Many Dodgers players are so annoyed with the '97 schedule that they insist they will not support interleague play, now only a two-year experiment, unless the format is changed. "The travel is tough enough without all of these two-game series," says L.A. veteran closer Todd Worrell. "We're moving through time zones like Buck Rogers, and that wears on you."
Kansas City trailed Detroit 9-7 in the bottom of the ninth inning last Thursday night when Royals pinch hitter Johnny Damon led off with a long drive down the rightfield line that sneaked inside the foul pole for a home run. Scott Cooper then delivered a pinch single. When catcher Mike Sweeney came up next, K.C. manager Bob Boone planned to give him one chance to swing before putting on the bunt sign. Sweeney's one swing launched the ball barely inside the leftfield foul pole for a game-winning two-run homer. With that unlikely thunder, Kansas City grabbed first place in the American League Central, where they remained tied with Cleveland at week's end.
This was significant because as Royals go, these guys have been more screwed up lately than the Windsors. Kansas City has not reached the playoffs since 1985 and has finished 16 games out of first, on average, since then. That's why no one was getting too worked up about the club's lofty standing last week. Or as Boone put it, "I'd be more excited if this was the first of October."
The Royals have benefited from some over-achieving performers. At week's end journeyman starter Tim Belcher was third in the league in ERA (2.35), outfielder Bip Roberts owned the league's third-best batting average (.362) and fill-in closer Hipolito Pichardo was perfect in six save opportunities. But the biggest boost had come from shortstop Jay Bell, who was hitting .322, including a .326 average with runners in scoring position. His eight home runs and 33 RBIs were both tops among American League shortstops.
Bell came to Kansas City from Pittsburgh on Dec. 13, 1996, in a package deal with Jeff King in exchange for third baseman Joe Randa, lefthander Jeff Granger and two pitching prospects. Bell was coming off a subpar season in which he was hitting just .219 on Aug. 17. Around that time he made a critical swing adjustment and began shifting his weight to his back foot early in his swing to get a little longer look at the pitch. Over the final 37 games he hit .352, finishing with a .250 average, 13 home runs and a career-high 71 RBIs, and he carried his renewed confidence into this season.
Bell's prowess at the plate has spawned comparisons between him and a more prolific Belle—the White Sox' Albert. Bell has averaged 11 homers and 55 RBIs over the last five seasons, while Belle has averaged 41 homers and 123 RBIs, yet at week's end Bell led Belle (six dingers and 31 RBIs) in both categories. "It's fun to look at all the comparisons, but I know that it's only a matter of time before Albert blows me away," Bell says. "It's like living a fantasy, so you have to enjoy it while it lasts."
Perhaps the same should be said for the Royals.
A Long Road Back
Last Friday evening, on the day he was called up from Triple A Salt Lake City to play in the majors for the first time in more than two seasons, Twins outfielder Darrin Jackson hit a two-run double and a grand slam to carry the Minnesota to an 11-5 win over the Red Sox. It was just the latest in a series of comebacks for Jackson, who has battled all kinds of adversity in 17 seasons as a professional. Says Jackson, "I guess a game like that is a good way to win friends with a new team."