The Shape of Things to Come

April 03, 1994

Mark Portugal is a pitcher known to throw hard and live harder. He has never been the sort of physical specimen to be approached about doing a workout video. "My workout?" he says. "Eat, drink and be merry." That kind of thinking helps explain why in 1987, after blowing his spot in the rotation of a Minnesota Twins team on its way to a world championship, he found himself with a 1-10 record in Triple A. It also explains why he never pitched a full season in the big leagues until 1990, his 10th year in professional baseball. Likewise, it accounts for his waistline's expanding to roughly the size of Lisbon, if not all of Portugal.

Along the way, his managers and teammates told him to shape up. Portugal ignored them all. It wasn't until 1992, a season interrupted by elbow surgery, that Portugal discovered a source of inspiration he chose to heed.

"Yeah, the classified section," he says. "I didn't want to be carrying it around. I finally realized I had to work hauler. I knew my free-agent year was coming up too."

So after the '92 season Portugal took better care of himself, shed 15 pounds and adopted a more serious approach to his job. He looked like a different man last season, winning 18 of his 22 decisions for Houston and compiling the third-best ERA in the National League (2.77). No team was more convinced of his earnestness than San Francisco, which last November signed him as a free agent to a three-year, $11 million contract, in part per the order of Barry Bonds. It was after Portugal shut out the Giants on Sept. 21—improving his career record against San Francisco to 11-3—that Bonds grabbed San Francisco general manager Bob Quinn by both shoulders and said, "Quinn, you s.o.b., go out and get that guy. Nobody changes speeds like him. He drives me crazy." Says Quinn, "One of the first phone calls I made after I signed him was to Barry. I left a message on his machine: 'Your mandate has been answered.' "

It turns out the team Portugal most wanted to play for was the Giants—"as soon as I heard about realignment," he explains. In the reconfigured NL West, San Francisco contends against only three teams: Colorado, Los Angeles and San Diego, none of which had a winning record last year. For the Giants it's a welcome change after a season in which they led the division by nine games with 47 to play, won 103 games and still fell one victory short of the Braves, who are now in the NL East.

The Giants are significantly realigned themselves, if only because someone other than Will Clark will start at first base for the first time in nine years. When manager Dusty Baker dialed Clark's home in the off-season, he heard a recording of The Thrill Is Gone. Todd Benzinger is something less than a thrilling replacement, especially since he hasn't held on to much since catching the last out of the 1990 World Series, losing first base jobs to Hal Morris in Cincinnati, Wally Joyner in Kansas City and Eric Karros in Los Angeles.

Bonds added five pounds of bulk in his zealous pursuit of an unprecedented fourth National League MVP award. Off-season pickups Steve Frey and Rich Monteleone fortify the bullpen. Otherwise, this is a team that fits Portugal: in good shape and getting another chance.

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PHOTOV.J. LOVEROPortugal, a longtime Giant killer, hopes now to be a Giant pillar.

THE LINEUP

CF

Darren Lewis

Buy a vowel? No E's in 316 career games

2B

Robby Thompson

NL's best No. 2 hitter last year (.327)

RF

Willie McGee

Non-run-producer an odd choice to hit third

3B

Matt Williams

Cut down strikeout rate six years in a row

LF

Barry Bonds

Two '91 votes short of four straight MVPs

1B

Todd Benzinger

Stickless in '93: .194, 0 HRs at home

SS

Royce Clayton

Showing why he has been compared to Larkin

C

Kirt Manwaring

First Giant catcher to win Gold Glove

Ace

John Burkett

Terrific control with underrated fastball

Closer

Rod Beck

Foes hit .138 with runners in scoring position

INSTANT ANALYST

Who was the best closer in the Bay Area over the past two seasons, Rod Beck or Dennis Eckersley? Lately it has been hard to tell Beck from Eck. The Athletics' Eckersley does have an MVP award and a Cy Young Award. Otherwise, their 1992-93 vital measurements are strikingly similar. Well, at least most of them.

G

ERA

BB

SO

Walks Per 9 IP

Saves Pct.

Midsection

Eck

133

2.94

24

173

1.47

.870

Washboard

Beck

141

1.94

28

173

1.47

.867

Washtub

PREDICTED FINISH: FIRST

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)