Amid the stately pines—and blackflies—of The Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, final preparations were made for the return of the fallen angel. Dwight Gooden, who two years ago was being sized for a Cooperstown locker and two months ago checked into New York's Smithers Center for treatment for drug abuse, made his last minor league appearance for the Tidewater Tides before returning to the Mets and a starting assignment against the Pirates on Friday. "He looks the same to me," said Maine Guides first baseman Al LeBoeuf. Minor leaguers can talk like that about Gooden. After all, on Sunday he was the youngest player on either roster.
Relishing the 94° heat, Doctor K fired a one-hitter and struck out 10 in six innings—and convinced everyone that his stuff is back. "There's no question that he's ready," said Mets minor league pitching coach Greg Pavlik, who jumped into a waiting car with Gooden after the game to catch a flight to New York.
"There isn't any comparison between what he's throwing now and what he was throwing in spring training," said tidewater manager Mike Cubbage. Because Gooden was not allowed to speak to the media during his rehab, Mets p.r. assistant Dennis D'Agostino read some postgame quotes attributed to Gooden and then described his June 5 return as a "temporary definite."
Gooden had pitched like the Gooden of 1985. What had been missing in his three previous minor league starts (20 IP, 21 H, 7 R, 5 ER, 8 BB, 17 K) was control of his breaking pitches and movement on his fastball. On Sunday, his fastball was hopping and his curveball was untouchable.
The good news couldn't come at a better time for the Mets, who need him desperately. Bobby Ojeda is out for the season with an elbow injury and David Cone is out at least until August with a broken finger. Rick Aguilera is sidelined for two to three weeks with a tight elbow. Sid Fernandez missed a start because of a sprained knee, and what was once the best pitching staff in baseball is using guys named John Mitchell, Tom Edens, Terry Leach and Jeff Innis.
But while Gooden is clearly ready physically, it remains to be seen if he is ready for the tabloid onslaught. He is no grizzled veteran, and it's a giant leap from Old Orchard to the Big Apple.
Friday, May 29, was a typical 1987 night in baseball. The 13 games produced an average of 13 runs. "The pitching shortage is becoming a crisis," says Brewer G.M. Harry Dalton. Last week, for instance, Jack Lazorko, Steve Carlton, Phil Niekro, Tommy John, Len Barker, Lary Sorensen and Jerry Reuss all started games. All are former releasees. Through Sunday eight of the 10 pitchers on the Cleveland staff had ERAs over 5.00. Only eight teams had staff ERAs under 4.00. All of which may be good news for Detroit. If the Tigers can get Willie Hernandez back in form, they can win the AL East because they have the best pitching staff in the division (yes, the Yankees may be overly giddy about their starters). But Hernandez is a big if: He's had two stints on the disabled list, and his hesitancy to pitch in a Toledo exhibition last week so irked Sparky Anderson that the manager cracked, "Maybe we'll leave him in the hospital the rest of the year." If Hernandez struggles, Sparky may turn more often to rookie surprise Mike Henneman, who not only has a superb split-fingered fastball but also throws a rising split-fingered pitch that he calls a "spoonball."
...Few pitches of any kind have been getting past the Cardinals' Jack Clark, who had 35 RBIs in May. "Pitching aside, the Cardinals have the best all-around team in the league," says Dodger scout Jerry Stephenson, "but the key to that team is Jack Clark. He's the National League's franchise player. St. Louis has had as many injuries this year as last. The difference is Clark." Says Oakland coach Jim Lefebvre, "Clark is the most exciting hitter in the game." If he beats his own injury jinx, this will be the year Clark finally gets his due....
Five scouts in the AL were asked which lefthanded reliever they would most like to have. All five gave the same answer: Dan Plesac of Milwaukee. "He throws around 95 miles per hour," says one scout, "and now he's in a class by himself. [Dave] Righetti is still a great reliever, but all those innings have taken their toll. He doesn't throw anywhere near as hard as he did two years ago."
LONG AT SHORT
Luis Aguayo, the 5'9" shortstop of the Phillies, is 28 years old and has never had more than 165 at bats or six homers in any of his six previous seasons. By the end of May, Aguayo already had nine homers for '87, giving him a current ratio of one home run per 11 at bats—the same as Mike Schmidt....
An AL scout claims the two fastest righthanded hitters he has clocked from home to first in the last three years are rookies Bo Jackson (3.7) of the Royals and Ellis Burks (3.95) of the Red Sox. The slowest? Joel Skinner (4.8) of the Yankees....
With their pitching woes mounting, the Rangers brought up righthander Bob Malloy, who a year ago was told he might not walk again. A potential first-round draft choice at Virginia when the 1986 college season began, Malloy had his left leg shattered by a line drive in the second game of the season. Texas gambled on him in the 19th round, gave him a winter's rehab and called him to the majors after nine starts and a 5-0 record at Class A Gastonia....
In Oakland, comparisons are being made between 6'5" rookie Mark McGwire (19 home runs through May) and 6'6" Dave Kingman: Each went to USC as a pitcher and came out a slugger. "From the first day Mark showed up in spring training, he's been our best-looking hitter," says Athletics manager Tony La Russa. Adds one scout, "He's got great power on anything down and out over the plate. It's too bad he doesn't rub off on Jose Canseco—his poor work habits have begun to catch up to him at the plate and in the field. He's almost throwing sidearm now."
The Topps Man of the Year should be Brewers shortstop Dale Sveum, who blows bubbles while swinging at pitches, fielding ground balls and turning double plays. Sveum claims he wasn't aware of his habit until he began seeing pictures in newspapers. "I slid into home plate in Chicago," he says. "Carlton Fisk was putting the tag on me and I was blowing a big bubble."
...One morning Kansas City's Danny Jackson is going to wake up and find that he's one of the best pitchers in baseball. "You have to be patient with great arms, especially lefthanders," says Seattle G.M. Dick Balderson. He should know. After two inconsistent seasons, the Mariners' Mark Langston has put his exceptional stuff together. "He finally believes he can win," says Balderson....
The pitching market last week included lefthanders Bob Knepper, for whom the Astros are hoping to get a righthand-hitting outfielder, and Mark Davis, whose star has fallen in San Francisco....
As you read all the sparkling promises about the phenoms taken in Tuesday's draft, be advised that in no other major sport is the draft such an uncertain science. Eric Davis wasn't even put in the Major League Scouting Bureau file. According to Texas assistant G.M. Wayne Krivsky, "Davis was late coming out due to basketball, and he was a skinny shortstop with bad hands." The Scouting Bureau listed an Indiana kid before the 1979 draft, noting that he had only a "fair attitude towards the game" and describing him as "a marginal prospect at best." Name? Don Mattingly.
JOHN D. HANLON
Gooden was the Maine man in his last outing, but big-city pressure awaits.
A 35-RBI month of May has been spring cleanup for Clark and the Cards.
¬¨¬®¬¨¬© TOPPS CHEWING GUM INC.
And a happy 52nd to "El Viejo."
RONALD C. MODRA
McGwire has been a big hit already.
BETWEEN THE LINES
Joan Kroc, with her McDonald's wealth, is a noted philanthropist, which may explain why she decided on Friday not to sell her Padres to Seattle Mariners owner George Argyros. The next day San Diego tied the 1945 Phillies' mark for the worst 50-game start in NL history, at 11-39. In those games the Padres were outscored 279-180 (or by 1.98 runs per game) and outhomered 68-24. They allowed Rafael Belliard's first major league home run after 404 at bats and last week gave up Greg Gross's first homer in his last 1,618 at bats.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
•Brewers manager Tom Trebelhorn, after his team got two doubles, a walk and a wild pitch in one inning and didn't score: "That's par for the course, and lately we've played a lot of par 11s."
The Blue Jays finished a 12-game West Coast road trip with a May 29 exhibition in Winnipeg against the National Baseball Institute team—much to the distress of the weary Toronto players. Because of plane problems, they didn't get home to Exhibition Stadium until 4 a.m. At 4:10, rookie second baseman Mike Sharperson got the news that he had been optioned to Syracuse.
Ray Knight's injury list this season includes kidney stones, bruised ribs, bruised chest, concussion, bruised esophagus, sore left ankle, sore knees and cuts on his leg from crashing into the stands. "When I retire I'm going to be an orthopedic surgeon," says Knight, who in past years has had shoulder and arm operations. "I know all about it."
HOW DO YOU SCORE THAT?
In the seventh inning of an International League game on Friday, Pawtucket Red Sox second baseman Gary Miller-Jones fielded a ground ball off the bat of Keith Miller of the Maine Guides. Miller-Jones reached to tag Maine's Ron Jones running from first (Jones was called out for leaving the base path) and threw to first to double up Miller. In the ninth, Miller hit a ball up the middle. Miller-Jones fielded it, stepped on second to retire base runner Jones and fired to first to get Miller for the game-ending out.
•Giants reliever Scott Garrelts entered a May 26 game against the Mets with a 2-1 lead. He finished with a spotless 2-0-0-0-0-5 line—and the Giants lost 3-2. Garrelts threw two run-scoring wild pitches while striking out the side in the eighth.
•Philadelphia reliever Steve Bedrosian had nine saves, a win and 16 strikeouts in a 14‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬®-inning stretch over 10 appearances.
•In his second appearance after being signed by the Twins' Portland club in the Pacific Coast League, former Reds catcher Sal Butera had 11 Tucson runners steal on him.
•Only the Pirates, Braves, Expos, Mariners and Indians have a lower average home attendance than the Tigers' 16,469.
•Jack Morris has allowed 61 homers since Aug. 4, 1985—none with more than one runner on base. He has allowed three solo homers in three of his last four starts, and the Tigers have won them all.
•Wade Boggs, a lifetime .352 hitter, went to the eye doctor complaining of seeing black dots, despite his league-leading average at the time. He was told his eyesight is 20-10, the same as that of Ted Williams.
•Through last weekend the Royals were 21-14 without George Brett in the lineup.
•Montreal first baseman Andres (the Giant) Galarraga, one of the game's least-heralded young hitting stars, is on a 125-RBI pace.
•Through May 31, Montreal rookie Casey Candaele had started 16 games in centerfield, 4 in left, 1 in right, 6 at second base and 13 at shortstop.
•When the Cubs were in Cincinnati, Dickie Noles left tickets for a couple of friends he made in 1983 while serving time in a local jail for slugging a policeman.
•On May 28, the Orioles needed six homers to break the major league single-month record of 55. They hit six. On May 30, the Reds' Eric Davis needed one homer to break the NL record of 18 home runs in the first two months of the season. He hit a grand slam, his third of the month, another record.