The New Brew Crew
It was clear early this year that Toronto wasn't going to run away with the American League East as expected, not the way the Orioles were playing. Now the Blue Jays have another team to worry about. The Brewers have joined the hunt.
Through Sunday, Milwaukee had climbed to within 3½ games of East-leading Toronto and was just half a game back of Baltimore. The Brewers have moved into contention with a scratch-and-claw offense that has stolen 51 more bases than any other American League team, a relatively unknown pitching staff that may be the best in the league, and a never-give-up attitude that is personified by rookie manager Phil (Scrap Iron) Garner.
"There's a quiet confidence here. We're loose and relaxed," Garner said after the Brewers beat the Tigers 5-1 last Saturday night. "We're resilient. Seven times this year we've lost the first game of a series and come back to win the series. We obviously believe in ourselves."
The Brewers' big test will take place this weekend when they play a four-game series against the Blue Jays at the SkyDome. Milwaukee will go into Toronto having won two of three from the Jays last week, including 10-5 and 16-3 routs. The Brewers have always played well against Toronto—they are 6-3 against the Blue Jays this year; lifetime, they've beaten Toronto more times (120) than any other team has.
Milwaukee outfielder Darryl Hamilton says, "We don't compare with Toronto on paper, yet we're still in the race. Now we're playing a little better than they are. They can intimidate a lot of teams. They've got some big hitters, some studs. We have no intimidators."
It's remarkable that the Brewers are in the race at all, considering that two of their best hitters, outfielders Greg Vaughn (27 homers, 98 RBIs last year; 16 homers, 54 RBIs through Sunday) and Robin Yount (77 RBIs in 1991; 50 so far in '92), have had off years. They have left the batting order in a shambles. The number 4 and 5 spots have combined for a .233 batting average, which is 45 points lower than the number 9 spot has hit. The number 5 hole has produced 41 RBIs, the same as the number 8 spot has. Yet the Brewers have made up for a lack of power with their relentless running—six players have at least 10 stolen bases, including rookie shortstop Pat Listach, who was tied with Cleveland's Kenny Lofton for the league lead, with 42. Garner will run anyone on the team, anytime. "Speed," he says, "is our only weapon."
Offensive weapon, that is. Through Sunday, Milwaukee starters had the second-best ERA (3.78) in the league. Leading the way has been Jaime Navarro, who was 14-8 despite some tough luck—his 1.25 ERA since the All-Star break was the lowest in baseball, but he was only 5-2 in that time. Navarro throws in the low 90's, but instead of going for strikeouts, he has been told to take something off his fastball, stay ahead in the count and let his defense help him get hitters out. Teammates Bill Wegman and Chris Bosio are using the same approach, and together with Navarro, they are 24-12 over the last three months. Rookie Cal Eldred, who was called up July 15, has a 1.56 ERA in six starts. In addition the Brewer bullpen had the league's third-best ERA (3.00) through Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays' pitching is collapsing. Never did it look worse than last Thursday in Milwaukee, when starter David Wells was left on the mound to absorb a club-record 13 runs in 4‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings. That blowout helped drop the Blue Jays to 10th in the league in ERA and left the team that was supposed to have the AL's best pitching staff looking for another starter. Says embattled manager Cito Gaston, "We can't go on like this."
As the Brewers' Pat Listach and Mariner pitcher Dave Fleming battle for the American League Rookie of the Year award, Dodger first baseman Eric Karros seems to have locked up the National League's award. Through Sunday, Karros was leading the Dodgers in homers (17), RBIs (65), doubles (22) and slugging (.448). "He has carried us," says LA. pitcher Tom Candiotti. True enough, even if Karros hasn't carried the last-place Dodgers very far. Karros wasn't much more than an afterthought in Dodger plans this season. During spring training gimpy-kneed Kal Daniels was the prime candidate to play first base while manager Tommy Lasorda lobbied for a trade for Montreal's Tim Wallach. If it weren't for injuries to pitcher Jay Howell and first baseman-outfielder Todd Ben-zinger, Karros would have started the season at Triple A Albuquerque, where he batted .316 with 22 homers and 101 RBIs in 1991. "I did a Nissan commercial in spring training, and I think it had something to do with why I stayed up," says Karros. "Nissan wanted to find a low-paid Dodger and say he could afford to drive their car."
The young Dodger stumbled through I the first month and a half. "I was two at bats away from going to Albuquerque," says Karros. Most believe the turning point in his season came on May 23, when he pinch-hit a three-run homer in the I ninth off Pittsburgh's Stan Belinda for a 5-4 win. But Karros thinks the tide started turning for him three days before that. "I was pinch-hitting against Danny Jackson [then with the Cubs] in the fifth inning with no one on base," says Karros. "Now, who do you send up in the fifth with no one on except a guy that you won't need the rest of the game, right? So I hit this million-hop grounder up the middle, we scored four runs in the inning and wound up winning. Funny how one little thing can do it."
After the homer off Belinda, Karros was made the regular first baseman. His hitting, movie-star looks and intelligence (he'll return to UCLA after this season to finish his degree in economics) have made him the Dodgers' most popular every-day player, a bright light in a truly awful season. Hard work has been his secret. He wasn't drafted out of high school and was a walk-on at UCLA. "I'm not a scout's player," says Karros. "I don't run fast, I don't throw well, I don't have a lot of natural ability. If you go to a game or two and see me, you don't walk away saying, 'Oh, that Karros kid can play.' But watch me over a season and you will."
He has played so well this year that he is doing another commercial for Nissan, which bills one of its new cars and Karros as rookies of the year.
Three Is a Charm
When second baseman Bret Boone and catcher Jim Campanis were playing for Double A Jacksonville last season and vying to become the first third-generation major leaguer in history, Campanis jokingly said that the first one to make it to the big leagues would buy the other a BMW (SI, March 23, 1992). Boone won the race when he was called up by the Mariners on Aug. 18. "I might buy him a Pinto," says Boone.
In a career that lasted from 1972 to '90, Boone's father, Bob, caught more games than anyone in history. Bret's grandfather Ray played 13 years in the major leagues (from 1948 to '60). "I understand the interest [in the three-generation story]; it's a first in 100 years of baseball," says Bret. "But I still don't think it's that big a deal."
Still, one of Bret's first calls when he got the news was to his grandfather. "Gramps," he said, "I'm on my way."
Bret, 23, singled to right center against the Orioles at Camden Yards in his first major league at bat; Ray, a Red Sox scout since 1961, says he singled to virtually the same spot on the field in his first major league at bat.
Bret is not the most gifted player, but he's tough and aggressive. He is expected to be the Mariner second baseman for some time to come, which means an end has probably come to Harold Reynolds's standout career in Seattle. Reynolds, 31, has been one of the franchise's best and most popular players over the last 10 years. He's eligible for free agency after the season and should draw a lot of interest.
Taped to the locker of Dodger pitcher Kevin Gross is a series of photographs taken on Aug. 17, immediately after he threw a no-hitter against the Giants—the first in the major leagues this season. "I'm glad I can look at this, because after the last out everything was a blur," says Gross, who was 6-12 with a 3.37 ERA through Sunday....
Have pitchers wised up to Oriole shortstop Cal Ripken? In 1991, when he was the American League MVP, Ripken often jumped at the first good pitch he saw and hit .316 with seven homers on the first pitch, .347 with 12 homers when the count was 0 and 1. This year he has scuffled along with a .247 average and 10 homers through Sunday and has hit .189 with one homer on the first pitch and .266 with four homers when the count was 0 and 1....
The Angels called up outfielder Tim Salmon from Triple A Edmonton last Thursday, probably preventing him from becoming the seventh Triple Crown winner in Pacific Coast League history. Salmon was hitting .347 with 29 homers and 105 RBIs in 118 games....
Met pitcher Dwight Gooden has hinted that he might retire next year if he doesn't start pitching as he used to. He was 6-11 through Sunday, the league was hitting .256 against him, and maybe worse, he had struck out the side only three times in the last two years.
Between The Lines
On Aug. 19, Phillie third baseman Dave Hollins tied the major league single-season record for switch-hitters—held by Minnesota's Gene Larkin—when he was hit by a pitch for the 15th time. "One more and I can start getting out of the way," said Hollins.
No Triple Threat
Met infielders Chico Walker and Dick Schofield both hit triples last Thursday, giving the team eight this season—five fewer than the Braves' Deion Sanders had at week's end and as many as the 1925 Pirates had in one game. The record for fewest triples in a season is 12, by the 1988 Yankees. Conversely, the Mets had given up 47 three-baggers this year, the most in the majors.
A Fitting Tribute
When Angel shortstop Gary DiSarcina was a high school basketball player in Billerica, Mass., his hero was Larry Bird. "The day Larry retired [Aug. 18], I was so depressed, my teammates made fun of me," said DiSarcina. The next night DiSarcina went to Fenway Park and found that his number, 11, had been changed by equipment manager Leonard Garcia to Bird's 33. That night DiSarcina hit a two-run single in the ninth for a 3-2 Angel win over the Red Sox. "Now they'd have to knock me unconscious to get this jersey off me," he said.
The Lord Works in Mysterious Ways
When Toronto's David Wells gave up 13 runs—all earned—in 4‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings against Milwaukee last week, it was the most runs given up in a game by an active pitcher. But it wasn't the most ever. The record is 24 (14 earned), which the Philadelphia Athletics scored off Detroit's Aloysius Travers in 1912. Travers retired after that—his only big league appearance. He and the other Tigers in that game were amateurs and semipros who were playing because the regular Tiger team had gone on strike to protest the suspension of their teammate Ty Cobb. Travers was a seminary student at St. Joseph's College and later became a Catholic priest—the only one, it is believed, with major league experience.
By the Numbers
•The Mariners tied a major league record last Saturday by allowing their ninth grand slam of the season. It was hit by Boston's John Valentin off reliever Mike Schooler, who has given up three this year.
•Dodger shortstop Jose Offerman homered in the first plate appearance of his career, on Aug. 19, 1990, then went 659 plate appearances before homering again, on Aug. 20.