RED SOX ON A ROLL
Back on May 18 Al Nipper severely hurt his knee. Thirteen days later, Bruce Hurst collapsed on the mound with a groin pull and had to be carried off the field. The next morning Boston manager John McNamara called a team meeting. "That's the first time the Red Sox have had a meeting for a pitcher since Babe Ruth was around here," cracked Mike Brown.
Indeed, pitching is the principal reason the Red Sox head into their intradivisional wars in June with a three-game lead. The attitude change effected by Don Baylor (page 58) has been important, but the pitching turnaround has been astounding. This team is a far cry from the '77 Red Sox, which homered in bushels and left manager Don Zimmer sifting through trash barrels for pitchers. When have you heard of the Red Sox leading the league in earned run average? Says McNamara, "I don't know what it was like in the past, but from the time I arrived here last spring I tried to tell people, 'Pitching determines pennants.' Especially in a division like the AL East." He is right, because in the previous 17 years of division play, only three teams (the '82 Brewers, '75 Red Sox, '72 Tigers) have finished first and not led the division in staff ERA.
It's not that the Red Sox haven't developed any pitchers in the last decade. Look around: Don Aase, John Tudor, Bobby Ojeda, Mike Smithson.... "We just haven't had the same patience with pitchers that we have with hitters," says player personnel director Ed Kenney. "It seemed as if we were always rushing pitchers to the big leagues before they had enough Triple A innings. Before they got a chance to adjust to pitching in Fenway, they were run out of town."
"Pitchers were second-class citizens in a lot of ways," says Hurst, who was rushed, then buried, only to get a second chance. "This spring the pitchers started telling one another, 'Hey, we're a lot better than people credit us.' And then when Roger Clemens took over, it changed everyone's thinking." Says pitching coach Bill Fischer, "I don't care how good your pitchers are, if you have that great Number 1 stopper, the entire staff is affected. Clemens is that great Number 1 stopper."
Clemens shut out Milwaukee 3-0 on June 6 to run his record to 10-0; the Red Sox are 11-0 in his starts. While New York has had one complete-game victory all season, Clemens, Oil Can Boyd, Hurst (who was leading the league in strikeouts when he was hurt) and Nipper have 15 complete games and are a combined 25-10, with a 2.94 ERA. With the injuries, Boston had to bring up three-fifths of Pawtucket's rotation, but even that trio—Brown, Robbie Woodward and Jeff Sellers—have posted a 5-4 record. It should be noted that Boston is the only team in baseball with an all-homegrown starting rotation.
Now that he has solid starters, McNamara has got the maligned bullpen straightened out. The Boston relievers have been successful 15 of 18 times. Lefthanders Tim Lollar and Joe Sambito have allowed McNamara to get opposing lefty hitters out of games before closing with Bob Stanley, who is 9 for 12 in save opportunities. For the last four years, Stanley had to do the job alone.
Things are so happy in the Boston bullpen these days that Sammy Stewart has named the group "The Savings and Loan Association." "Stewart, Sambito, Stanley, Steve Crawford, Lollar, [bullpen catchers] Mike Stenhouse, Marc Sullivan and Dave Stapleton are all S or L," says the irrepressible Stewart. "Some of us save, then we loan out Lollar, Sullivan, Stenhouse and Stapleton for an occasional start."
Yes, Babe Ruth was a rookie on the last Red Sox staff that led the league in earned run average, four years before Ted Williams was born.
STEVE GARVEY, TROUBLEMAKER