Deliverance Something's brewing in Milwaukee thanks to a happier Lyle Overbay

June 06, 2004

"You feel comfortable here?" Astros leftfielder Lance Berkman
asked Lyle Overbay as he was being held at first by Overbay
during a game in June 2003. "It took me at least a few months to
get used to [the majors]." Overbay, then the Diamondbacks' rookie
first baseman, replied, "I'm not sure if I have that much time."
Those words would prove prophetic.

Unhappy with Overbay's lack of production (25 RBIs in 227 at
bats), Arizona manager Bob Brenly demoted him to Triple A Tucson
in late July. Uncertain about his future in the organization,
Overbay was thrilled to learn five months later that he'd been
traded, along with five teammates, to the Brewers for All-Star
first baseman Richie Sexson.

With six homers at week's end Overbay, 27, doesn't have the power
of Sexson (45 homers in 2003), but the 6'2", 227-pound lefthanded
hitter was ninth in the National League with a .337 batting
average, had a .392 on-base percentage and was sixth in RBIs
(40). With leftfielder Geoff Jenkins (.250, four homers) and
centerfielder Scott Podsednik (.261) struggling, Overbay has been
central to his new team's surprising start. The Brewers, who
slashed their payroll from $40.6 million last year to a
major-league-low $27.5 million, were three games behind the Reds
in the NL Central, baseball's most competitive division.

For Overbay, a soft-talking native of Centralia, Wash., peace of
mind has been the difference this season. "I don't remember being
relaxed at any point last season," he says. "I have no one to
blame but myself for not producing, but I felt like I wasn't put
in a position to succeed there. Even in spring training people
were pushing the panic button. I'd have a bad game, and I'd be
out of the lineup the next day and told to go work on things."

Constantly moved around in the batting order last season, Overbay
has been in the 5 spot in nearly every game with Milwaukee. "His
success has been a combination of opportunity and confidence,"
says general manager Doug Melvin. "He knew that this was a place
where he was going to be in the lineup the next day even if he
went 0 for 4."

The Brewers' faith in Overbay was based on his gaudy numbers in
the minors, where he hit over .300 in each of his four seasons in
the Arizona system. "You don't hit .340 in 500 minor league games
and all of a sudden you can't hit at the big league level," says
Milwaukee manager Ned Yost.

During the winter Overbay studied replays of each of his at bats
from last season. While training in the batting cage at his old
high school in Centralia, Overbay made numerous adjustments; the
most significant change was shortening the motion of his front
arm as he began his backswing. That adjustment has allowed him to
turn better on inside fastballs.

Last week Yost held a closed-door meeting for his hitters because
he thought they were pressing. "That applied to pretty much
everyone but Lyle," says hitting coach Butch Wynegar. "He's been
our most consistent hitter. Nothing at all has fazed this kid."

COLOR PHOTO: MORROY GASH/AP After a rough rookie year, Overbay has rediscovered his stroke and confidence.

Three Up

First-place Chicago was second in the majors in scoring through
Sunday, after finishing eighth in the AL in 2003.

Back with Colorado, for which he averaged 38 homers from '95
through '99, Castilla was tied for second in the NL in homers
(14) and had driven in 43 runs.

After 14 losses as a starter last year, he returned to being a
closer and reached 20 saves in his club's 42nd game, faster than
anyone in big league history.

Three Down

Coming off a career-high 17 wins last year, he had allowed seven
or more earned runs in four of his first 11 starts.

Despite Randy Johnson's dominance, Arizona starters still ranked
15th in the NL in ERA (5.27) at week's end. The starters other
than Johnson were a combined 6-18 with a 6.25 ERA.

The flamethrowing closer has already blown as many saves (four)
as he had in each of his past two seasons.