Who Are Those Guys?
Last week Oakland swept three games from Minnesota at the Metrodome and through Sunday trailed the Twins by only 1½ games. If the A's win the American League West for the fourth time in five years, they may have to split their postseason winnings into a record number of shares. Oakland has suffered through a season of constant injuries, using the disabled list a team-record 19 times already, but the A's have gotten remarkable play from some little-known players.
Among the surprising standouts have been retread reliever Jeff Parrett, who was 7-1 with a 2.75 ERA at week's end; Jerry Browne, who was released by the Indians at the end of spring training but has played every position but pitcher, catcher and first base for the A's; and journeyman Randy Ready, who locked up the first win of the Twin series with a grand slam. In addition, rookies Scott Brosius, Troy Neel and Dann Howitt started together in the outfield in one game this year, and in another game Scott Hemond both caught and played shortstop. "When you get contributions from unexpected sources, it has a tremendous uplifting effect on everyone else," says A's general manager Sandy Alderson.
The biggest surprise, though, may be outfielder Eric Fox, a 28-year-old switch-hitter who almost retired in 1990 to become an algebra teacher. Released by the Mariners in the spring of 1989 and signed by Oakland soon after, Fox was in Double A Huntsville less than a month ago when the A's called him up because their entire starting outfield was sidelined with injuries. Fox arrived on July 8, and as of Sunday he was hitting .283. His one-out, three-run homer in the ninth off Minnesota closer Rick Aguilera gave the A's a 5-4 win that capped their sweep of the Twins.
Says Fox, "Before the at bat, Scott Hemond asked [coach] Art Kusnyer, 'What are Eric's chances of hitting a homer here?' Art said, 'A million to one.' Scott said, 'I think it's 70 billion to one.' It's storybook. It's bizarre."
A Lost Art Is Revived
The Pirates also got a pleasant surprise from an unexpected source last week. Righthander Tim Wakefield, a 26-year-old knuckleballer who was a first baseman three years ago, was called up from Triple A Buffalo on Friday and threw a complete-game six-hitter that night in his major league debut, a 3-2 win over St. Louis.
Wakefield and Charlie Hough of the White Sox are the only true knuckleballers left in the majors. (The Dodgers' Tom Candiotti mixes a lot of slow curveballs in with his knucklers.) "In '89 in [Class A] Augusta, I was goofing around in the outfield throwing a knuckleball," says Wakefield. "Somebody said to our manager, Woody Huyke, 'Hey, Wakefield has a good knuckler.' He asked, 'Can you throw it for strikes?' I showed him I could."
He knew his career as an everyday player wasn't going far, so when the Pirates asked him to become a pitcher, he agreed to try. "I was hesitant because when you make the transition, the odds are slim and none that you'll succeed," says Wakefield, who hadn't pitched since high school and even then didn't throw a knuckler.
He struggled in '90, but the experiment started to pay off last year when he was 15-8 with a 2.90 ERA for Double A Carolina. In last week's game against St. Louis, Wakefield threw mostly knucklers—"70 or 80 percent," he says—allowing no earned runs and striking out 10. As of Sunday, Doug Drabek was the only other Pittsburgh pitcher to have struck out that many batters in a game this season. Wakefield never struck out 10 in the minors. He says his big league debut was probably his best start ever.
"I was kind of surprised that they called me up, because I'm a rookie and they're in the middle of a pennant race," says Wakefield. "But that first start is something I'll always remember."
Last weekend probably knocked the Mets out of the pennant race for good. Pitcher Bret Saberhagen reinjured an inflamed tendon in his finger, and outfielders Howard Johnson and Bobby Bonilla were placed on the disabled list, Johnson with a fractured wrist and Bonilla with a broken rib....
A's G.M. Sandy Alderson on the five-year, $28 million deal offered by the Cubs to pitcher Greg Maddux, who turned it down: "The only thing dumber than the offer was turning it down."
Fox, who nearly quit baseball to teach algebra, helped the A's do a number on the Twins.