PHOLDING IN PHILLY
The Phillies had the look of a runaway winner in the National League East—until last week, when some bizarre goings-on put the Cardinals in a position to make a race of it. By trashing Philadelphia's vaunted pitching rotation, St. Louis took three out of four games from the division leaders and slashed the Phils' lead to 5½ games last Thursday night.
St. Louis rocked Curt Schilling for 11 runs on 11 hits in 2⅖ innings while running up a 14-0 lead by the third inning of the series finale, which the Cards won 14-5. Philadelphia catcher Darren Daulton called it "the most embarrassing game I've ever been a part of."
On June 14 the Phillies had an 11½-game lead in the East, and their rotation was the game's best. The five starters had a combined 35-9 record, 17 complete games and a 2.99 ERA. But from June 15 through Sunday, Schilling, Tommy Greene, Danny Jackson, Terry Mulholland and Ben Rivera were a combined 7-9 with a 5.67 ERA and no complete games in 19 starts. Of Greene, Daulton said, "In his last five decisions he has not shown up." The catcher said he didn't know if Schilling was "tired, nervous, scared, worried, feeling the pressure or what. But I don't think this is the time for it."
Said Cardinal catcher Tom Pagnozzi, "They could have closed us out in that series, but they didn't."
But Philly's greatest strength may be its resilience, and never was that more evident than it was last Friday against the Padres in one of the most remarkable doubleheaders in history. The first game was scheduled to begin at 4:35 p.m., but thanks to three rain delays totaling five hours and 54 minutes, the game didn't end until 1:03 a.m. Saturday. The second game started at 1:28 a.m. and wasn't over until 4:40 a.m.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it's believed to be both the latest a major league game has ever started and the latest one has ever ended. The seventh inning stretches for the two games came at 12:13 a.m. and 3:18 a.m. San Diego's coaches arrived at Veterans Stadium at 11:15 a.m. on Friday and got back to their hotel at 6 a.m. on Saturday. "The sun was up," Padre coach Merv Rettenmund said of his return to the hotel. "I've never seen anything like it. We were worried about the fans getting to work on time."
San Diego won the opener 5-2 and then took a 5-0 lead after three innings of the nightcap behind ace Andy Benes. But the Phillies battled back to tie the score in the eighth and then won 6-5 in the 10th on a one-out single by reliever Mitch Williams—in his first at bat of the year. He batted because there were no position players left to pinch-hit for him.
The announced crowd of 54,617 had dwindled to about 5,000 by the end of the second game, but it was a loud, raucous group. Some fans went home during the rain delays, realized the second game was being played and returned to the park.
Before the start of the 10th inning, Padre equipment manager Brian Prilaman made sure all the players' sunglasses were brought to the dugout, just in case. "I can't think of anything more bizarre," said San Diego pitcher Roger Mason. "Imagine if we'd been at home and had to tell our wives that we were out after four o'clock playing baseball."
Things got even more bizarre for Mason. A few hours after the doubleheader ended, he and his 0-7 record were traded to the Phillies. He didn't bring them any luck that night, when the Padres beat Jackson and the Phillies 6-4.
Despite all the craziness in Philly, the Cardinals were unable to capitalize on it during the weekend in Houston. Last Friday they dropped the series opener 7-1 and were overpowered on Saturday by the game's hottest pitcher, Darryl Kile (9-1), who threw his first major league shutout and hit his first major league home run in winning 6-0. St. Louis's lost weekend ended on Sunday with a 9-4 loss that dropped the club seven games behind the Phils.
The Cards had gotten into the division race by going 20-7 in June. Pitcher Joe Magrane, close to being released at the start of last month, had won five of his last six starts at week's end. Ace Bob Tewksbury (9-6) had won his last five starts. Closer Lee Smith saved 15 games in June, a major league record for one month.
But the Cards' biggest contributor has been first baseman Gregg Jefferies, who is with his third team in three years. On Sunday, Jefferies's 16-game hitting streak ended, but he was still batting .334 for the year, fifth best in the league. He batted .444 in June.
Jefferies was a butcher at third base for the Royals last season (he had equally bad defensive years at third and second for the Mets from 1988 through '91), and there was great doubt during spring training that he could play first base—his fourth infield position since being drafted by New York in 1985. Yet this season he has been above average defensively, with only two errors at week's end, because he doesn't have to throw as much at first base (he had nearly developed a mental block about throwing from third base) and he doesn't have to make the pivot that a second baseman does (Jefferies has slow, clumsy feet).
"I love it at first, I'm relaxed," says Jefferies. "I can joke with the umpires and the opposing players. I was so nervous at third. I would never talk to anyone."
But even if Jefferies continues his torrid hitting, he can't win the pennant for St. Louis by himself. "It all comes down to which team pitches better the second half of the season," says Tewksbury. A couple of weeks ago that team was the Phillies. But after last week, who knows?
When the All-Star Game is played in Baltimore on July 13, there will be many players absent from Camden Yards who deserve to be there but who did not attract enough attention from the voting fans. Here arc six players who have quietly had all-star half seasons:
•Mike Jackson, Giants. He has been the National League's top setup man for one of the game's premier closers, Rod Beck, on the National League West's leader. Through Sunday, Jackson was leading the league in appearances (46), he was 5-2 with a 2.49 ERA, and the league was hitting .176 against him—the lowest average of any National league pitcher who had thrown 25 or more innings this year. One scout says Jackson's fastball tops out at 98 mph and averages 95 mph. "Some hitters don't even have a chance," the scout says.
•Lance Johnson, White Sox. Centerfield is among the most talent-rich positions in the American League, and Johnson gets lost among the likes of Kirby Puckett and Ken Griffey. But through Sunday he was hitting .309, had 24 steals in 27 attempts and was playing great defense. "He goes and gets the ball as well as [Blue Jay] Devon White," says Dodger scout Mel Didier. "And they don't get any better out there than Devon White."
•Derek Lilliquist, Indians. He's the leader of Cleveland's surprisingly effective bullpen by committee. Lilliquist and Eric Plunk combined haven't blown a save this season (17 for 17). Through Sunday, Lilliquist was eight for eight in save tries and had a 1.19 ERA. After the boating tragedy last spring that killed Indian relievers Steve Olin and Tim Crews (page 18), Lilliquist had promised that the bullpen would make them proud. It has.
•Mark McLemore, Orioles. Because he was a weak hitter (.229 lifetime), McLemore, a second baseman, had been released by the Astros and Indians in the past three years. But in the off-season he worked with a trainer to build himself up physically and mentally, and then he learned to play rightfield in spring training and won a spot on the Baltimore roster. At week's end McLemore was hitting .287, was second among the Orioles in RBIs (38), had 15 steals and seemed to be in the middle of every Baltimore rally.
•Rey Sanchez and Jose Vizcaino, Cubs. Where would Chicago be without these guys? A back injury to shortstop Shawon Dunston thrust Sanchez into a starting role in 1992. He seized the opportunity and played extremely well through the beginning of this season but then lost his job to Vizcaino, who had been an impressive fill-in at second base for the injured Ryne Sandberg in the spring. Now Sanchez and Vizcaino arc sharing shortstop duties. Through Sunday, Sanchez was hitting .330, Vizcaino .317—a combined .322, which was 19 points higher than the league average.
While Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium organist John Ioannides played The William Tell Overture in the background, first baseman Sid Bream and catcher Damon Berryhill—two of the Braves' slowest base runners—went head-to-head in a 30-yard dash before a game against the Rockies on June 30. Bream, who has had five knee operations, won by a stride. Asked if this victory meant more to him than scoring the winning run in Game 7 of the National League playoffs last year, Bream said, "Oh, come on...sure it does." Bream is slow, but he has four stolen bases this season and 50 in his eight-year career. Joe DiMaggio had 30 stolen bases in his 13-year career....
Don't look for A's first baseman Mark McGwire (he has an injured heel) to return to the lineup until August. He has played in only 25 games this year, but through Sunday he was still third on the team in homers, with nine....
Last week three players hit their first homers of the season, all of which were grand slams: Dave Hansen of the Dodgers, Brian Jordan of the Cardinals and Kenny Lofton of the Indians.
Minor League Note of the Week: Last week the Calgary Cannons, the Mariners' Triple A farm team, beat the Las Vegas Stars 23-12, 18-3 and 11-1 on successive days and set a Pacific Coast League record by getting at least one hit in 24 straight innings (the old record was 19 straight). Calgary outfielder Lee Tinsley went 7 for 8 in the first victory to become the third player in league history and the first since 1932 to get seven hits in a game. He struck out in the first inning, tripled in the second, singled in the third, homered in both the fourth and fifth and singled in the sixth, eighth and ninth. "Seven hits, and I didn't get the cycle," Tinsley said after the game at the Stars' Cashman Field. "It was incredible. We didn't even take batting practice. We got off the bus, played the game, gambled all night, came back the next day and played some more."
The Tigers lost 10 games in a row from June 22 through last Thursday—and it cost them first place in the American League East. Detroit had led Toronto by two games when the slump began. The Tigers' tailspin was the longest this late in the season by an American League team that started the streak in first place since 1905, when the Cleveland Naps lost 10 in row from July 27 to Aug. 7.
The last National League team to ride out such a string of losses was the 1982 Braves, who dropped 11 consecutive games from Aug. 3 through Aug. 13 but rebounded to win the West title. None of the other first-place teams that suffered a double-digit losing streak so far into the season went on to win a division title or a pennant.
Here arc the longest losing streaks by first-place teams, starting June 22 or later, in this century.
BETWEEN THE LINES
Those Amazing Mets (Continued). When they defeated the Marlins on June 29 and 30, the Mets won back-to-back games for the first time since April 16 and 17, a stretch of 64 games. In that time every other team in the majors won at least three games in a row. In fact, there were 27 four-game streaks, six five-game streaks, 10 six-game streaks, five seven-game streaks, a 10-game streak and an 11-game streak.
Always Room for One More. In 1991 and '92, the name that most often appeared in major league box scores was Martinez, when eight and nine players with that name showed up in those years, respectively. Well, add pitcher Pedro Martinez, called up by the Padres last week, to the list, but don't confuse him with the Pedro Martinez who pitches for the Dodgers. All told, 10 players named Martinez have played this season.
Slammin' Sammy. It was quite a week for Cub outfielder Sammy Sosa. On June 30 he hit two home runs against the Padres, giving him four multihomer games and a total of 16 home runs this year—one more than his career high. Two nights later Sosa went 6 for 6 against the Rockies to become the first Cub in this century to get six hits in a nine-inning game.
Havana Doodle Dandy. On Sunday the Cardinals pitched Rene Arocha of Cuba against the Astros. "Who better to pitch on Independence Day," said St. Louis manager Joe Torre, "than a defector?" Houston didn't get the connection, roughing up Arocha for five runs in four innings on its way to a 9-4 victory.
By the Numbers. At week's end Seattle's Randy Johnson had struck out 10 or more batters in five straight starts. Nolan Ryan had a streak of seven double-figure strikeout games in '77.... Bob Tewksbury of the Cards had walked six batters in 106⅖ innings this season; 18 other pitchers had walked seven or more in a game in '93.
July 27-Aug. 7
July 30-Aug. 9
June 22-July 1