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Tigers, Tigers Burning Bright

Aided by their savvy coach, pitchers Jack Morris and Dan Petry have Detroit off to a blazing start

On April 16, the day of the Boston Marathon, Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson staged a mini-marathon of his own. "I walked five miles at 14 minutes a mile," says Anderson, a fine figure of a man at 50. "You gotta stay in shape. It's a war out there. A 162-game war. You gotta throw bombs, more bombs, lethal gas—everything you got." Well, Anderson's troops have been dishing it out, all right. They began the season with nine straight victories and, as of Sunday, led the American League East by 4½ games with a 12-1 record.

At the forefront in the Tigers' breakout are righthanded pitchers Jack Morris and Dan Petry and their astute coach, Roger Craig. Thanks to three off-days and three rainouts, Morris and Petry started seven of Detroit's first 10 games. Between April 23 and the end of May, the Tigers will have had five off-days and played 34 straight games against clubs that finished below .500 last season. So Morris and Petry may start 26 of the Tigers' first 47 games, and Detroit could well extend its lead.

At week's end, Morris boasted a 3-0 record, a 1.13 ERA and the season's first no-hitter—a 4-0 defeat of Chicago on April 7. Petry had a 2-1 record and a 2.63 ERA. Last week both pitched so-so games, but neither was particularly consoling to the opposition. Against Kansas City on Wednesday night, Morris allowed nine hits but scattered them over nine innings, didn't walk anyone, and the Tigers won 4-3 in the 10th. Only one Royal hit, Jorge Orta's three-run homer off a hanging slider, was costly. "If that was a mediocre performance for Morris, he's in for a darn good season," said Kansas City reliever Dan Quisenberry. Added Royals manager Dick Howser, "I've never seen Morris pitch poorly."

The next afternoon Kansas City beat Petry 5-2. He yielded two runs on some scratch hits and another on two booted grounders by third baseman Howard Johnson, who makes errors in 28 flavors. The Royals got two more runs when Frank White hit a two-run homer off a good pitch. "Morris and Petry are hard to beat," said White afterward, "especially when you don't have many lefthanded batters. They've both got four pitches they can get over. Morris has an excellent fastball, and Petry's arm motion is so fast it's hard to pick up his pitches."

After Morris lost five of his first eight decisions last year, Craig corrected a flaw in his delivery and got him to junk his changeup for a split-fingered fastball. Morris, who wound up with a 20-13 record, won 10 straight games later in the season and lead the league with 232 strikeouts and 293‚Öî innings pitched. Says his catcher. Lance Parrish, "If he perfects that slider, he'll be unbeatable."

Also heeding Craig's advice in '83, Petry added a nasty curve and a split-fingered fastball to his superior slider and above-average fastball. "It was a struggle throwing two pitches last year," says Petry. "I had a 3.92 ERA and won only because I got a lot of runs. Roger kept pushing me, and I finally realized I couldn't just rear back and throw. I told myself I'd use the other pitches in spring training no matter what."

Some early editions of the 1984 Official Baseball Guide carried a picture of Petry above a caption describing Morris. It's easy to confuse them. Morris, 28, is 6'3", 200 pounds; Petry, 25, is 6'4", 200. They have the same agent, Dick Moss. Morris is in the second year of a four-year, $3.45 million contract, and Petry is in the first year of a four-year $3.60 million deal (though he won't make a higher annual salary than Morris until the year after Morris' contract expires). Morris wears No. 47, Petry No. 46. Petry was Detroit's fourth draft choice in 1976, Morris the fifth. Both married women they'd known but hadn't seriously dated in high school. And both are durable: Morris has missed one start in the last five years, Petry two in the last three.

There's one important difference—Morris is unquestionably the better pitcher. "He's just an incredible athlete," says Petry. Morris is an excellent fielder (Jack be nimble), is thought to be the Tigers' second-fastest runner, behind rightfielder Kirk Gibson (Jack be quick), was a former All-City basketball player in St. Paul, Minn. and was a ski jumper who beat future U.S. Olympians (Jack jump over the candlestick). Morris' father, Arvid, who has just retired as a 3M Co. systems technician, had decided that Jack and his younger brother, Tom, would grow up to be ballplayers. "They could hardly walk and he was throwing hardballs at them," says Jack's mother, Dona. "I asked him, 'Aren't you going to hurt them?' and he said, 'No, they'll catch it.' "

"He pushed us so hard it was almost unbearable at times," says Jack, "but we got over that."

"I felt baseball offered them a good opportunity," says Arvid, who captained his high school gymnastics and golf teams and is now an avid sport fisherman. "Whether they were short or tall, thin or fat, they had a chance."

Tom played in the Cubs' farm system in 1979-80 and is now completing a doctorate in geology at Wisconsin. Jack advanced from Little League to the St. Paul American Legion division that produced Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor. "I wanted to be a shortstop or third baseman, but I'd also done some pitching," says Morris. "My first day at Brigham Young, I asked the coach. Glen Tuckett, where he wanted me, and he said, 'You are a pitcher from this day on.' "

Drafted by Detroit after his junior year, Morris progressed rapidly—fighting himself all the way. He thought he'd be released after getting off to a slow start with the Double-A Montgomery Rebels in 1976. He joined the Tigers a year later, was plagued with a sore arm in 1978 and had to be talked into playing winter ball by Ralph Houk, the Detroit skipper at the time. Morris cured his arm troubles by lifting weights, but he developed a volcanic temper. He busted a bat rack, kicked over stools and stiffed sports-writers after losses. "I used to take the game home with me, especially when I was going bad," he says. "By the time I went to the mound again, I had nothing left to think about, including how to pitch." Morris finally straightened out last summer when Parrish took him aside and told him to stop displaying his emotions on the field.

"I'm not a Mark Fidrych, brushing off the mound," says Morris. "My style is methodical, everyday, do your best. I admire guys like Carlton, Seaver, Palmer, Perry, Hunter. Every time out I want to throw a perfect game. The thing I treasure most about my no-hitter was wanting to hug all my teammates. I mean, it wasn't that great a game. I walked six guys and got three or four good fielding plays. So I tied the record for earliest no-hitter of a season. Whoopee!

"Pitching is a constant adjustment. I love to tinker with things like snowmobiles and cars. I took the job of player rep two years ago to find out what that involved." Indeed, an hour before he pitched last week, Morris was brandishing medical and dental forms and joyously summoning teammates to his locker "office."

Petry describes his life as one continuous miracle. His mother, Aleene, who had miscarried three times before he came along, almost miscarried before he was born. As a baby he had severe bronchitis and a heart murmur. "He was always big for his age and paired with older kids," says his father, Ron, a good-humored, low-key chemist. "I'm kind of an egghead, but I think being a good father is realizing where a kid ought to be, not what you want him to be. It was obvious from an early age that Dan had the talent to be an athlete. About all I could do was practice with him, tell him it was all right to cry, create a stable atmosphere."

Petry grew up in Placentia, Calif., wanting to be an outfielder, but Detroit drafted him as a pitcher because it liked his arm. "I started out 0-5 in A-ball," he says, "and my manager at Lakeland was tempted to demote me. I guess the Tigers had confidence in me, because they kept me. It wasn't until I got to Triple A that I realized I wasn't so bad. When Sparky started managing the Tigers in 1979, he called me up. I won a couple of games and opened some eyes. I went down again, and then I popped right back. I was no phenom, just a steady developer." Since making Detroit for good in 1980, Petry has had records of 10-9, 10-9, 15-9 and, last season, 19-11.

Morris is casual and cocky. Petry, who's shy and reserved, is one of the growing number of players who have undergone sessions in "creative relaxation," a school of positive thinking. "Jack thinks he's the greatest pitcher in the world, and that makes all the difference," says Craig. "Dan underestimates how good he is," says agent Moss.

At 53, Craig is at last being compared with such celebrated pitching coaches as Philadelphia's Claude Osteen and Baltimore's Ray Miller. "The man is a genius," says Anderson. "He's so optimistic, he could find good in a tornado. How much does he mean to us? I could drop dead tomorrow, but if we lose Roger Craig, we've got problems."

If Craig had his way, all his charges would throw the split-fingered fastball, a kind of fast forkball that's gripped closer to the fingertips and released with a fastball motion. He began teaching the pitch at his boys' camp in 1974 and discovered that it worked at all levels. "It's a devastating pitch," says Craig, "and you can throw it with maximum arm speed without hurting yourself. I tell my pitchers, Think fastball.' It comes in like a fastball and then falls off the table." In his no-hitter, Morris had the White Sox chasing the funny fastball out of the strike zone. Detroit's third starter, Milt Wilcox, the first Tiger to use the pitch, has kept his ERA below 4.00 the last three seasons by relying heavily on the split-fingered fastball.

"A lot of pitching coaches try to teach you what worked for them," says Wilcox. "Roger teaches what's best for you, possibly because he didn't have that great a career." Craig, who had a 74-98 record in 12 seasons, was on the mound in the Brooklyn Dodgers' last game and the New York Mets' first and competed in four World Series. He went 15-46 in two seasons with the Mets. As a coach with the Padres in 1969, he once received a Mother's Day card from his pitchers. In '78 he managed San Diego to its only winning season but was fired a year later. Anderson immediately hired him.

To be sure, Morris, Petry and Craig aren't Detroit's only assets. Shortstop Alan Trammell was hitting .400 at week's end; first baseman-DH Darrell Evans had 13 RBIs; the defense had committed only five errors; and relief pitcher Willie Hernandez, who had finished games in all eight of his appearances, could be the Tigers' first reliable lefty reliever since John Hiller in the mid '70s. Ultimately, though, the club's prospects may hinge on the rotation behind Morris and Petry—and what Craig can do with this supporting cast.

If last weekend's series against the White Sox was indicative, those prospects are sweet. Wilcox, Dave Rozema and Juan Berenguer started against the Sox. Wilcox, who has won and lost between nine and 13 games each of the last six seasons, had allowed one earned run in seven innings to win his first '84 start. But given an eight-run cushion in the top half of the first in his second outing, he allowed five runs in the bottom half of the inning and was yanked. "I made an adjustment on Milt's split-fingered fastball," Craig said last week before Wilcox's third start. "He'd been choking the ball too much, and I moved it closer to his fingertips."

On Good Friday, his 34th birthday, Wilcox gave up a two-run homer to Ron Kittle in the second inning, but that was his only serious mistake. Kittle batted again with two men on and the score tied 2-2 in the eighth. Wilcox struck him out with an ankle-level split-fingered fastball. Detroit went on to win 3-2 for reliever Aurelio Lopez when Parrish singled home a run in the ninth. "The new grip helped me a lot," said Wilcox.

Rozema, 27, is the Tigers' most intriguing player. Only 11 American Leaguers with 900 or more innings have lower ERAs than his 3.34 mark over seven seasons. But Rozema has never enjoyed a consistent or consistently healthy year. He's now recovering from what he describes as a drinking problem. "I used to have three or four beers after a game and a few more at the hotel," says Rozema. "Because of it, I'd do crazy things and get in trouble with Sparky. I gave up alcohol during spring training, and now I only drink on special occasions."

In his only previous start of the season, on April 8, Rozema left the game after four innings, when his arm tightened up. "All he needs is more innings, because he won't beat himself," says Craig. Before Saturday's game, Craig told Rozema to have a "purpose" with every pitch. Mixing his slider, sinker, changeup and the inevitable split-fingered fastball, Rozema struck out seven and allowed two hits and no runs in six innings en route to beating Chicago 4-1 with relief help from Doug Bair. "Rozema kept us off-stride," said Sox first baseman Mike Squires. "That's the name of the game."

Berenguer, Craig's prize reclamation project, had lost a starting job in spring training by walking 21 batters in 29‚Öì innings. On Sunday, Craig called some pitches for Berenguer and Detroit's able rookie catcher, Dwight Lowry, and Berenguer responded by striking out seven and allowing just two hits and one walk in seven shutout innings. Hernandez finished up as the Tigers won the series finale 8-1.

Earlier in the week Petry had said, "People keep asking me if I'm going to push Morris. That's not the point. We want some other pitchers to push us." Thanks to Craig, Petry and Morris may get their wish.


Morris stumbled on this pitch against the White Sox, but he didn't lose his no-hitter.


Craig likes the split-fingered fastball.


Thanks to Craig, Petry now has four pitches in his arsenal, after relying on two in 1983.


Ron Petry helped build the Little League field where Dan played.


Before landing this 30-pound salmon, Arvid Morris hooked Jack on baseball.


Parrish has provided the Tigers with some timely hitting and Morris with some timely advice.


At week's end Trammell was leading Detroit in hitting (.400) and in stolen bases (6).