Molitor, the first player to get 200 hits in the season in which he got his 3,000th hit, is such a throwback that it was fitting that ticket-buying fans were clamoring for a piece of the past. His love for baseball was never more evident than after the milestone performance, when someone asked him if his career had now been fulfilled. "You can't rely on getting 3,000 hits to find fulfillment," said Molitor, who by week's end would run his hit count to 3,005. "I get to play a major league game tomorrow and put on a major league uniform. That's something special."
Nomo laid low after his no-no; Leyland passed the Bucs; the Tribe repeated itself
On the walk back to his Denver hotel room, an hour after he had no-hit the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Hideo Nomo stopped at a 7-Eleven and bought a soft drink, some chips and a bottle of water. Four customers recognized him and began chanting, "NO-mo! NO-mo!" He autographed their napkins and burrito wrappers and continued on alone to the hotel. What a way to party.
If there was ever a time for the laconic Nomo, the ace righthander from Japan, to revel in his accomplishments of the last two seasons, this was it: His no-hitter, the 20th in the Dodgers' storied history, came at Coors Field, the best hitters' park in the major leagues. The Rockies were batting .348 at home before Nomo took the mound, and in 40 of the 78 games that had been played in Colorado this season, at least one team scored in double figures. The last time L.A. visited Coors Field, in late June, it had lost 13-1, 13-4 and 16-15 and won 13-10. Nomo, in fact, had been belted for nine runs (five earned) in five innings in the 16-15 game.
But now, three months later, he was brilliant, keeping Colorado hitters off balance by mixing a diving forkball and a 95-mph fastball in the 9-0 victory. "In most parks you think if you give up two runs, you will win; three, you still might," Dodgers pitcher Tom Candiotti said after Nomo's no-no. "At Coors Field you adjust your sights—four, five, six, seven runs and you can still win. But when he finished the no-hitter, we were dumbfounded. It was like, Did that really happen?"
Earlier in the day, another of the game's most self-effacing figures, Pittsburgh Pirates manager Jim Leyland, made equally stunning news. After years of unstinting loyalty to the Pirates despite Pittsburgh's recent history of shaky and poorly financed ownership, Leyland finally took his own future into account and resigned, effective the last day of the season. While the bidding war for the 51-year-old Leyland, considered one of the best managers in the game, won't begin officially until Sept. 30, the Florida Marlins may be the only team he needs to hear from. As one American League general manager says, "I think the deal is already done."
Leyland and the Marlins are a nice fit. Florida's current manager, John Boles, who took over on an interim basis after Rene Lachemann was fired on July 7, is a friend of Leyland's and would gladly step aside for him. (He would return to his previous role as vice president of player development.) Leyland also has good relationships with Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga and general manager Dave Dombrowski. Underachieving Florida was 76-80 at week's end, but hiring Leyland and adding a few free agents this winter—say, Chicago White Sox righthander Alex Fernandez, a Miami native, and Baltimore Orioles outfielder Bobby Bonilla, a former Pirate—would make the Marlins playoff contenders.
Leyland was ready to resign on Aug. 29, after the Pirates projected another rollback in player salaries for next season, but Pittsburgh general manager Cam Bonifay and owner Kevin McClatchy persuaded him to stay. He halfheartedly justified his decision to remain by telling friends, "It's too hot in Miami." However, three weeks later, he realized he had made a mistake and resigned, saying, "I want to win."
A manager who has shown he can do just that is the Cleveland Indians' Mike Hargrove. Following the Tribe's 9-4 road win over the Chicago White Sox, which clinched Cleveland's second straight American League Central title, Hargrove received a telegram from members of the Indians' public relations department that read, "Tris Speaker didn't do it in 1921. Lou Boudreau didn't do it in 1949. Al Lopez didn't do it in 1955. Mike Hargrove did it in 1996!" Hargrove had become the first Indians manager to make the postseason in consecutive years.
Fittingly, in a season of change in Cleveland, the winning pitcher in the clincher, lefthander Brian Anderson, was in the California Angels organization before being traded to the Indians in February, and the man whose grand slam broke open the game, first baseman Kevin Seitzer, was acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers on Aug. 31. "This makes for a greater sense of appreciation and accomplishment this year," said Cleveland general manager John Hart, whose player moves changed 40% of the roster since the end of last season. "This is a different clubhouse this year than last. Did you see the smile on Albert Belle's face?"