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BASEBALL
Peter Gammons
June 08, 1987
GOODEN READY
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June 08, 1987

Baseball

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BALLPARK FIGURES
The avalanche of injuries to Mets pitchers has been a painful reminder of the difficulties recent World Series champions have had repeating. Below are key stats for the last five champs, comparing their banner season with the year that followed. It could get worse for the Mets; with injuries to Bob Ojeda and David Cone, their '87 disabled list already projects to 340 days.

   

W-L RECORD

TEAM ERA

TEAM BA

PLAYER DAYS ON DL

METS

'87*

24-23

4.17

.267

119

'86

108-54

3.11

.263

67

ROYALS

'86

76-86

3.82

.252

187

'85

91-71

3.49

.252

222**

TIGERS

'85

84-77

3.78

.253

208

'84

104-58

3.49

.271

38

ORIOLES

'84

85-77

3.71

.252

302

'83

98-64

3.63

.269

255

CARDINALS

'83

79-83

3.79

.270

195

'82

92-70

3.37

.264

60

*through May 31
**includes 148 days to Dennis Leonard

GOODEN READY

Amid the stately pines—and blackflies—of The Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, final preparations were made for the return of the fallen angel. Dwight Gooden, who two years ago was being sized for a Cooperstown locker and two months ago checked into New York's Smithers Center for treatment for drug abuse, made his last minor league appearance for the Tidewater Tides before returning to the Mets and a starting assignment against the Pirates on Friday. "He looks the same to me," said Maine Guides first baseman Al LeBoeuf. Minor leaguers can talk like that about Gooden. After all, on Sunday he was the youngest player on either roster.

Relishing the 94� heat, Doctor K fired a one-hitter and struck out 10 in six innings—and convinced everyone that his stuff is back. "There's no question that he's ready," said Mets minor league pitching coach Greg Pavlik, who jumped into a waiting car with Gooden after the game to catch a flight to New York.

"There isn't any comparison between what he's throwing now and what he was throwing in spring training," said tidewater manager Mike Cubbage. Because Gooden was not allowed to speak to the media during his rehab, Mets p.r. assistant Dennis D'Agostino read some postgame quotes attributed to Gooden and then described his June 5 return as a "temporary definite."

Gooden had pitched like the Gooden of 1985. What had been missing in his three previous minor league starts (20 IP, 21 H, 7 R, 5 ER, 8 BB, 17 K) was control of his breaking pitches and movement on his fastball. On Sunday, his fastball was hopping and his curveball was untouchable.

The good news couldn't come at a better time for the Mets, who need him desperately. Bobby Ojeda is out for the season with an elbow injury and David Cone is out at least until August with a broken finger. Rick Aguilera is sidelined for two to three weeks with a tight elbow. Sid Fernandez missed a start because of a sprained knee, and what was once the best pitching staff in baseball is using guys named John Mitchell, Tom Edens, Terry Leach and Jeff Innis.

But while Gooden is clearly ready physically, it remains to be seen if he is ready for the tabloid onslaught. He is no grizzled veteran, and it's a giant leap from Old Orchard to the Big Apple.

ARMS CRISIS

Friday, May 29, was a typical 1987 night in baseball. The 13 games produced an average of 13 runs. "The pitching shortage is becoming a crisis," says Brewer G.M. Harry Dalton. Last week, for instance, Jack Lazorko, Steve Carlton, Phil Niekro, Tommy John, Len Barker, Lary Sorensen and Jerry Reuss all started games. All are former releasees. Through Sunday eight of the 10 pitchers on the Cleveland staff had ERAs over 5.00. Only eight teams had staff ERAs under 4.00. All of which may be good news for Detroit. If the Tigers can get Willie Hernandez back in form, they can win the AL East because they have the best pitching staff in the division (yes, the Yankees may be overly giddy about their starters). But Hernandez is a big if: He's had two stints on the disabled list, and his hesitancy to pitch in a Toledo exhibition last week so irked Sparky Anderson that the manager cracked, "Maybe we'll leave him in the hospital the rest of the year." If Hernandez struggles, Sparky may turn more often to rookie surprise Mike Henneman, who not only has a superb split-fingered fastball but also throws a rising split-fingered pitch that he calls a "spoonball."

...Few pitches of any kind have been getting past the Cardinals' Jack Clark, who had 35 RBIs in May. "Pitching aside, the Cardinals have the best all-around team in the league," says Dodger scout Jerry Stephenson, "but the key to that team is Jack Clark. He's the National League's franchise player. St. Louis has had as many injuries this year as last. The difference is Clark." Says Oakland coach Jim Lefebvre, " Clark is the most exciting hitter in the game." If he beats his own injury jinx, this will be the year Clark finally gets his due....

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