Search

Inside Baseball

May 20, 2002
May 20, 2002

Table of Contents
May 20, 2002

Inside Baseball

Into Thin Air
Mike Hampton has struggled with his control and lost his
confidence in Colorado

This is an article from the May 20, 2002 issue Original Layout

After blowing a 3-1 lead and getting yanked in the seventh
inning of last Saturday's game against the Mets, Rockies
lefthander Mike Hampton went postal in the dugout, launching an
expletive-laced tirade and knocking over a watercooler. "Yeah,
but at least he used his right arm," Colorado pitcher Denny
Neagle said following the Mets' 4-3 victory. "If you're going to
snap, well...snap smart."

If only Hampton had been as cautious an inning earlier when he
grooved a fastball to Joe McEwing, who knocked the pitch over the
leftfield fence for a three-run home run that won the game.
That's what this season boils down to for Hampton, the Rockies'
would-be ace, who's in the second season of an eight-year, $121
million contract. At week's end he was 1-5 with a 6.85 ERA and
had little command of the strike zone, issuing 30 walks in 44 2/3
innings while giving up 60 hits and 34 earned runs--both National
League highs.

Against the Mets, Hampton consistently fell behind hitters,
walking five--four of them lefthanded, including pitcher Al Leiter
on four pitches to lead off the fifth inning. A second-inning
wild pitch in the dirt brought home the Mets' first run. "Good
pitchers make leads stand up, and I've been unable to do that
lately," a calmer Hampton said afterward. "I never thought about
pitching around McEwing [even though Leiter was on deck, with two
outs]. I just made a mistake."

Such has been Hampton's fortune on the mound since he spurned the
Mets following the 2000 season and signed with the Rockies as a
free agent. He was 9-5 with a 4.02 ERA at the All-Star break last
year, but has been 6-13 with a 7.25 ERA after that. A 22-game
winner with the Astros in 1999, he hasn't won consecutive starts
since last August.

One National League scout believes Hampton has been pressing,
which has led to mechanical problems. At times Hampton opens his
right leg too far at the end of his delivery and then
overcompensates for the lack of leg push by dropping his arm
angle, which causes his pitches to sit up in the zone or veer
far outside.

Colorado pitching coach Jim Wright disagrees and insists
Hampton's problems can't be attributed to his mechanics. "Mike's
always given up walks," says Wright of Hampton's career average
of 3.60 bases on balls per nine innings. "Maybe he's a little
frustrated. He just needs to get his confidence back."

The most amazing thing about Hampton's struggle: It had little to
do with pitching at hitter-friendly Coors Field. His ERA was 4.50
at home, 8.76 on the road. Having already changed managers this
season and fallen 7 1/2 games out of first in the NL West, the
Rockies can only hope Hampton starts pitching like an ace
again--soon. --Josh Elliott

Manny Ramirez Sidelined
Typical Bad Break for Boston

Whenever things go bad in Boston--and, frankly, when haven't
they?--Red Sox fans contend that the team is jinxed. Off to its
best start in 56 years, Boston was dealt a major blow in a 3-1
loss to the Mariners last Saturday when All-Star outfielder Manny
Ramirez fractured his left index finger while sliding headfirst
into home plate. Ramirez, who had an American League-leading .372
average, nine home runs and 35 RBIs, was expected to be put on
the disabled list and will be out for four to six weeks.

With a team batting average of .303, Boston had jumped to a 24-7
start and a five-game lead over the Yankees in the East. But
losing two out of three to Seattle last weekend cut the Red Sox'
lead to three games, and Ramirez's injury came at a terrible
time. While Boston's next 13 games were at Fenway Park beginning
on Tuesday, they were against playoff contenders Oakland,
Seattle, Chicago and New York.

"Finding a guy to hit like Manny? You can't go around the league
and find one," said Red Sox leadoff hitter Johnny Damon.
"Fortunately we have Rickey Henderson, who can play some defense
and hopefully ignite us." The 43-year-old Henderson had a .393
on-base percentage in 50 at bats but was hitting .260. He's no
Manny, but for now he's the man.

Tampa Bay's Dismal Future
Devil Rays' Many Flaws Are Glaring

Sure, the Devil Rays lost 15 straight. And sure, the talent is
thin. And sure, fans avoid Tropicana Field like moldy cheese.
And....

"Things are not as bad as they seem," insisted manager Hal McRae,
before his club ended the losing streak with a 6-4 victory over
the Orioles last Saturday.

"A lot of games could have gone either way," said outfielder
Randy Winn, whose three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth beat
Baltimore.

Truth be told, even after another victory over the Orioles on
Sunday, Tampa Bay (11-25) was 15 games out of first place in the
American League East, and its long-term prospects appeared
equally hopeless.

The Devil Rays had yet to get a win from No. 1 starter Tanyon
Sturtze (0-4, 5.15 ERA) or a home run from leftfielder Greg
Vaughn (.110, seven RBIs). Catcher Toby Hall, the Triple A
International League MVP last year, was hitting .189, and highly
touted outfielder Jason Tyner was batting .218 with a .255
on-base percentage. By the time the Devil Rays hold their Jason
Tyner Bobblehead Doll promotion, on June 2, he might be shaking
his head back in Triple A Durham.

Although nine defeats in the long run of losses were by one or
two runs to the contending Red Sox, Twins and Yankees, the Devil
Rays discovered unique ways to lose. On April 27, they were
no-hit by Boston's Derek Lowe, becoming the first club to suffer
such an indignity at Fenway Park in 37 years. On May 1 at
Minnesota, Tampa Bay became the sixth team in history to play a
nine-inning game without recording an assist. Even more
astonishing, the Devil Rays became the first American League team
since the 1929 White Sox to drop three straight games despite
leading in the ninth.

"I don't think anyone here has seen anything like this," says
first baseman Steve Cox. "You're on the bench thinking, What's
going on here? Something's not right. Something's weird."

Luckily for Tampa Bay, there have been few witnesses. The team
had averaged 13,846 fans at home, down from 15,619 through the
same number of home games (22) last season, and ranked last in
the American League. The recent three-game series against the
Yankees was a huge disappointment, with the biggest crowd just
16,013. Sunday's win over Baltimore was seen by a season-low
10,264.

Save for 20-year-old outfielder Carl Crawford, who is batting
.361 at Durham, there don't appear to be many players on the way
up to get excited about either. Triple A relievers Lee Gardner
and Jason Jimenez have not developed as hoped, and the top pick
of the 1999 amateur draft, outfielder Josh Hamilton, is still at
Class A Bakersfield and is now injured.

Worst of all, general manager Chuck LaMar has been told to cut
his $34 million payroll, which is already the lowest in the
majors, by another $6-to-$8 million. Contraction anyone?

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON Hampton was 1-5 at week's end and had given up 60 hits and 34 earned runs--both league highs.COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO Like the Red Sox, Ramirez was red-hot before he broke a finger sliding into home last Saturday; he's out for at least four weeks.COLOR PHOTO: JOHN FROSCHAUER/AP [See caption above]

in the Box

RANGERS 2, TIGERS 0
May 10

Until recently Arlington, Texas, was the American League city
where you were most likely to witness a long, ugly game, because
the Rangers' roster was largely constructed of hitters who could
hammer the ball and pitchers who got hammered. So while Texas's
victory over Detroit might seem to have been just another ho-hum
game between two mediocre teams, it was significant because it
was a rare pitchers' duel at The Ballpark in Arlington. Even
better, the game only lasted two hours, 20 minutes.

For the first time in seven games neither the Rangers nor their
opponent hit a homer. Instead the story was Texas starter Kenny
Rogers and closer Hideki Irabu combining to beat righthander Jeff
Weaver while holding the Tigers to eight hits, striking out seven
and walking one. It was the seventh time in eight starts that ace
lefthander Rogers (4-1, 2.60 ERA) allowed two or fewer earned
runs, and the 41,969 fans made it home in time for the 10 o'clock
news.