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ON THE STICK
Ron Fimrite
July 10, 1989
Power and pitching have offset woeful injuries and put the Giants atop their division, fueling dreams of a Bay Bridge Series against the A's
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July 10, 1989

On The Stick

Power and pitching have offset woeful injuries and put the Giants atop their division, fueling dreams of a Bay Bridge Series against the A's

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"I'm definitely not a scientist. I just throw the ball up there and take my chances."

If by October there are enough able-bodied souls left standing on their two fine teams, Bay Area fans could be in for quite a World Series. But then again, keeping the Giants and Athletics healthy would seem enough to tax the resources of a Clara Barton. Take the Giants. They began last week with four starting pitchers on the disabled list and finished it with a fifth on the shelf when Scott Garrelts pulled a hamstring while running out a triple in an otherwise rewarding 12-2 win over the Cubs at Candlestick Park Thursday evening.

Their ablest body on the mound was the portliest. Rick Reuschel looks no more like a 20-game winner than does your overweight 40-year-old uncle, but he's having the kind of season—12-3 after last Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Cubs—that has Cy Young written all over it. "He is the complete pitcher," says Giants manager Roger Craig. "I've seen pitchers with his control, but none who could throw three pitches to the same spot, all at different speeds. He holds runners on base better than anyone in the game. He's a Gold Glove fielder [twice], and every game he starts he'll give you six-plus innings of three runs or less. He's just a remarkable athlete."

He's also a remarkable physical specimen. Reuschel stands 6'3" and weighs, oh, maybe 250 (officially, he's listed as a kindly 240). He has a generous waistline, massive shoulders and a walk like a duck's. It's not for nothing that he is called Big Daddy. Giants trainer Mark Letendre—a man who, in keeping with his profession, is slim—is baffled by Reuschel's unique fitness. "He's able to do things you'd never think anyone like that could do," he says. "He may not have the best body on the pitching staff, but it's the healthiest."

Maybe Big Daddy's durability stems from the way he pitches: as effortlessly as if he were throwing in his backyard. "He just gets the ball and throws it," says Craig. "No fuss at all." But at 40 he can still crank up a fastball in the low 90's, and he has a good slider and a natural sinker. But it's his ability to change speeds that makes him so effective, Giants catcher Terry Kennedy insists. "He might throw at 20 different speeds in a game," says Kennedy. "He plays to the hitter's greed. He knows what he's doing all the time. I haven't gone once to the mound to talk to him this year. He doesn't want anybody out there."

Reuschel's approach to his craft is simplicity itself. "I'm definitely not a scientist," he said after Saturday's loss to the Cubs. "I just throw the ball up there and take my chances. When you make your living getting guys to hit the ball to your fielders, you can't expect them to hit it to them every time."

An intensely private man, Reuschel doesn't do much talking on or off the field. In the clubhouse he is a silent presence, usually situated sphinxlike before his locker, a book or a crossword puzzle at hand. "He will read anything that's printed," says Robin Carr, the Giants' assistant director of media relations. In recognition of his 200th career win in Montreal on May 12, a San Francisco bookstore rewarded him with a gift certificate good for 200 books.

Two hundred wins was a milestone that long seemed beyond his reach. After all, Reuschel missed all of the 1982 season after rotator-cuff surgery, then sat out most of'83 and '84 while recovering and regaining his form. At the end of the '84 season he was given up for finished by the Cubs and virtually ignored until the Pirates rescued him from near oblivion in February 1985. "People have been saying he's fat and washed-up ever since," says Craig. "But when the bell rings, he's there."

Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the rest of Craig's pitchers. Last Friday he learned that two of the infirm, Mike Krukow and Atlee Hammaker, would be sidelined longer than expected—Krukow perhaps forever. What the Giants had assumed was bursitis in the 37-year-old Krukow's pitching shoulder turned out on further examination to be a torn rotator cuff, in many cases a career ender.

Garrelts joined Krukow, Hammaker (strained biceps), Kelly Downs (capsulitis of the shoulder) and Dave Dravecky (who had a malignant tumor removed from his pitching arm in the off-season) on the rolls of the temporarily sick. And yet at the end of the week, the Giants were just one game behind the A's for the best record in baseball, thanks largely to a pitching staff ranked second only to the Dodgers in the National League.

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