In 1984, when they contended to the last, bitter weekend, the Twins were a friendly bunch of underpaid kids. This year, after a nine-game losing streak and a 10-game losing streak, they're pointing fingers at one another. "It's frustrating when you're working your butt off and [other] people are playing without intensity," said staff ace Frank Viola, 0-3 in his last four starts, after another loss last week. Viola was immediately rebuked by catcher Tim Laudner and later by shortstop Roy Smalley. "Frank doesn't have a good barometer for team intensity," said Smalley. "He has enough problems doing his own job."
Then there is Mike Smithson, who had a 7.71 ERA in his last seven starts. He says the Twins pitchers, whose 4.90 ERA is 13th in the AL, have a "feeling of alienation from the rest of the team. I never thought I'd feel that here. I just hope we have enough class and self-esteem that when we lose 1-0 and 2-1 games, we don't start throwing the blame on somebody else."
Mickey Mahler is 32 years old, lefthanded, the brother of Braves righty Rick Mahler, and a professional minor-leaguer. He spent most of 1978 and 1979 in the Braves' rotation (9-22, 5.17) but worked only 14 innings in the big leagues the next five years. He tried again this year with the Expos, who sent him to Indianapolis to start the season but recalled him when they released Steve Rogers.
"Even though people told me they didn't feel I was a big league pitcher, I never accepted it," he says. "I knew if somebody gave me a chance I'd prove myself. I kept persevering."
Last Wednesday in San Francisco, Mahler got to start when Bill Gullickson pulled a muscle. "I knew I had to pitch a great game, not a good game," says Mahler. "It was easily the biggest game of my life. I knew I was only going to get one chance and that was it." He pitched a one-hitter, his first winning big league start since 1979, also in Candlestick.
Things go from bad to worse for Eddie Haas, the Braves' rookie manager. People have accused him of being a poor strategist, of being uncommunicative, of being too unaggressive on the bases, of being unable to settle on a lineup. Worst of all, he recently got a vote of confidence from Ted Turner. Then there was a players-only meeting last Tuesday.
"We have to quit being so down in the dumps and let it out," said outfielder Claudell Washington, who added that the players should stop "second-guessing the manager and questioning what he's doing. It's up to us to do things. If we see runners at first and second and nobody out, bunt them over instead of pulling the ball right at the shortstop for a double play." The next day, in fact, Washington did try a sacrifice bunt on his own.
Haas said he didn't mind the meeting, but he wasn't thrilled at his players' bunting on their own. "You have to have a sign for that," he protested.
Andy Hawkins may be 11-0 and Joaquin Andujar may be 11-1, but the Mets' Dwight Gooden (9-3, 1.67 ERA) has been the best pitcher in baseball. His ERA in his losses is 2.86, and his team has scored one run for him in the three defeats. He hits, too. In one start last week he became the first pitcher to nail Fernando Valenzuela for three hits in a game.... Maybe pitching isn't as important as we thought. The Giants lead the National League in pitching but are last in hitting and in the West Division standings.... When the Cubs played the Pirates last Thursday, their infield combined for 147 birthdays and 57 years of major league experience. From right to left: Richie Hebner (age 37), Chris Speier (34), Larry Bowa (39) and Ron Cey (37).... Davey Lopes, 39, has become a Cub supersub. Playing third and all the outfield positions, he's hitting .326 with four homers and 20 RBIs in only 95 at bats. He's also 18 for 19 stealing.... There may be a terrific comeback story developing in Pittsburgh. Rick Reuschel, the 36-year-old former Cubs ace, is 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA in four starts for the Pirates since being recalled from Triple A Hawaii. He had a seven-inning, two-run effort in Wrigley Field last week.
Bob Boone, the Angels' 37-year-old catcher, hit .202 last season and was hitting .167 after 20 games this year. He thought he might be through. "I kept asking myself why I was struggling, and the obvious answer was I was old," he says. "I'd wonder, 'Is this a slump or the end?' I was confused. I was constantly searching for the next answer."
He may have found it. Boone switched stances, spreading out his legs dramatically, a la Joe DiMaggio, and letting his hands do most of the work. As a result, he's 28 for 84 (.333) since May 3, with two homers and 14 RBIs, and he has put thoughts of retirement on hold.
A bad week for the Mariners, who lost three pitchers to the DL. They were 1984 rookie hotshot Mark Langston (elbow), current ace Mike Moore (back) and Salome Barojas (shoulder). And Karl Best, who had become the No. 1 reliever by striking out 19 and allowing two runs in his last 18‚Öì innings, went back home for treatment on a sore shoulder.... The Orioles' Dennis Martinez may finally be all the way back. Martinez, who has undergone treatment for alcoholism, one-hit the Angels in his last start, his fourth straight strong outing.... Second baseman Brian McRae, 17, son of Hal McRae, 38, was the Royals' No. 1 draft choice, and as far as anyone knows, it's the first time a team has drafted the son of one of its own players.... Barry Bonds, son of Indians batting coach Bobby Bonds, was the Pirates' first-round choice. Chris Gwynn, Tony Gwynn's brother, went on the first round to the Dodgers. And Bo Jackson, Auburn's tailback, was chosen in the 20th round by the Angels, who are gambling he'll forgo his chances of a Heisman Trophy.
Engle was last spotted in the '84 All-Star Game.
A FEW CASES FOR THE BUREAU OF MISSING PLAYERS
Either the manager doesn't like them, or they don't have enough talent, or they play for the wrong team. These poor unfortunates, who never get a chance to dirty their uniforms, form INSIDE PITCH'S Ill-Star team:
C—Dave Engle, Twins. No starts, eight at bats. An All-Star team member in '84, he's in a prolonged hitting slump—no RBls since last July 27. What's even worse is that Engle is suffering through the catcher's nightmare of not being able to throw the ball back to the pitcher.
1B—John Wockenfuss, Phils. Fifteen at bats since May 17. He was out of favor anyway as the righty half of the first base platoon, but the move to first by Mike Schmidt sealed his fate.
2B—Doug Flynn, Expos. Six at bats. The Expos don't want to release him because his $425,000-a-year contract runs through '86. But no other team will take this excellent fielder until he's released.
SS—Ivan DeJesus, Cards. No starts, 12 at bats. Acquired in case Ozzie Smith wasn't signed, DeJesus carries a $600,000 contract. "Something will happen sooner or later," says a stoic DeJesus.
3B—Marty Castillo, Tigers. Twenty-three at bats. After three starts at third and a homer in the '84 World Series, he has become Detroit's third-string catcher and a fourth-siring third baseman.
OF—Dan Ford, Orioles. No at bats since May 21. Joe Altobelli grimaces at the mention of his name. Ford is the last guy to arrive at the park and the first to leave. Now on the disabled list because of his knees. Tough to release because his contract for '86—$550,000—is guaranteed.
OF—Omar Moreno, Yankees. Twenty-three at bats in Billy Martin's 33 games. When Moreno asked Martin why he wasn't playing, Billy had this impeccably logical answer: Ken Griffey, Rickey Henderson and Dave Winfield. Another player with a big contract—$600,000 per year through 1987—that scares people.
OF—Reid Nichols, Red Sox. Seventeen at bats. He's not making big bucks, but he plays behind Jim Rice, Tony Armas and Dwight Evans. What's worse, he also hits righthanded. Lefties Rick Miller and Steve Lyons get the fill-in duty.
P—Bob Shirley, Yankees. Five innings since April 27. A flake's flake. Martin didn't like him in 1983, and after Shirley worked an inning on April 30, he went 22 days without pitching. Then he worked an inning of a 13-1 game. His teammates were even considering a pool: Guess Shirley's next game. "I think the reason I pitched was the result of something that happened nine months ago," he said afterward. He was referring to reliever Rich Bordi, who left the team to be with his pregnant wife.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
WILLIE McGEE: The Cardinal outfielder had one four-hit game and three three-hit games while batting .519. He raised his average to .359, which is second in the league to teammate Tommy Hen's .373.
All I can see in the back of my mind," said the Giants' Jell' Leonard alter the strong winds that blow in from leftfield at Candlestick cost him a couple of homers, "is Jack Clark laughing his butt off, not having to play here.