Baseball

August 04, 1991

A Perfect Weekend

It was fitting that Dodger Stadium, the home of the team that has been synonymous with superb pitching for 30 years, was the site of some historic pitching last weekend. On Friday night, the Expos' Mark Gardner pitched a nine-inning no-hitter against" Los Angeles but lost 1-0 in the 10th. On Sunday afternoon, Montreal's Dennis Martinez pitched the 15th perfect game of nine innings or more—and the 13th since 1900—while beating the Dodgers 2-0. It was the first time that National League teammates pitched no-hitters as close as two days apart.

"Mark and I were kidding after the game; I told him, 'You set the table for me, you made me feel that I had to do even better than you,' " said Martinez, 36, the oldest pitcher after Cy Young (37 in 1904) to pitch a perfect game. "But I can't believe that was me who did that today. It's kind of unbelievable."

It was that kind of weekend. Montreal's Ron Hassey also made history as the first catcher to catch two perfect games. He caught Len Barker's for Cleveland in 81.

Gardner's no-hitter also had an odd sidelight. L.A.'s Lenny Harris broke up the no-hitter with an infield single over the mound to start the 10th. Harris went to third on a single by Eddie Murray and scored on a single by Darryl Strawberry off reliever Jeff Fassero, who had his streak of 9‚Öì hitless innings stopped.

For Martinez, though, the perfect game capped a remarkable comeback. Once a promising pitcher for the Orioles, his effectiveness declined rapidly in the mid-'80s. In 1984 he entered alcohol rehab to get his personal life in order, but his career hit a low point in '86 when his ERA ballooned and he was booed mercilessly by Baltimore fans. On June 16 of that year, he was unloaded to the Expos for infielder Rene Gonzales. Since the deal, he has won almost twice as many games (66) as any Oriole, and last year he became the oldest player to make the All-Star team for the first time.

When the Expos fell out of the pennant race early this year, a number of teams tried to trade for Martinez. But Montreal general manager Dave Dombrowski, knowing that Martinez is so well conditioned he might pitch effectively into his 40's, refused to deal the ace of his staff. Good move. On Sunday, Martinez, who is from Nicaragua, became the only non-U.S.-born pitcher to throw a perfect game. After getting the Dodgers' final hitter, Chris Gwynn, on a fly to centerfield, Martinez wept. "I've never pitched a no-hitter anywhere, not even as a kid," he said. "To have this happen this far into my career, it's so great, it's scary."

Raging Bull

Forget all the trade talk of recent years involving Royals rightfielder Danny Tartabull. And those whispers that he won't play hurt. And his frustration at being overshadowed by Bo Jackson. Tartabull is finally content, and it shows.

Through Sunday, he was second in the American League in batting (.332), tied for fourth in home runs (22) and tied for fifth in RBIs (68). He gives credit for this year's hot start to two people: his manager and personal hitting guru, Hal McRae, and his father, former major league outfielder Jose, who is now a minor league coach with the Gulf Coast Royals, Kansas City's rookie team in Davenport, Fla.

"My father has always been a great help," says Danny, who once a week talks on the phone with Jose about his hitting. "He's a confidence builder. He notices everything." Oddly enough, Jose hit only two home runs in his nine-year major league career.

The hiring of McRae as the Royals' manager on May 24 probably has had the greater impact on Tartabull's batting. When Tartabull first joined the Royals after a trade in December 1986, McRae was Kansas City's batting instructor. "He knows me," says Tartabull. "And he knows how to communicate with me."

Through week's end, Tartabull had batted .373 with 17 homers and 48 RBIs in the 46 games since McRae replaced John Wathan as manager. And though he is only in his sixth big league season, Tartabull, 28, is on course for his fourth 25-plus homer, 95-plus RBI year. Yet Tartabull is not recognized as one of baseball's top hitters.

He blames the oversight on his playing in the small media markets of Seattle and Kansas City. "The general public gets caught up in the public scene instead of who's doing their job," he says.

Tartabull did the job for the Mariners, hitting 25 homers and driving in 96 runs, during his first season, 1986, but lost in the Rookie of the Year voting to the A's Jose Canseco. Then Seattle traded him in the off-season—a move the Mariners no doubt now regret—to Kansas City for pitchers Scott Bankhead and Steve Shields and outfielder Mike Kingery. And almost every year since, Tartabull's name has continued to come up in trade talks. Two years ago, the rumor mill had him going to the Orioles for minor league third baseman Craig Worthington. Last winter, it was the Padres who wanted Tartabull, but San Diego wouldn't part with leadoff man Bip Roberts.

So why does Tartabull's name circulate so often in trade talk?

He says it's because he's one of the most marketable players on the Royals. But others question his durability and whether he'll play with pain; he appeared in 133 games in 1989 and only 88 last season. One general manager says there is also a concern about Tartabull's attitude. "I've heard that," says Tartabull. "I say to people, 'Give me an example,' but I never get one. Have I ever been in a fistfight with a teammate? No. Have I ever said anything bad about a teammate? No. I've never had a problem with a manager."

The Royals are not looking to trade Tartabull now. They have started preliminary talks with him on a new contract-sure to be a lucrative, long-term deal that will prevent him from leaving Kansas City as a free agent after this season. The Royals have sorely missed Jackson's power and presence since releasing him in spring training. But Jackson's departure turned the spotlight on Tartabull, and he's enjoying it. "Bo got all the attention, no matter what I or George [Brett] or anyone else did," he says. "George and I could go 4 for 4 with a pair of homers, but if Bo got a hit, it was magnified a hundred times. Bo was a sideshow. You guys [the media] created him, that's the truth."

Another truth is that the Royals can now ill afford to lose their main threat in the middle of the order.

Pitcher with No Control
Reds reliever Rob Dibble's latest explosion—hitting the Cubs' Doug Dascenzo with a ball as Dascenzo ran to first base after a successful squeeze bunt on July 23—was disgraceful and childish. National League president Bill White is expected to suspend Dibble for the third time this year, which would be a record. Dibble's temper tantrums have already hurt Cincinnati—two weeks ago he missed a crucial series against the Pirates while serving a three-game sentence—and with one four-game suspension awaiting appeal and another possibly coming for the Dascenzo incident, he could miss more than 10 games in the second half. Dibble also added to the Reds' clubhouse acrimony by calling some of his teammates "dogs." Dibble is the best reliever in the league this season, but he won't be recognized as such until he learns how to control his temper.

Short Hops...

The comeback player of the year in the American League has to be Rangers righthander Jose Guzman. Before this season Guzman had not pitched since Sept. 21, 1988, and had rotator cuff surgery in June 1989. Texas released him this spring and then re-signed him to a minor league contract. Through Sunday he was 5-4 with a 2.76 ERA and was the best starter on the Rangers' staff....

The Royals are expected to let shortstop Kurt Stillwell go when he becomes a free agent after this season. They are not crazy about his defense, and, says one member of the organization, "He's not an aggressive player."

PHOTOANDREW D. BERNSTEIN/LOS ANGELES DODGERSMartinez was perfectly in control as he fired his final pitch on Sunday. PHOTOSCOTT JORDAN LEVYTartabull's hot bat has chilled his critics.

BETWEEN THE LINES

•It's Not in the Cards
Baseball needs more players like Padres journeyman catcher Dann Bilardello, who has been around forever, plays hard and doesn't take himself too seriously. Bilardello, 32, is in his 14th pro season and with his sixth organization. He was hitting .167 (1 for 6) at week's end; his lifetime major league batting average was .205. "I want my stats taken off my baseball card, that's my goal," he says. "People look at them and say, 'How does this guy do it?' "

•Mama Said There'd Be Days like This
First baseman Dave Staton of the Padres' Triple A Las Vegas Stars recently learned a hard lesson on the dangers of charging the mound. After hitting a homer and a double in a 7-2 win over the Phoenix Firebirds, a Giants' affiliate, Staton was brushed back on his third at bat by pitcher Randy Veres. The 6'5" Staton charged the mound, ducking his head down while attempting to tackle Veres. Veres kicked Staton in the face, breaking his nose. At about the same time, Staton was tackled from behind by catcher Jim McNamara and, in the ensuing melee, was spiked in the face. He needed six stitches in his lip and three in his mouth to close the wounds.

•Casting Decision
Royals first baseman Warren Cromartie's book, Slugging It Out in Japan, about his years with the Yomiuri Giants, is a best-seller in Japan. "They're talking about making a movie," said Cromartie. Will he play the lead role? "You bet I will," he said. "It ain't going to be Nipsey Russell."

• By the Numbers
# On July 23, the Rangers' Nolan Ryan got his 308th career victory, which Goose Gossage finished with career save number 308. It was the first time in history that a 300-game winner had a game saved by a pitcher with 300 saves.

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)