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Trying Not To Relive The Past Jeff Fassero may match Togie Pittinger's historically bad 1903 season

Last summer, when Rockies righthander Darryl Kile was on pace to
become the first pitcher in nearly two decades to lose 20 games
in a season, Brian Kingman did a strange thing: He prayed for
Kile to win. Kingman, who went 8-20 for the 1980 Athletics,
relished his dubious distinction. "So many guys come in and out
of this game," he said. "To be remembered for anything is
special." (His prayers were answered: Kile finished 13-17.)

By that logic it's not hard to imagine Charles (Togie)
Pittinger, dead for 90 years, floating on a cloud somewhere,
looking down on Rangers lefthander Jeff Fassero and cheering his
lungs out. Pittinger, also known as Horse Face, was a
hard-throwing righthander for the Boston Beaneaters and the
Philadelphia Phillies in the early 1900s. He may have been a
two-time 20-game winner, but for one year he was the worst
pitcher in the game.

In 1903, as a member of the National League's Beaneaters,
Pittinger became the first pitcher to lead his league in six
negative categories--losses (22), runs allowed (196), earned runs
allowed (136), hits allowed (396), home runs allowed (12) and
walks allowed (143). Fassero could become the second. Through
Sunday he was tied for the American League "lead" in losses (14,
with the Tigers' Brian Moehler), and led outright in runs allowed
(130), earned runs allowed (121), homers allowed (34) and highest
ERA (7.46). He was also tops in highest opponent batting average
(.326) and slugging percentage (.569).

It is odd that a pitcher of Fassero's caliber (87-69 with a 3.40
ERA in eight seasons before this one) could challenge for such a
dishonor. But as with Pittinger, who went 27-16 in 1902, a good
pitcher can break bad records. "Jeff is someone you have faith
in," says Texas pitching coach Dick Bosman. "His track record
makes you put him out there."

Fassero's troubles began following off-season surgery to remove
bone chips from his left elbow. Upon reporting to spring training
with Seattle, his fastball was still in the low 90s, but his
mechanics were out of whack. He was clobbered in his first two
starts and later endured a six-game losing streak. "My body has
been way out in front of the ball," says Fassero, who was
banished to the bullpen for the second time this year on Aug. 7
by Mariners manager Lou Piniella. "I'm never in the same arm
slot. The statistics are terrible because I'm terrible."

On Aug. 27 West Division-leading Texas, desperate for lefthanded
pitching, gave Seattle a minor leaguer to be named later for
Fassero. Bosman immediately began working with Fassero on his
mechanics. In his first start, a five-inning, two-run outing
against Chicago on Sept. 6, Fassero won with an effective
forkball and slider. "So far," he says, "I like the results."

Pittinger, whose career and life were ended by Bright's disease
in 1909, might not be so happy. Texas will give Fassero three or
four more chances to earn a spot in the postseason rotation.
That's three or four more chances to get hammered into the
record book.


COLOR PHOTO: JOHN F. RHODES/DALLAS MORNING NEWS (FASSERO) The faultering Fassero hopes he's no Horse Face.