BASEBALL

September 30, 1990

HANGING TOUGH

Just so there's no misunderstanding, the Dodgers are in the National League West race—albeit as longshots—because the Reds let them into it. Still, the fact that Los Angeles was only five games back after the weekend is a tribute to the Dodgers' organization, their manager and their veteran players.

Remember, L.A. lost its ace pitcher, Orel Hershiser, to an injury in late April, and another starter, Tim Belcher, has been lost to the team since mid-August. Remember, too, that against Philadelphia on Aug. 21, the Dodgers blew an eight-run lead in the ninth inning that could have moved them to within 5½ games of Cincinnati, but they didn't pack it in for the season. Los Angeles probably won't make the playoffs, but it has shown a lot of heart and guts.

Leading the way has been first baseman Eddie Murray, who seems reborn following his unhappy final three years in Baltimore and a so-so .247 season with L.A. in 1989. At week's end Murray was hitting .326 and closing in on Willie McGee's league-leading .335. Should Murray win his first batting crown, he would become the fifth player in this century to lead a league in the Triple Crown categories-batting, homers (22 with the Orioles in strike-shortened '81) and RBIs (78, also in '81)—but not all in the same year. The four who have accomplished that feat are Hall of Famers: Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Mize and Hank Aaron. One of the game's best pennant-race players during his 12 years with Baltimore, Murray, who also had 25 homers and 91 RBIs through Sunday, came to Los Angeles in a steal of a deal. L.A. shipped infielder Juan Bell and pitchers Brian Holton and Ken Howell to the Orioles for Murray.

The Dodgers also have to be pleased with the 1989 deal ¦that sent pitcher Tim Leary and infielder Mariano Duncan to Cincinnati for outfielder Kal Daniels. With 26 home runs and 89 RBIs at week's end, Daniels is having his best season ever. And Ramon Martinez (19-6, 3.04 ERA and a league-high 216 strikeouts) has emerged as a Cy Young candidate.

Manager Tommy Lasorda deserves a great deal of credit for not letting the Dodgers quit when things looked bleak. Through Sunday, L.A. was 43-28 since the All-Star break, while the Reds were 37-37. "The pressure is all on them [the Reds] now," says outfielder Kirk Gibson. "If we take this thing, the story will be how they blew it, not how we won it."

Says Daniels of his former teammates, "Nothing they're doing surprises me. In my four years there [1986 through '89], September was always the worst month. No one ever knew why." As of Sunday, Cincinnati was 12-11 this month.

The Reds will in all likelihood hold on, but they certainly won't be charging into the playoffs. Jack Armstrong and Rick Mahler have struggled with injuries, and Cincinnati is down to a four-man rotation: Tom Browning, Danny Jackson, Norm Charlton and Jose Rijo. In his five most recent starts, Browning was 1-3 with an 8.28 ERA. In his last five starts, Jackson was 1-4 with a 5.76. Since Charlton moved into the starting rotation in July, the bullpen has been weakened. In short, the Reds need to regroup before the playoffs, but first they have to get by the Dodgers.

A YEAR TO FORGET

The disastrous season of Padre outfielder Tony Gwynn ended on Sept. 16, when he broke a finger on his right hand while trying to make a catch against the rightfield wall in Atlanta. He was hitting .309 at the time, 23 points below his career average. But that's the least of Gwynn's troubles. He's so angry with his teammates, he won't return to the clubhouse this year, saying, "I don't want to be around those——." He says he won't comment further until 1991.

Gwynn's season began with an unsuccessful attempt to renegotiate his contract, which runs through next season. Then, in a team meeting on May 24, he was blasted by teammates Jack Clark and Garry Templeton for caring more about his batting average than about winning. His season reached a grisly low point on Sept. 8, when a mutilated plastic figurine of Gwynn—the feet and arms were chopped off—was found hanging in the Padre dugout at Jack Murphy Stadium. Gwynn reacted angrily, thinking that the doll was the handiwork of a teammate. On Sept. 20, the Padres announced that an unidentified stadium worker had found the doll in the visitors' dugout and had placed it in the San Diego dugout, near where Gwynn did his nightly radio show. Some observers close to the team question whether the story about the stadium worker is true. They think that explanation was concocted by the front office to soothe relations with Gwynn.

It's probably too late for that. Gwynn, who's friendly, classy and accommodating, should be traded. But a source says Padre principal owner Tom Werner won't deal Gwynn, an eight-year Padre veteran who's the best and most popular player in club history. Manager Greg Riddoch wants to hang on to Gwynn as well.

Still, whoever replaces recently fired Jack McKeon as general manager of the Padres should consider swapping Gwynn. Gwynn could add a lot to any team, and he deserves a change of scenery.

A STAR IS BORN?

Everyone knows how well Zane Smith has pitched since the Pirates acquired him from the Expos on Aug. 8, winning five of his eight starts for Pittsburgh through last weekend, but the pitcher that Montreal called up to replace him in the rotation has been even better. He's 23-year-old rookie lefthander Chris Nabholz, who was 6-0. On Sept. 19, Nabholz handed the Mets a huge loss with a one-hit shutout. In nine starts for the Expos, he had a 2.91 ERA in 55⅖ innings and allowed only 31 hits.

"Most people want to know how I could go 0-6 at Triple A [Indianapolis] this year, then go 6-0 in the big leagues," says Nabholz. "I haven't figured that one out yet. When Zane was traded, the Expos said they wanted to bring up someone to win some games. They said they didn't care what his record was at Triple A. I'm glad they mentioned my name."

Drafted in the second round in 1988 out of Towson State near Baltimore, Nabholz joins Mark Gardner, Steve Frey and Bill Sampen as young Montreal pitchers who have had surprisingly good seasons. Together, they have done a terrific job filling the void created when Mark Langston, Pascual Perez and Bryn Smith all left as free agents last winter.

COST OF FREEDOM

A number of general managers believe that bidding on free agents may be light this winter. The reason: Some teams are going to feel the financial pinch of having to pay their share of the $102.5 million in damages coming to the players involved in Collusion II; on Sept. 17 an arbitrator ruled that major league baseball must pay that sum to players whose ability to exercise their right of free agency in 1987 and '88 was curtailed by management collusion. And further awards for lost salaries in '89 and '90, plus interest, could bring damages as high as $250 million. Says one general manager, "If [free agents] think it's going to be the same as last winter, they might be in for a surprise."

The spending cutbacks may not affect the top potential free agents, such as Darryl Strawberry, who could get a contract similar to Jose Canseco's $23.5 million deal. The players who will be hurt most are the second-and third-line free agents, such as Red Sox outfielder Tom Brunansky. Last winter he might have gotten a three-year deal worth $9 million. Now it appears he will be lucky to get half that.

Still, it is a good time to be a pro baseball player. Recently Twins general manager Andy MacPhail watched as actor Tom Selleck took batting practice at the Metrodome to prepare for a baseball movie he's filming there. Said MacPhail, "He's one of the few people on this planet who would have to take a pay cut to play major league baseball."

MARATHON MAN

The longest consecutive-game streak in Baltimore actually doesn't belong to shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. On Sunday, Oriole field attendant Ernie Tyler worked his 2,452nd home game in a row at Memorial Stadium....

How badly do the Astros need a power hitter? They went from Aug. 8 until Sept. 19 without a home run at home....

Commissioner Fay Vincent was right to reject 67-year-old Minnie Minoso's bid to become the only player ever to play in six decades. Vincent said he respects Minoso, who had wanted to make a plate appearance in a White Sox game, but said, "It's my job to see that the game is well represented, to protect its professional integrity on the field. I don't think we should trivialize this game." ...For the first time this year, someone attempted to steal a base against Oriole righthander Dave Johnson. It happened in the first inning of last Saturday night's game, in Johnson's 27th start, when B.J. Surhoff of the Brewers tried to steal second. He was thrown out. Last season seven runners attempted to steal on Johnson, who has the most baffling pickoff move in the majors, and none of them was successful....

Milwaukee coach Don Baylor is disappointed with the approach some of the Brewers players take to the game. "You can put a college football game or an NFL game on television [in the clubhouse], and the enthusiasm is unbelievable," he says. "They know who's hurt, and who can't play. But you ask them who's pitching [against them] the next day, and they don't know. Get your priorities in line and then maybe you can win a championship."

PHOTOROBERT BECKMurray will join a very select group if he wins the batting championship. PHOTOSCOTT JORDAN LEVYGwynn has had little to smile about this season.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)