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Baseball
Jeff Pearlman
May 21, 2001
In the SwingThe Cardinals swept into first, thanks in large part to surprising slugger J.D. Drew
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May 21, 2001

Baseball

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SHORTSTOP, TEAM

20-HOMER SEASONS

SEASONS (HOME RUNS)

Ernie Banks, Cubs

7

'55 (44), '56 (28), '57 (43), '58 (47), '59 (45), '60 (41), '61 (29)

Rich Aurilia, Giants

2

'99 (22), 2000 (20)

Alvin Dark, Giants

2

'53 (23), '54 (20)

Barry Larkin, Reds

2

'91 (20), '96 (33)

In the Swing
The Cardinals swept into first, thanks in large part to surprising slugger J.D. Drew

Last Saturday afternoon the player who was tied for 10th in the Cardinals' home run race dressed by his Busch Stadium locker, virtually unnoticed. As his teammates celebrated a 5-2 win over the Cubs, Mark McGwire, owner of one homer (in 21 at bats) and out indefinitely with tendinitis in his right knee, slipped on his sunglasses and—without a word—left the building. So it goes in St Louis, where Big Mac's big bat has barely been missed.

With a 13-4 defeat of the Cubs on Sunday that completed a three-game series sweep, the Cardinals took over first place in the NL Central from suddenly flat Chicago and established that even without McGwire, they're the team to beat. If St. Louis manager Tony La Russa is smiling over a bullpen that had a 3.18 ERA through Sunday and crowing about an offense that was scoring 5.61 runs a game, he must have been positively giddy over the performance of righrfielder J.D. Drew, who, in his third full season, seems to have become the player everyone had expected him to be. Against the Cubs, Drew went 6 for 12 with three homers and 5 RBIs, lifting his season marks to .309, 14 HRs and 29 RBIs. In McGwire's absence Drew, along with sensational rookie third baseman Albert Pujols (.370, 13,42), had emerged as a potent middle-of-the-order power source. "I don't think anyone in this lineup is going to hit 70 home runs," said Drew on Saturday, shortly after he turned a 100-mph Kyle Farnsworth fastball into a 417-foot solo shot, "but if we all contribute a little more than usual, we can make Mark's absence a little less painful."

Drew is only 25, which is easy to forget in light of the fact that he's in his fifth pro season. He's a pariah to Philadelphia fans because after the Phillies took him with the No. 2 pick in the June 1997 draft, he demanded $11 million, then joined St. Paul of the independent Northern League rather than sign with the Phillies, who offered $2.05 million. St. Louis selected Drew in '98 with the fifth choice in the first round and paid him $7 million over four years. He enjoyed immediate success with the Cardinals, batting .417 in a 14-game September call-up.

Since then he has been good but hardly a star. In the spring of 2000, when St. Louis acquired Jim Edmonds from Anaheim, La Russa moved Drew from centerfield to right. "I had, what, a week to learn a new position?" says Drew, who batted .295 with 18 homers last season. "I'm finally getting comfortable."

Where he has gotten most comfortable is at the plate. Drew has always owned one of the big leagues' most compact, fluid swings, but this year something has clicked. La Russa attributes much of Drew's hitting success to an increased knowledge of opposing pitchers, who can no longer sneak fastballs past him. "People expect so many things out of some players, but we all need rime to develop," La Russa says. "J.D. has had that time, and you're seeing the results."

Drew says comfort at home has led to comfort at the ballpark. During the off-season he bought a condo in a suburb of St. Louis and spent most of the winter there instead of back home in Hahira, Ga. Brian Higgs, a high school friend from Hahira, moved in, and the two hunt and fish together. "This is the most at-home I've felt in my career" Drew says. "If you're comfortable in your life, it helps in a lot of areas."

Umps on Beanballs
Distressing Discretion

It seemed like a good idea at the time. In February the commissioner's office tried to put an end to beanball wars by encouraging umpires to eject without warning any pitcher who an ump deemed had thrown at a hitter intentionally. According to a memo distributed by Major League Baseball vice president Sandy Alderson, umpires were to begin using their discretion in determining who was thrown at on purpose and who wasn't, keeping in mind that "given the skill level of most major league pitchers, a pitch that is thrown at the head of a hitter more likely than not was thrown there intentionally." The umpire would have the choice of tossing the pitcher without further ado or of warning the two teams that the next time he believed a pitcher had thrown at a hitter, that pitcher would be ejected.

The decree has created chaos and frustrated players and managers, as umpires have applied their discretion inconsistently. To wit: On May 2 umpire Paul Emmel warned Cardinals righthander Matt Morris after Morris had plunked the Marlins' Preston Wilson, but no automatic ejection was issued the following inning after Moms hit Alex Gonzalez. "Even after a warning, it's up to their discretion," complained Florida manager John Boles.

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