Eckersley (38) of the A's break Dave Righetti's major league record of 46 saves in a season? Will they figure in the voting?
"If you don't count relievers, there are only three guys," says Stewart, who has criticized the balloting on several occasions in years past. "My choice for the front-runner is Welch, but I know a lot of people say Clemens. I know what Clemens has done for Boston, but now is not the time to change the rules. The guys who won it the last three years won the most games and had good stats. If Bob Welch continues to win at this pace, and he doesn't get it, something is terribly wrong with the judging."
Of course, those are the words of a loyal teammate. Here is a more impartial handicapping of the race as it heads into the homestretch (all stats are through Sunday's games):
Clemens: The slight favorite. He leads the league in ERA (2.04) and strikeouts (183) and is tied with Stewart for the lead in shutouts, with three, and in innings pitched. He has a chance to be only the eighth pitcher in history to lead the majors in wins, ERA and strikeouts in the same season. Clemens is 11-2 in games that he has started after a Boston defeat. A strong finisher, Clemens has allowed only six earned runs in 64‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings since the All-Star break.
Stewart: Probably the sentimental choice because he has come so close without ever having won. A sure bet to win 20 games for the fourth straight year. He is third in ERA (2.43) and first in complete games (8). He's the guts of the tremendous Oakland staff, the man the Athletics look to for strength and stability. He has won his last five starts—two of them in extra innings—allowing three earned runs in 45⅖ innings.
Welch: Reached 20 wins (his first 20-win season) faster than any pitcher in either league since Wilbur Wood of the White Sox in 1973. Welch sure to become the only pitcher with 15-plus victories and fewer than 10 losses in each of the last four years. He is sixth in ERA (3.09), but when it comes to walks allowed and hits-to-innings-pitched ratio, he can't match Clemens, and he has only two complete games.
If Finley and Stieb finish strong, they could crack the top three, as might a reliever. Chances are, though, the race will come down to Clemens, Stewart and Welch. When asked if he cared whether he won the Cy Young, Clemens said, "I really don't. I've won two of them. Anyway, it seems every time I win one, my wife has a baby. We have two boys, and she's been talking about a girl lately."
Terry Mulholland of the Phillies pitched a no-hitter on Aug. 15, beating his former teammates, the Giants, 6-0. It was the eighth no-hitter of the season, a major league record. The Year of the No-Hitter has had all kinds:
No. 1) Mark Langston and Mike Witt combined for a no-hitter in Langston's debut for the Angels. No. 2) Seattle's Randy Johnson became the tallest pitcher (6'10") to throw a no-hitter. No. 3) Texas's Nolan Ryan became the oldest pitcher (43) to throw one. That no-hitter was the sixth of Ryan's career, a major league record. Nos. 4 & 5) The A's Dave Stewart and the Dodgers' Fernando Valenzuela pitched no-hitters on the same night (June 29)—the first time that has happened this century. No. 6) Less than 48 hours later, Andy Hawkins of the Yankees became the second pitcher in history to lose a nine-inning no-hitter, 4-0 to the White Sox. No. 7) Melido Perez of the White Sox pitched a rain-shortened, six-inning no-hitter against the Yankees. No. 8) Mulholland threw the first no-hitter by a Phillie pitcher in Philadelphia in the modern era.
When asked about his sudden fame, Mulholland, who as of Sunday had a 14-21 lifetime record, said, "I was a national celebrity in 1986 when I threw my glove." He was referring to a game against the Mets in which he couldn't get a ground ball out of his glove, so he threw the glove—with the ball still inside—to first baseman Bob Brenly for the out. That later prompted Giants pitcher Mike Krukow to tell Brenly, "You blew it; you should have whipped [the glove] around the infield."
JUSTICE FOR ALL
Add another name to the long list of solid candidates for National League Rookie of the Year: Dave Justice of Atlanta. Put him at the top of the list, along with Expo second baseman Delino DeShields and Cub pitcher Mike Harkey.
Justice made his presence felt in a span of only 12 days. On Aug. 3, he was playing a foreign position (first base) and was batting .243 with eight home runs and 28 RBIs. That day the Braves traded outfielder Dale Murphy to the Phillies and moved Justice back to his natural position, rightfield. He was also moved closer to home plate by Atlanta batting coach Clarence Jones. "He didn't want to," says Jones. "Now, he loves it."
Says Justice, "He promised me my numbers would go up."
They skyrocketed. In a 12-game stretch, from Aug. 5 through 16, Justice hit 10 home runs and became the first Atlanta player to have multihomer games back to back. He drove in 20 runs and raised his average to .270. Through Sunday, his 18 homers and 50 RBIs were both tops among National League rookies, and he had only 294 at bats. Ernie Whitt, the Braves' veteran catcher, has never seen a homer tear like Justice's. "Right before it started," says Whitt, "he hit five balls in the Astrodome that would have been homers in any other park, but not one went out there."
Justice, 24, smiles about his home run surge and says, "It's almost funny." He hit 22 homers in his second year in professional baseball, in 1986, but has never considered himself a home run hitter. With his smooth lefthanded swing he has long been considered a prospect but, he says, "Until a week ago, no one even knew me."
He graduated from Covington (Ky.) Latin High at age 16 and went to Thomas More College in Crestview Hills, Ky., to play basketball and baseball. I le studied psychology and criminal justice. "I wanted to be an FBI agent," says Justice. "I never considered pro ball until I was drafted. I looked at drafted guys and said, I can't play with those guys."
The Braves chose him in the fourth round of the 1985 draft, and, soon, he could play with those guys. He would have started this season in Atlanta, but on March 18 he was hit in the face with a baseball and had to have plastic surgery. When he was ready to play, he spent 16 days in the minors before being called up, on May 16. "I've never had a full year," says Justice. "I'd like to see what kind of numbers I could put up if I got 600 at bats in a season."
Robert Nederlander, the man whom George Steinbrenner nominated to replace him as general partner of the Yankees, is best known for his ownership of numerous Broadway theaters. In fact, he and Steinbrenner were two of the backers of the spectacular 1989 Broadway bomb Legs Diamond. Now Nederlander has another bomb on his hands, the last-place Yankees. We offer these suggestions to make the team the toast of Broadway once again:
1) Hire Whitey Herzog as casting director and do away with the current system of having two general managers. 2) Be kind to the reviewers; they can bury you. 3) Don't venture on stage; stay in the wings. 4) Sign marquee performers whose services may be available after the summer season. Potential leading men are Darryl Strawberry and Teddy Higuera. 5) Make sure dashing Kevin Maas, understudy to the injured Don Mattingly, lands a major part in 1991. 6) Don't let your show-stopper, Dave Righetti, join another traveling troupe through free agency. 7) Don't sign that ham, Deion Sanders, who is raw and overrated and should be playing towns like Columbus, not New York.
THE OTHER GUY
Oakland first baseman Mark McGwire is often overshadowed by his more flamboyant teammate Jose Canseco, but last week McGwire became the first player in history to hit 30 or more homers in each of his first four years in the majors. That feat is made more significant by the fact that Oakland is a tough home run park. Consider: Through Sunday, McGwire had 89 homers in 1,021 career at bats on the road—an average of 43.6 for every 500 at bats. The only player in history with comparable homer numbers on the road is Babe Ruth, who hit 367 in 4,366 at bats—or 42.0 for every 500 at bats....
Shame on anyone who buried Kansas City's George Brett when he was hitting .256 on July 1. In 36 games from the All-Star break through Sunday, he had 21 doubles and 35 RBIs and had raised his average to .313. Brett has a shot at winning his third batting crown....
Danny Darwin of the Astros could become a second-look free agent as a result of the Collusion III arbitration. If he does, he should attract quite a bit of interest because of his rubber-armed ability to start and relieve. On Aug. 16 he improved his record to 8-1 to become the only pitcher other than Nolan Ryan to win at least eight games per season every year since 1980....
Four American League pitchers have at least 15 losses, giving them a shot at 20 for the year: Minnesota's Allan Anderson (16 defeats at week's end), California's Mark Langston (15), the Yankees' Tim Leary (15) and Detroit's Jack Morris (15). Brian Kingman, formerly of Oakland, is the last pitcher in either league to lose 20 games (he was 8-20 in 1980); the last time the American League had more than two 20-game losers was 1920....
Until last week, Montreal outfielder Otis Nixon was in danger of becoming the first 30-0 man—30 steals, zero homers—in three straight seasons. This fact was researched by the Expos' public relations whiz, Richard Griffin, who asked Nixon before releasing the information, "What happens if you hit a homer before the end of the season?" Nixon replied, "No chance." Two nights later he homered off San Diego's Dennis Rasmussen.
BETWEEN THE LINES
THE IMELDA MARCOS OF BASEBALL
Pirate outfielder R.J. Reynolds owns more pairs of shoes than he can count. "I have a shoe fetish," he says. "On a road trip, I take eight or 10 pairs. And I might bring five pairs of sneakers. If I wear a sweat suit, my sneakers must match. When I wear cuffed slacks, I wear laced shoes. No cuffs, I wear loafers."
Reynolds even wears a necklace with two gold shoes on it. "I have about every color and style of shoe," he says. "I have red, mustard.... I don't think I have green. I have pairs that I've never worn. The only kind I don't have are patent leather. I just don't like 'em."
IF YOU LEAVE THEM....
Yankee pitcher Chuck Cary has left two tickets for Joe Jackson at every Yankee game—home and away—this season. That's Joe Jackson the singer, not Shoeless Joe. "I've never met him, but I'd like to," says Cary. "I ran into him once in Greenwich Village, but I didn't want to bug him. So I figured I'd leave him tickets to repay him for all the musical enjoyment he's given me the last 10 years." Cary says some bogus Joe Jacksons successfully claimed the tickets earlier this year after word got out about the freebies, but Cary has since provided the ticket office at Yankee Stadium with one of Jackson's album covers so the real McCoy can be identified.
PLAYERS PASSING IN THE NIGHT
Three weeks ago, Philadelphia rookie outfielder Jim Vatcher heard rumors that the Phillies were planning to trade for Braves outfielder Dale Murphy—Vatcher's idol. "I thought, Great, I'll get to meet him," says Vatcher, 24, who had a poster of Murphy, 34, hanging in his room as a teenager. Murphy was indeed traded to Philadelphia, but Vatcher went to Atlanta in the deal. "Pretty ironic," says Vatcher. "I even got his locker."
ACE OF THE STAPH
What a pleasant surprise: a pitcher being allowed to catch a high pop-up. Expo reliever Steve Frey grabbed one on Aug. 9, but there was a reason, according to Montreal third baseman Tim Wallach. Frey had been released from the hospital on Aug. 7 after receiving treatment for a staph infection and still wasn't completely recovered. "I wasn't going near him," says Wallach. "I've got open cuts on my knee and my hand."
WORLDS WIDEST SHORTSTOP
On Aug. 16, Minnesota's Kirby Puckett made his major league debut at four different positions. Winner of four straight Gold Gloves in centerfield, he opened the game in rightfield. Then in the eighth inning, Twins manager Tom Kelly moved Puckett to the infield so that he could keep Gary Gaetti available to pinch-hit. Kelly didn't want Puckett near a batted ball, so depending on the hitter, he switched Puckett from shortstop to third base or to second. Puckett got no chances. "I'm glad Puck is one of us utility in-fielders now," said Minnesota's Al Newman. "Maybe he'll raise the starting salary, a little."
BY THE NUMBERS
•Cincinnati's Herm Winningham tied the major league record for triples in a game when he hit three on Aug. 14 against St. Louis. Before this season, the feat had not been accomplished since 1981, but it has been done twice in the last 3½ weeks. The Cubs' Shawon Dunston also had a triple-triple, on July 28.
•On Sunday, Dodger rookie shortstop Jose Offerman hit a home run in his first major league at bat. He had not hit a homer in 454 at bats in the minors this season.
WHERE DOES THE TIME GO?
A catcher can have a large effect on the length of a ball game. Here are the ones who will get you home early—and those who won't.
3 hr. 3 min.
Carlton Fisk, White Sox
3 hr. 0 min.
Lance Parrish, Angels
2 hr. 58 min.
B.J. Surhoff, Brewers
2 hr. 40 min.
Joe Olive, Reds
2 hr. 41 min.
Brian Harper, Twins
2 hr. 44 min.
Joe Girardi, Cubs
Minimum 65 complete games caught through Aug. 18
SOURCE: STATS, INC.