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Inside Baseball

July 05, 1999
July 05, 1999

Table of Contents
July 5, 1999

Inside Baseball

NO WAY! JOSE?
Cards rookie Jose Jimenez takes flight with an improbable
no-hitter

This is an article from the July 5, 1999 issue Original Layout

Eric Davis sounded almost insulted last Friday night when asked
if he had ever considered righthander Jose Jimenez a likely
candidate to throw a no-hitter. "What kind of a question is
that?" snapped the Cardinals' rightfielder, who minutes before
had preserved Jimenez's 1-0 gem against the Diamondbacks with a
tumbling grab of pinch hitter David Dellucci's liner in the
ninth--his second acrobatic catch in the game. "He's a major
league pitcher. Any major league pitcher that has the ball is a
candidate."

Forgive us, Eric, for assuming the 25-year-old Jimenez wasn't a
good bet to outpitch Randy Johnson, shut down the best-hitting
team in the National League and become the league's first rookie
to spin a no-hitter since the Cubs' Burt Hooten in 1972. "I want
to fly," an ecstatic Jimenez said after his masterpiece. Three
hours earlier he had seemed as likely to sprout wings and buzz
around the Bank One Ballpark roof as he was to hold Arizona
hitless. Facing a lineup that had banged out six or more hits in
50 consecutive games, dating to April 30, Jimenez entered the
game with a 3-7 record, a 6.69 ERA and one win in his previous
11 starts.

Yet he allowed the Diamondbacks just three base runners and
outlasted the Big Unit, who struck out 14 and gave up only five
hits. Jimenez shut down Arizona with a vanishing sinker and a
mix of fastballs, changeups and sliders, all of which he threw
for strikes, but his improbable performance had less to do with
the quality of his stuff than with a newfound ability to make
that stuff last. "Our scouts said he could be devastating for
three or four innings, then he'd start getting balls in the
middle of the plate," said Diamondbacks manager Buck Showalter.
"We kept waiting for him to show some dents in his armor."

Conceded Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan, "In a lot of
games that Jose lost, he pitched well for the most part, but in
one inning it would all get away from him." Before last Friday's
start Duncan corrected an overstride in Jimenez's motion that
had been flattening his sinker, and in recent weeks manager Tony
La Russa and Duncan had counseled their young pitcher to stay
confident and concentrate even if he wasn't piling up wins. Said
La Russa, "We had to teach him not to beat himself up, because
sometimes you pitch well and lose."

A native of San Pedro de Macoris, in the Dominican Republic,
Jimenez signed as an 18-year-old free agent in 1991 and spent
three seasons in the Dominican summer league. He came to the
U.S. in '95 and over the next four years went 41-29 with a 3.11
ERA for four minor league teams. After going 15-6 for the Double
A Arkansas Travelers last season, leading the Texas League in
wins and ERA and throwing a no-hitter in August, Jimenez skipped
Triple A and won his first three major league starts as a
September call-up. He went 2-0 with a 2.95 ERA in his first
three starts this year before falling into his two-month slump.

"Even in the minors I'd get so happy when I pitched a good game
and then so mad when I pitched bad," says Jimenez, who walked
two, hit a batter and allowed only five balls out of the infield
against Arizona. "I think I get myself down."

He had plenty of opportunities to lose his concentration against
Arizona. He had to stand around on the mound in the eighth
inning after an unruly fan jumped on the field, and again with
two outs in the ninth when Showalter came out to argue that
Davis had dropped Dellucci's liner. Backup catcher Alberto
Castillo, a fellow Dominican who for most of this season has
been Jimenez's personal backstop, kept his righthander focused.
After the game, in the visitors' clubhouse, Jimenez and Castillo
watched over Rene Lachemann's shoulder as the third base coach
charted the no-hitter on videotape. "Wait, rewind, I want to see
my jump," said a beaming Jimenez, referring to the celebratory
leap he took after the final out. For the first time in months,
he wasn't beating himself up.

Pitching at Coors
ROLLING WITH THE PUNCHES

"Home runs aren't the problem at Coors Field," says Brian
Bohanon, professor of thin air and its impact on flying
baseballs. "It's the bloopers. Give up a homer or two, fine. It
happens. But the outfield is so big and the fielders have to
play so far back that there are too many bloopers, and then a
pitcher's dead."

The Rockies' 30-year-old lefthander knows whereof he speaks.
Since signing a three-year, $9 million contract with Colorado in
the off-season, Bohanon has spent a lot of time studying
everything about Coors, from the effects of high altitude on
flight to the positioning of outfielders. Which may be why, at
week's end, he was 9-4 for the Rockies, a team three games below
.500. Oh yeah, that's 9-4 with a 6.28 ERA--including 4-1 with a
9.08 ERA at home.

"ERA no longer means a thing," he says. "My priority is to
outlast the other starter. If he gives up six runs and I give up
five...well, I'm not happy allowing five runs, but I have
succeeded."

When Colorado general manager Bob Gebhard signed Bohanon, he was
widely second-guessed. Sure, Bohanon was a coveted baseball
commodity (a lefthanded starter), but in six major league
seasons with five teams he had a record of just 25-30 and a 4.72
ERA. Last year, when he was primarily a reliever with the Mets
and then a starter with the Dodgers, he finished 7-11 but had a
career-best 2.67 ERA. "When he was with the Dodgers, we saw
something," Gebhard says of Bohanon's 5-7 record and 2.40 ERA in
14 starts with L.A. "We felt he had the right makeup to come
here and succeed."

Indeed, Bohanon has a couple of things going for him. First, he
throws four big-league-quality pitches--a fastball in the
mid-80s, a 75-mph changeup, a dramatically arcing curveball and
a cut fastball. Many of the pitchers who struggle at Coors do so
because, frustrated over the limited snap of a curveball at high
altitude, they abandon the deuce and throw too many heaters.
"The hitter is at such an advantage here that you can't place
the ball up in the strike zone and you can't be predictable,"
says Bohanon. Also, he doesn't panic. Bohanon had given up 12
homers at home through Sunday, but he refuses to condemn Coors.
In fact, he loves the place.

"I've totally used it to my advantage," says the soft-spoken
Texan. "No one likes to come here and pitch. They dread it. I
chose to come here, and I'm not intimidated. It's my ballpark."

Hit-by-Pitch Parade
PLUNKINGS JUST PART OF THE GAME

In a four-game stretch last week, Diamondbacks utilityman Greg
Colbrunn went to the plate six times and brought back souvenirs
from three of those trips--contusions incurred when pitches
bounced off his body. If there were a giant whirlpool where
bruised hitters from around the majors went to soak, Colbrunn
would have plenty of company. In last weekend's 45 games, 26
players were hit by pitches, continuing a 10-year trend that has
batters getting plunked at an ever-increasing rate. In 1990 one
out of every 186 hitters took one for the team. By '94 the
number was one out of every 142; in '99, through Sunday, it was
one out of every 118.

There are several reasons for the trend, including the game's
ongoing offensive explosion. The frustration of watching balls
fly out of parks and ERAs soar can drive pitchers to extract the
occasional pound of flesh. "When you've got guys hitting home
runs at historical rates, you better expect to get plunked every
now and then," says White Sox slugger Frank Thomas, who was hit
six times last year and through Sunday had been hit three times
in 1999.

Hyped-up offense has also increased the number of accidental
plunkings, as pitchers have realized they must pitch inside to
keep hitters from diving across the plate. Young pitchers used
to facing college players brandishing aluminum bats often lack
experience and confidence throwing inside, which leads to
wildness. Pitchers young and old are also throwing inside to try
to reclaim that part of the plate. Hitters are standing closer
to the plate, and leaning farther over it, than ever before, a
habit developed in recent seasons as they tried to reach pitches
inches off the outside corner that were being called strikes.

Then there are the batters who don't know how to get out of the
way of inside pitches. Others, clad like knights in armor, don't
bother moving. "If I was going to make a rule change, I would
not allow hitters to wear protective garb," says Diamondbacks
manager Buck Showalter. "It creates a false sense of security."

Says Expos general manager Jim Beattie, "Hitters aren't afraid
of the inside pitch. You see a lot of guys hit on the
hands--they're swinging, not looking to protect themselves."
Indeed, in the last week Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez and Jim
Leyritz were each hit on the hand.

Surprisingly, as hit batsmen become more common, fewer seem to
be retaliating by rushing the mound. That's due in part to
baseball's strict policy of suspending fighters, but it's also a
sign that hitters have come to expect a bruising now and then.
"As long as they're not throwing at my head, I don't care too
much if I get hit," says Milwaukee outfielder Jeromy Burnitz.
"It doesn't really hurt that bad."

Closing the Kingdome
CHARMLESS IN SEATTLE

When an era comes to an end, as the Mariners' 22-year Kingdome
residency did with a 5-2 win over the Rangers before a sellout
crowd of 56,530 on Sunday, people tend to recall only the
positives. Alas, until a 19-year-old kid named Ken Griffey Jr.
arrived in Seattle in 1989, the Kingdome had no positives.
Beginning with the team's birth in '77, the Mariners went 14
straight seasons without a winning record--years when, as
rightfielder Jay Buhner remembers, "it was so quiet, you could
hear the fans talking about you." When Seattle acquired him in
'88, Buhner had to give up Yankee Stadium for the Kingdome. "It
was a total downer," he says.

As Sunday's swan song approached and the team completed
preparations for its move into the $515 million Safeco Field on
July 15, Mariners faithful were invoking some of the defining
moments of the old ballpark. There was the earthquake-delayed
game against the Indians in 1996, the power outage of '94 and
the two pop fouls that hit speakers and never came down. On
Guaranteed No-Hitter night in 1990, Seattle lefty Matt Young
allowed no hits for all of 1 1/3 innings. On June 5, 1979, what
would have been Willie Horton's 300th home run struck a cable
and dropped for a single instead.

"There was always something weird," says Dave Heaverlo, a
lefthander with the Mariners in 1980. Heaverlo earned a place in
Kingdome lore when he allowed a home run to the Athletics'
light-hitting Bert Campaneris. "The press asked me how he hit it
so far," recalls Heaverlo. "I told the truth: The air
conditioner must have been blowing out."

That's a fitting epitaph for the Kingdome, which will be razed
after the 1999 NFL season to make room for a new football
stadium. For despite some bright moments--two Mariners
no-hitters, Gaylord Perry's 300th win, the miracle season of
'95--Seattle's old concrete hulk was an ill wind that blew no
good.

For complete scores and stats, plus more from Tom Verducci and
Jeff Pearlman, go to www.cnnsi.com

COLOR PHOTO: MIKE FIALA/AP A highly touted call-up last September, Jimenez was just 3-7 this year before his gem in Arizona.COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON Brady Anderson took one of the weekend's 26 hits.COLOR PHOTO: BRUCE BISPING/MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE/VIA APCOLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON

The Standings

Each year since 1996 an association of Cleveland-based fans who
call themselves Perfect Player Partners has presented the
Perfect Offensive Player (POP) award to major leaguers who
finish the season with a batting average better than .300, an
on-base percentage better than .400 and a slugging percentage
better than .500. Here are this year's leaders--the tops of the
POPs--through Sunday.
BATTING ON-BASE SLUGGING
PLAYER, TEAM AVG. PCT. PCT. TOTAL

1. Larry Walker, Rockies .380 .444 .716 1.540
2. Sean Casey, Reds .387 .436 .664 1.487
3. Derek Jeter, Yankees .376 .460 .621 1.457
4. Jeff Bagwell, Astros .320 .464 .660 1.444
5. Tony Fernandez, Blue Jays .401 .485 .552 1.438
6. Manny Ramirez, Indians .348 .432 .636 1.416
7. Luis Gonzalez, Diamondbacks .370 .432 .605 1.407
8. Henry Rodriguez, Cubs .348 .433 .623 1.404
9. Rafael Palmeiro, Rangers .346 .434 .620 1.400
10. Nomar Garciaparra, Red Sox .354 .406 .631 1.391

source: www.popaward.com

in the Box

June 26, 1999
Red Sox 17, White Sox 1

If you were a Red Sox fan, last Saturday was a perfect day at
Fenway: Boston not only tied a franchise record for runs in the
first inning, when 11 Sox crossed the plate, but also wrapped up
the victory in a tidy 2:35. That was the second-shortest game in
the American League that day, behind the Tigers' two-hour,
27-minute, 1-0 win over the Twins in Detroit.

Shorter still was Pedro Martinez's afternoon. Staked to a 16-1
lead, Martinez was pulled after just five innings and 59
pitches--an agreeably light workload on a 93[degree] day for a
starter who at week's end had averaged 112.9 pitches per outing,
the most in the league this season. "We've been looking for the
chance to give his arm a vacation," said pitching coach Joe
Kerrigan, who must factor Martinez's likely All-Star Game start
into his rotation planning for the next few weeks.

the HOT corner

The Reds recently contacted Marlins general manager Dave
Dombrowski to inquire about struggling righthander Livan
Hernandez (3-7, 4.66 ERA). Florida wants righthanded starter
Brett Tomko or righty reliever Scott Williamson as part of any
deal, but Cincinnati doesn't want to give up either of them. The
Cardinals also called about Hernandez but laughed off
Dombrowski's request for Triple A lefthander Rick Ankiel or
Double A righty Chad Hutchinson, two of baseball's top pitching
prospects. At week's end Hernandez, still only 24, was six games
under .500 since being selected as MVP of the 1997 World
Series....

Although Blue Jays G.M. Gord Ash says the two-year, $16 million
extension recently signed by lefthander David Wells ties him to
Toronto, Greg Clifton, Wells's agent, thinks otherwise. "If
anything, I think this makes him more tradable," Clifton says.
"Teams are now dealing with a known quantity." Maybe, but it's
hard to imagine many clubs wanting to take on that type of
financial commitment....

It has been a little more than a year since Fox Group fired
Dodgers G.M. Fred Claire and manager Bill Russell, then three
days later canned three coaches. At the time L.A. was 36-38.
Through Sunday the Dodgers were 34-39 and 7 1/2 games out in the
National League West....

Does White Sox DH Frank Thomas have a messiah complex? Asked his
impression of 22-year-old outfielder Carlos Lee (.295, 26 RBIs
in 44 games), Thomas said, "I see a young me. I think he's the
second coming."...

The Diamondbacks see themselves as contenders, but not with
Gregg Olson (six blown saves in 17 chances) as their closer.
Arizona has used Byung-Hyun Kim and Vladimir Nunez to close
games, while eyeing the Expos' Ugueth Urbina (16 saves in 21
chances), but Arizona G.M. Joe Garagiola Jr. doesn't want to
part with his top pitching prospects--Double A starters Nick
Bierbrodt, John Patterson and Brad Penny....

Mo Vaughn took responsibility for the Angels' sluggish first
half and, in effect, apologized for not being the player the
team shelled out $80 million to get last winter. "I haven't been
a leader since Opening Day," says Vaughn, whose sprained left
ankle has limited him to DH duty most of the season. "When
you're DH'ing you can't feel you're a part of what's going on.
I'm struggling right now because I'm really frustrated."...

Darryl Strawberry, who pleaded no contest to drug and
solicitation charges, began his court-ordered 100 hours of
community service last week at the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Boys
and Girls Club. "I'm teaching them about staying away from drugs
and staying away from wrong situations," said Strawberry, who
played pool, basketball and football with kids last Thursday.
"If I can inspire them to do that, that would be a gift to me."...

A's leftfielder Ben Grieve, batting .131 on May 19, was up to
.248 at week's end, having finally snapped out of one of the
worst starts in memory by the previous season's Rookie of the
Year. Since May 20, Grieve had hit .360.