Taylor, 34, has emerged as the closer, with 11 saves, a remarkable achievement for a journeyman whose peripatetic career with 11 minor league teams began in 1980. In '90 he nearly retired and was prepared to go to work for UPS when the Braves signed him and sent him to Durham. It wasn't until '94 that Taylor reached the major leagues, with Oakland, making him, at age 32, the oldest rookie in the majors that season. After missing '95 with a knee injury and then not making the As out of spring training, he was going to retire again, but Howe talked him out of it. Good thing. He was called up from the Triple A Edmonton Trappers on May 27 and at week's end was 5-2 with a 3.77 ERA and had 48 strikeouts in 43 innings. "If I had to name everywhere I've played, it would take about an hour," says Taylor, "but I finally made it. Someday, I'm going to write one hell of a book."
The chapter on the 1996 As will be fascinating—and hard-hitting.
The Hits Keep Coming
Last Saturday night Padres catcher John Flaherty had a pair of hits, a third-inning single and an eighth-inning grand slam, to extend his hitting streak to 27 games. Let's put that into perspective. The longest streak Babe Ruth had was 26 games. Ted Williams's longest was 23. Hank Aaron? His best was 25. Willie Mays? Only 21. Lou Gehrig never hit safely in 20 straight games. Flaherty has the longest streak of this decade. Benito Santiago, who hit in 34 straight games for the Padres in 1987, is the only catcher in major league history with a longer hitting streak than Flaherty's. "When I heard the catchers' stat," says Flaherty, "I thought, Wow, this is pretty cool."
Flaherty, 28, was a lifetime .227 hitter (in 644 major league at bats) who had never hit in more than six straight games before starting this streak. Always a solid defensive catcher with a great work ethic, Flaherty was never regarded as an especially good hitter, even when he was in college at George Washington. But he had a terrific first half last year with the Tigers, hitting .297 with nine homers at the All-Star break before falling off badly. After a slow start this year, he was traded along with shortstop Chris Gomez to San Diego on June 18 for catcher Brad Ausmus and shortstop Andujar Cedeno. The Padres hoped he might develop as a hitter, but no one expected him to bat this well.
"[Coach] Davey Lopes came up to me the other day and said, 'Joe DiMaggio called me today and told me to say hello,' " Flaherty said with a smile last week. "I'm having fun with it. But I've swung the bat terribly through some of this and still managed to get a base hit. More than anything during this streak, I've been lucky."
In a game against the Indians on July 22, Toronto's Erik Hanson walked a batter without throwing four balls. With two outs in the third inning, Hanson missed on a 2-2 pitch to Cleveland's Jim Thome, who took the pitch and jogged to first. Umpire Mike Everitt, a fill-in from the Pacific Coast League, didn't stop him. "I told the umpire, "That was only 2-2,' " says Hanson, "and he gave me a blank stare. Then I thought I must, have been wrong." Everitt had called the previous pitch a ball and had told Thome the count was 3-2. Thome knew it wasn't, but when the next pitch was a ball, he took first. The ensuing hitter, Albert Belle, hit a three-run double, and the Indians went on to win the game 4-2....
It's all but official: During interleague play next year the designated hitter will be used in American League parks but not in National League parks. This is a really stupid idea. Both leagues have to play by the same rules if interleague play is going to work properly—either ban the DH from the American League or make the National League accept it. Otherwise, the American League will be at a severe disadvantage because its pitchers, most of whom haven't batted during their pro careers, will have far less of a chance of getting a hit than their National League counterparts....
On July 23 Padres outfielder Rob Deer launched one of the highest balls anyone had seen hit at the Astrodome. The moon shot hit a cable above the speakers that hang from the ceiling. As the ground rules stipulate, it was called a dead ball. Said San Diego coach Tim Flannery, "It reminded me of the old episode of The Munsters in which Herman Munster tried out for the Dodgers."