JUST CAN'T STOP
This is an article from the May 3, 1993 issue
For closers, April 21 was a bad day. Rob Dibble of the Reds broke his left forearm and will be sidelined for four to six weeks. Dennis Eckersley of the A's blew his third straight save opportunity. Stan Belinda of the Pirates (page 76) lost a one-run lead when he gave up a three-run homer. And Joe Grahe of the Angels couldn't pitch at all because of a pinched nerve in his neck, an injury that occurred when he sniffed.
For most stoppers, in fact, it hasn't been a particularly good season. "A lot of them are doing lousy," says 37-year-old Cincinnati reliever Jeff Reardon, smiling. "I might have a future next year."
All of a sudden, Reardon, who gave up game-winning hits in back-to-back World Series appearances for the Braves last October, has a future this year. Reardon takes over for Dibble, who suffered his injury in a ninth-inning play at the plate against the Pirates. Dibble had already blown the save earlier in the inning, and then with two outs he bounced a slider with the potential winning run—Pittsburgh's Kevin Young—at third base. Catcher Joe Oliver quickly recovered the ball and threw to Dibble, who made a blind sweep tag to get Young at the plate. But Young slid hard into Dibble's left arm, causing the fracture. Up to that point Dibble hadn't been effective this season, walking eight batters in six innings.
Reardon, a free agent who signed with the Reds in January, relishes his return to the stopper role after serving as a set-up man. "I felt I could do this all along," says Reardon, whose 357 career saves are second only to Lee Smith's 362. "It was a big adjustment going from a closer to a set-up man. like warming up three times and not going in. When you're the closer and you warm up, you go in."
Eckersley, 38, has his health, but this season he hasn't had the same effectiveness that gave him a near-perfect record as a closer the last five years. His control has been good, and he hasn't been falling behind in the count, but lefthanded batters are hitting .412 (7 for 17 through Sunday) against him. Eck's second blown save in as many nights against the Yankees was excusable—he came in with the bases loaded and none out in the ninth and allowed three runs in a 5-3 loss. But the surprise was that unheralded Dion James and Bernie Williams, both of whom were batting lefthanded, got hits off him for the second night in a row.
Eckersley is the man who, since the start of the '88 season, had pitched in 318 games as of Sunday and had permitted runs in back-to-back appearances only nine times. He is the 1992 American League MVP and Cy Young winner, who blew only three saves in 54 opportunities last year. He is especially crucial to Oakland's success this year because the A's have a below-average starting rotation.
Elsewhere, the Orioles moved to a closer-by-committee arrangement after Gregg Olson was unimpressive in several outings and botched two saves. The Yankees' Steve Farr, with an 8.10 ERA through Sunday, blew two ninth-inning leads that led to defeats. ("I could picture myself going to the Tokyo Giants if I don't get one of these nailed down," Farr said.) The Brewers' Doug Henry had a 12.86 ERA through Sunday. The Dodgers' Todd Worrell hasn't pitched since April 7 because of a strained right forearm, and he's not due back until May 1. After pitching just two innings this season, the Mets' John Franco finally went on the disabled list last Saturday with a sore left elbow.
HOLD THOSE TIGERS
According to catcher Mickey Tettleton of the Tigers, "the only people who think we're any good are ourselves." That will change really quick if they keep scoring like the Detroit Lions. Through Sunday the Tigers had played games in which they had scored .20, 20, 17, 16 and 12 runs in their romp to a 12-5 record and first place in the American League East. In the 17 games combined, including Sunday's 16-5 victory over the Twins, they had scored 145 runs, averaging more than 8.5 a game. One indication of how deep this Detroit lineup goes is that slugger Cecil Fielder drove in only three of the 85 runs in those five double-digit games.
At week's end the Tigers had had 33 multirun innings this season, including two innings in which they had scored eight runs, two in which they had scored seven, three in which they had scored six, and seven in which they had scored four. Hence just nine of their biggest innings of the year had produced a total of 56 runs. By comparison, the Orioles and the Brewers had scored 58 runs all season.
"But what people don't realize is how good our pitching has been," says Detroit outfielder Rob Deer, who had six home runs and 16 RBIs through Sunday. Indeed, the Tigers were 3-0 in the three games in which they had scored only three runs—their lowest output of the season.
Minnesota was certainly glad to see the Tigers leave town. In the three-game series the Twins were bombarded by a combined score of 45-10.
BACK FROM THE BRINK
One of only three pitchers in the majors with four wins through Sunday's games was Minnesota lefthander Jim Deshaies (4-0, 1.98 ERA, no starts against Detroit), whose career was in serious jeopardy at this time last year. The A's released him in March 1992, and he didn't have a job until he arranged a tryout with the Padres' Triple A team, the Las Vegas Stars, on April 28 of last year. The Stars were down to eight pitchers that night, so San Diego farm director Ed Lynch told Deshaies, "Instead of throwing on the side, how about pitching in the game tonight?" Deshaies said, "But I don't have a contract." To which Lynch replied, "I'll give you $6,000 a month." The two men shook hands on the deal. Deshaies then called his wife, who had front-row tickets for a Tommy Tune concert, and told her, "Give them away. I'm pitching tonight."
Deshaies borrowed uniform parts from several of his new teammates. "We found the biggest guy on the team [pitcher Terry Bross] and gave his pants to Deshaies, then told him to watch the game from the stands," Lynch says. Deshaies pitched four innings that night, was called up by San Diego on July 9 and, despite a 4-7 record, was one of the Padres' best pitchers in the second half of the season.
The austerity-minded Padres did not offer him a 1993 contract, so the Twins signed him, for $700,000, in December. He has anchored a starting staff that at week's end had an ERA of 6.90 in the games that the 32-year-old Deshaies hadn't started. "It was a wild ride last year," says Deshaies. "It was fun—but it was scary."
IRISH EYES ARE SMILING
An even more compelling comeback story is that of Angel righthander John Farrell, who is throwing 90 mph again after missing the last two seasons because of two operations on his right elbow. Farrell, 30, was a 14-game winner for the Indians in 1988, but he was plagued by elbow injuries two years later and had surgery in October 1990. In late August of the following year Farrell tested his elbow in the bullpen. On one of his pitches, he says, "I heard a sound like a piece of paper tearing." He had reinjured his elbow.
In September 1991 Dr. Frank Jobe performed what has become known as the Tommy John operation, taking a tendon from Farrell's left arm and transplanting it to his elbow. From January to October of last year Farrell worked with rehab specialists in Mesa, Ariz. He had a terrific spring training this year and made the Angels' 25-man roster. The results were not promising in his first two starts, both losses, but his arm felt fine. Then on April 21 he beat his old team, the Indians, 7-6, allowing two runs in five innings to earn the win. Later he said he was thinking about having the game ball bronzed, and he vowed to write or call everyone who had helped him in his comeback.
"I never once thought I wouldn't pitch again," Farrell says. "But it was a lonely process. I was in the nation's oven [Mesa]. At times I thought, God, what do I have to do to get over the next hurdle? But I kept going. I guess it's my Irish stubbornness."
The White Sox signed catcher Mike LaValliere to a minor league contract last Friday. LaValliere had been released by the Pirates on April 11 because, they said, he was too heavy and wasn't moving well enough to play on the major league level. If he can get himself back in shape, he can help Chicago. LaValliere, 32, still has excellent hands behind the plate. As Pittsburgh coach Rich Donnelly said fondly last year of LaValliere, "I will never understand why God put those hands on that body."...The first 14 homers hit by the Mets this year were by switch hitters....
The slump of Dodger rightfielder Darryl Strawberry (.185 through Sunday) is of more than casual concern to the team. His bat has slowed significantly. "Something isn't right with him," says one member of the Dodgers....
Last Thursday was Earth Day. At Three Rivers Stadium, Pirate coach Tommy Sandt said, "It doesn't seem right that we're playing on Astro Turf today."...The streaking Angels (12-4 at week's end) have been led by rookie first baseman J.T. Snow, who had six homers. California's homer leader last year was Gary Gaetti, with 12.
Minor League Note of the Week: The Kinston (N.C.) Indians of the Class A Carolina League have an infielder named "Pork Chop" Pough. "When I was about eight," says Pork Chop, "my nickname was Pokie. We had another kid on my Little League team named Pokie, but I was so much bigger than he was, everyone started calling me Pork Chop. It stuck. Teachers in school called me that. They didn't even know that my real name was Clyde." Pork Chop may want to consider another moniker. Last season in Kinston he hit a very lean .226.
BETWEEN THE LINES
The Big Chill. On April 21 in Pittsburgh the temperature at game time was 39°. By the 12th inning the windchill made it feel like the 20's. "That's the coldest I've ever been," says Pirate centerfielder Andy Van Slyke. "That was 4½ hours in the morgue. If you had flicked me with your finger, I would have shattered. When I got in the whirlpool after the game, the water was 104 degrees. When I got out five minutes later, it was 99 degrees. What's all this about global warming?"
Hooray for Opie. Cincinnati outfielder Gary Varsho is a die-hard viewer of The Andy Griffith Show. "I have more than 150 episodes on tape," he says. "Unedited. No commercials, just endless hours of Barney Fife. My whole life revolves around that show. I'm a member of the Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club. I've got the T-shirt to prove it."
Throwaway Line. Pirate infielder Tom Foley, who throws a baseball righthanded, was a quarterback in high school but threw a football lefthanded. Pittsburgh pitcher Steve Cooke, who throws a baseball lefthanded, was a quarterback in high school but threw a football righthanded. Cooke says he has no idea why this is so. Says Foley, "We're amphibious."
Error on the Air. In the third inning of the Astro-Cub game on April 21, Steve Finley hit a routine pop-up to Chicago shortstop Rey Sanchez. While the ball was in the air, Cub announcer Harry Caray said, "He's never dropped one of those in his life." Sanchez dropped it. "I don't know who was embarrassed more," says Caray, "Sanchez or me. Probably me."
By the Numbers. When he was with the Yankees last year, third baseman Charlie Hayes struck out 100 times, including 15 times in an eight-game stretch in July. With the Rockies this year, he had not struck out in 61 at bats through Sunday.... Lifetime against lefthanders, Oriole catcher Chris Hoiles has 12 homers—and 16 RBIs.