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Tom Verducci's View

Sept. 22, 2003
Sept. 22, 2003

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Sept. 22, 2003

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Tom Verducci's View

WORKING OVERTIME

This is an article from the Sept. 22, 2003 issue Original Layout

What's wrong with Mariano Rivera? The rest of the Yankees'
bullpen. At week's end the New York closer, despite six blown
saves, had the second-best strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.7 to 1) of
his career and the best ERA (1.78) in his career. But without
reliable setup men, manager Joe Torre had forced Rivera into
games with a career-high season total of 35 runners on--and 17 of
them scored (49%), much worse than Rivera's career rate entering
the season (27%).

Rivera's job has been more taxing than that of the typical
pampered closer, such as the Dodgers' Eric Gagne, who generally
enters at the start of the ninth inning and had inherited only 10
runners all year. Manager Jim Tracy cost Los Angeles a key game
last week against the Diamondbacks by not using Gagne with two
outs in the eighth inning--an automatic spot for Rivera--allowing
two other relievers to blow a four-run lead.

The Yankees are asking more of Rivera, 33, at a time when he has
lost about 3 mph on his fastball. Opponents were hitting .239
against him, the highest since he was a rookie in 1995. As Tigers
pitching coach Bob Cluck says, "He's doing everything he used to
do, but instead of doing it at 97, it's 94. He's gone from
Superman to extremely good." Rivera would be a more effective
closer if relievers Jeff Nelson, Chris Hammond and Gabe White
could get through the eighth inning cleanly.

SERIES HANGOVERS

The Marlins have ended their streak of five losing seasons since
they won the World Series in 1997. The Padres, meanwhile, have
extended their post-World Series funk to five. Here are the
longest streaks of losing seasons after appearing in the World
Series:

Team Years

Red Sox 15 (1919-1933)
Athletics 10 (1915-1924)
Phillies 7 (1994-2000)
Marlins 5 (1998-2002)
Padres 5 (1999-)
Blue Jays 4 (1994-1997)

WILY IS FREED

Cancel the telethon. Hold off writing your congressman. All it
took to release Wily Mo Pena from captivity on the Reds' bench
were injuries to fellow outfielders Austin Kearns, Ken Griffey
Jr., Adam Dunn, Reggie Taylor, Ruben Mateo; the trade of
outfielder Jose Guillen; the firings of manager Bob Boone and
general manager Jim Bowden; and maybe even the closest pass to
Earth by Mars in 60,000 years.

Pena, 21, is the rookie Cincinnati could not send to the minors
without risking that he would be claimed on waivers by another
team. So they mothballed him, giving him only 53 at bats through
July 30. At week's end, however, Pena had played in 14 straight
games and hit .298 with his first, second and third homers of the
year, serving notice that he not only remembers how to play the
game, but also could become a big-time power hitter if given the
chance.

LOSE-WIN SITUATIONS

Brian Kingman may have lost his status as baseball's last 20-game
loser thanks to the Tigers' Mike Maroth, but he's still the only
pitcher to lose 20 games for a winning team in 81 years. Without
defined bullpens, many pitchers lost 20 games for winning teams
in the early 1900s. But since Dolf Luque went 13-23 for the Reds
in 1922, Kingman stands alone. Here are the best teams with a
20-game loser since 1922:

Team Record 20-Game Loser

1980 Athletics 83-79 Brian Kingman (8-20)
1957 Phillies 77-77 Robin Roberts (10-22)
1974 Expos 79-82 Steve Rogers (15-22)
1954 Phillies 75-79 Murry Dickson (10-20)
1941 Tigers 75-79 Bobo Newsom (12-20)

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON (RIVERA) RiveraCOLOR PHOTO: GARY ROTHSTEIN/ICON SMI (PENA) PenaCOLOR PHOTO: ANDY HAYT (KINGMAN) Kingman

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