JUNIOR'S HOT JULY
Over a nine-day span, from July 20 to 28, Mariner centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr. tied a major league record by hitting a home run in eight consecutive games. To appreciate how remarkable that feat is, consider the following:
•Griffey, the Pirates' Dale Long (1956) and the Yankees' Don Mattingly (1987) are the only three players in history to homer in eight straight games. No other major leaguer has reached seven straight, and only 10 have hit homers in six games in a row.
•Had Griffey homered on July 29, he would have done what 18 teams have not done this year—hit a home run in nine consecutive games.
•During the streak, Griffey hit more homers than 11 teams did.
•Besides Griffey, only three Mariners have gotten a hit in eight straight games this season. Don't laugh. Eight-game hitting streaks aren't as easy as they sound.
Griffey was stopped by the Twins' Scott Erickson and Larry Casian, who held him to a screaming single and a rocket double in four at bats. Casian hung a curve-ball on Griffey's final at bat in the seventh inning, and Griffey popped it up. "I haven't seen him pop that pitch up in a month," said Seattle manager Lou Piniella. "But people don't realize how hard it is to hit a ball out of the ballpark. If you hit eight in a month, that's 40-plus for a year."
Griffey impressed Mariner reliever Norm Charlton for another reason. "What makes it so hard is that the pitcher doesn't want to be the one to extend the streak, so it's amazing that he got pitched to eight games in a row," said Charlton. "Detroit wouldn't pitch to him. If we had played the Tigers, Junior would not have had this streak."
The Indians were one team that pitched to Griffey, and in his second at bat in the fourth game of the streak, Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove, figuring his team wasn't having any luck against Griffey anyway, instructed catcher Junior Ortiz to tell Griffey what pitch was coming from Albie Lopez. Ortiz did. "I popped up," Griffey said. On Griffey's next at bat, Ortiz wasn't telling. Griffey homered.
The night the streak ended, 45,607 fans—including 30,220 who bought tickets the day of the game, the most walk-ups in Mariner history—came to the Kingdome to see if Griffey could break the record. The crowd cheered his every move. "If he had hit a home run his last at bat." said Mariner pitcher Erik Hanson, "the roof would have come off, and we'd have an outdoor stadium."
BRAVES' NEW WORLD
It was no coincidence that in first baseman Fred McGriff's first week with Atlanta, the Braves scored 10 or more runs in four consecutive games for the first time since the team moved to Atlanta in 1966. Through Sunday, McGriff had started 11 games since coming over from San Diego, and the second-place Braves won 10 of them. In McGriff's 11 starts the team averaged 8.8 runs and pounded 23 homers. McGriff batted .404 with seven homers and 13 RBIs.
Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz says the awakening of the Braves' bats "is because of Fred. This was a good offensive team lying in wait, but it hadn't been kick-started until his arrival. Before, you'd look in the eyes of these players and you'd see them battling to carry the club. Now you look in those same eyes, and you see the eves of the hunter."
The team the Braves are chasing may well be uncatchable—at week's end the Giants led by 7½ games, and 15 of the 56 games left on their schedule were against the Marlins, the Rockies and the Padres—but with McGriff, Atlanta at least has hope. "He has given us a shot of B-12," says outfielder Otis Nixon. "He's relaxed our big guns. When you have terrific pitching like ours, it adds more pressure when you don't hit. But the attitude has changed with Fred. We definitely think we can get back in this thing."
The Braves traded for McGriff to try to win this year. Don't be surprised if they deal him after the season—not because they don't like him, but because his salary is $4.25 million both this year and next, and he can be a free agent after the '94 season. Even Atlanta has a budget. Its payroll next year could reach $55 million and first baseman Ryan Klesko is tearing things up at Triple A Richmond.
FAN APPRECIATION DAY
The Rockies' acquisition of veteran pitchers Greg Harris and Bruce Hurst from San Diego for three young players was a departure from the organization's original plan to build patiently with youth. But the move should significantly improve what was an inept pitching staff. Harris, 30, immediately became Colorado's best pitcher, even though he was roughed up by the Giants in his first start and saw his record fall to 10-10. Hurst, 35, has pitched only 4‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings this season because of a left-shoulder injury, but his comeback is progressing. When healthy, he's one of the game's top lefties. He's also a classy, intelligent guy from whom the young Rocky pitchers can learn a great deal. "This shows that the organization wants to win," says Colorado outfielder Chris Jones.
Hurst will make $2.75 million this year and $3 million next season (unless the Rockies buy out his 1994 option for $400,000 and make him a free agent). Harris will earn $2.03 million this year, and he is eligible for free agency after the '94 season. The Rockies could assume those salaries because on the day of the trade, July 26, they announced that advance ticket sales for the rest of the year have already moved them above the 4.1 million mark, making them a lock to break the single-season attendance record of 4,028,318 set by the '92 Blue Jays.
"[Rocky owner] Jerry McMorris was like a little kid that day," says Colorado coach Don Zimmer. "He told us, 'We've got to do something to show our appreciation to these fans. How else can we do it but spend money?' "
Texas manager Kevin Kennedy vowed retaliation alter Kansas City's Rick Reed hit Rafael Palmeiro, the Rangers' blazing-hot first baseman, with a pitch on July 28. The next day, when Brian McRae of the Royals was hit by Texas's Bob Patterson, McRae didn't charge the mound: he ran straight to the dugout, looking for Kennedy. McRae was restrained before he got a chance to take on Kennedy. After hearing about the bizarre near brawl, Mariner manager Lou Piniella said jokingly. "I'm going to take martial arts next year."...
The White Sox took a big step toward winning the American League West when they acquired pitcher Tim Belcher from the Reds. Chicago, which led the division by five games through Sunday, now has the deepest starting staff in the division—and perhaps in the league—with Belcher, Jack McDowell, Alex Fernandez, Wilson Alvarez and Jason Bere....
When Florida's Charlie Hough, 45, faced the Mets' Frank Tanana, 40, last week, it was the first time since division play started in 1969 that two National League pitchers that old had opposed each other. Hough won 2-1, and the wire story said Hough "outdueled Tanana." Said Mariner p.r. man Dave Aust, "They used the wrong verb. It should have been outlived."...
After reaching a record of 27 straight losses, Met pitcher Anthony Young finally won on July 28. In the year and 99 days between Young's victories, 439 major league pitchers won at least one game.
Regardless of who wins the American League East (page 12), the Red Sox have already given a glimmer of hope to any team that henceforth finds itself out of first place by double-digits. The '93 Sox jumped from 10 games out to first place faster than any team in American League history. On June 29 they were 10 games off the pace, with a 37-39 record; 24 days later they had climbed over lour teams and stood in sole possession of first, with a 54-43 record. The previous record of 41 days was held by the '48 Red Sox.
Only three days before Boston reached the top, the Orioles completed a similar ascent: 10 games behind on June 1, the O's reached first on July 20. This is the first lime in American League history that two teams in the same season have overcome 10-game deficits to reach first. It has happened once in this century in the National League, in 1973, when four teams did it: the Reds, the Pirates, the Cardinals and the Mets.
One National League team did go from 10 or more games back to first place quicker than this year's Red Sox, however, and that record may stand forever: The '82 Dodgers, helped by a pair of four-game sweeps of the first-place Braves, went from 10½ back on July 29 to take over first place in the National League West on Aug. 10, a span of only 12 days.
Here are the fastest double-digit-deficit, last-to-first teams since 1900.
10+ games behind
in first place
July 29 (52-49)
Aug. 10 (64-50)
July 30 (43-45)
Aug. 23 (59-48)
1993 Red Sox
June 29 (37-39)
July 23 (53-43)
Aug. 19 (61-56)
Sept. 13 (81-59)
Aug. 14 (62-51)
Sept. 10 (84-57)