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MINNESOTA DETROIT
Tom Verducci
May 13, 1996
Vikings-Lions? No, Twins-Tigers. Baseball is now so explosive, managers have thrown away The Book
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May 13, 1996

Minnesota Detroit

Vikings-Lions? No, Twins-Tigers. Baseball is now so explosive, managers have thrown away The Book

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The More the Merrier
In the 1990s managers have increasingly relied on relievers. Here are the average number of relief pitchers in a game in the '70s and '80s, and the year-by-year averages this decade.

YEAR

RELIEVERS PER GAME

1970-79

2.93

1980-89

3.43

1990

4.03

1991

4.26

1992

4.29

1993

4.54

1994

4.65

1995

4.90

1996*

4.96

*Through April.

To say that major league pitchers had a rough April would be charitable. In the relative eye blink of one seven-day span, they were lit up for three of the five biggest scoring days in this century. Shelled for 828 home runs—that's more than American League teams hit during the entire 1954 season—and 10.58 runs per game for the month, they got their socks knocked off as routinely as Charlie Brown does. Through Sunday there had been only four days this season in which no big league team scored at least 10 runs. Good grief, what's going on?

The answer is that these are boom times for baseball, and we're not talking about turnstile counts. "Smaller strike zone, smaller ballparks, bad pitching, bigger hitters, loaded baseballs, corked bats and higher-altitude cities," said Baltimore Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina last week, listing the combustible ingredients. "Does that about cover it?"

Milwaukee Brewers pitching coach Don Rowe was even more succinct: "We're playing with juiced balls in phone booths."

"Well, it was only one month," said New York Yankees pitcher David Cone, perhaps emboldened by having baseball's lowest ERA (2.03) at week's end.

The truth is, it was not just a one-month phenomenon. April's shower of runs was not statistically out of whack with the first month of last season, or the one before that, or the one before that. Rather, it was the continued billowing of the mushroom cloud from an offensive explosion that ignited in the expansion year of 1993. If pitchers, not to mention traditionalists, have had difficulty coming to grips with that, managers have not. They know the game has changed so radically in recent years that the unwritten rules of strategy often don't apply anymore. Job retraining has come to the dugout.

"The Book?" asks Yankees manager Joe Torre about that mythical manual. "You can throw it out the window. Years ago, if you had a 6-1 lead in the sixth inning, you closed everybody down. Now it's not even close to being safe. A five-run lead is what a two-run lead used to be."

On April 19 Kenny Lofton of the Cleveland Indians stole second base with the Tribe leading the Boston Red Sox 9-4 in the bottom of the seventh. Nobody so much as blinked in protest. "To me, that was not a big lead," says Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove.

"When we were in Colorado during the last week of April," says Montreal Expos manager Felipe Alou, "we scored seven runs in the first inning, and we knew that wasn't enough. We were winning 14-2, and I didn't feel secure. I looked at the scoreboard and saw Cleveland winning 17-3. The Giants were up 10-3. Kansas City came from behind to win 9-7. I thought, Wait a minute. Everybody scores in double figures. We haven't won anything yet here."

The Expos hung on to edge the Rockies 21-9. When Montreal catcher Darrin Fletcher was asked to recall the last team he had played for that scored 21 points in a game, he said, "Oakwood High School in Illinois. We ran the option. I played quarterback."

Citing the new aggressiveness of hitters, New York Mets manager Dallas Green says, "You see more guys get the green light to hit 3 and 0 than ever before. There was a time when you wouldn't see a guy swing 3-1, 2-0 when his team was down. Now a lot of these guys are swinging as opposed to trying to draw a walk."

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