Milwaukee Manager George Bamberger was strangely humble the other night after Kansas City's Rich Gale beat the Brewers 9-2 for his 10th win. On April 30, when Bamberger saw Gale for the first time, he called the 24-year-old righthander "a two-pitch pitcher," though Gale had defeated the Brewers 3-0 that day for his first big league win. Now, after being beaten by Gale for the third time, Bamberger had changed his tune. "I was wrong about him," he said. "Gale has good stuff."
Bamberger's early criticism was understandable. Most hot-starting rookie pitchers do not go on to have fine careers, particularly those who rely almost exclusively on a fastball and a slider. But it is unlikely that Gale will fizzle. For one thing, he is more a 2�-pitch pitcher than a two-pitch one, because his fastball comes in two different versions, one that rises and another that runs in on right-handed batters.
There are more than a dozen good rookie pitchers this season, some of whom are playing important roles in the division races. Lance Rautzhan (1-0, 1.50 ERA) and Bob Welch (2-0, 2.63) of the Dodgers, Jim Wright (5-1, 2.88) of the Red Sox, Steve Comer (3-2, 0.69) of the Rangers and Matt Keough (6-6, 2.62) and John Johnson (7-6, 2.76) of the A's have all pitched effectively, at least in spots. But the 6'7" Gale literally and figuratively towers above them all. At week's end he topped the Kansas City staff with an 11-3 record and was largely responsible for the Royals' holding a 2�-game lead in the American League West.
After beating the Brewers on six hits in his first start, Gale went on to whip the Red Sox 3-1 on two hits, fanning Jim Rice twice and forcing Carl Yastrzemski to hit three pop-ups. He later held Texas hitless for six innings in one game and for 6? in another. Then he learned how to pitch.
"I had been trying to be too fine," he says. "My walk-strikeout ratio [46-23] was terrible." But on June 26, pitching in the twilight and haze at Anaheim during a game that started at 5:10 p.m. to accommodate national television. Gale was urged to throw every fastball down the middle. The Angels saw few of them as he struck out 10 in a 4-0 win.
"I learned something in that game." Gale says. "I found out that my fastballs move enough so that I can throw them all at the middle of the plate and they'll naturally move around and hit the corners." Using this approach, Gale has walked just 14 hitters in his most recent six games, and last week he picked up his 11th victory with a seven-hit, three-walk performance against the Rangers.
Gale adds to the effectiveness of his live fastball and hard slider by throwing them both with an overhand delivery instead of the more common three-quarters motion. "A pitcher who comes over the top has one major advantage," said Ryne Duren, the former Yankee reliever, as he watched Gale get his latest victory over the Brewers. "Their pitches always move up and down rather than in and out. They always look like they're in the strike zone when they're coming toward the plate, and the hitters swing a lot more at bad pitches. If I have any criticism of Gale, it's that he doesn't pivot enough in the hips. People who throw three-quarters and use more body motion usually last longer than people who go over the top. At least theoretically."
A physician's son, Gale grew up in Littleton, N.H. and was on skis at age three. He began pitching as a Little Leaguer and has regretted it ever since. "Kids should play all the positions," he says. "And when they pitch, they shouldn't throw any breaking balls until they're 14 or 15. Their arms aren't mature enough to take the strain of the curve. Instead, they should learn to throw strikes and change speeds, which are more important parts of the art of pitching."
In high school, Gale was most artistic as a basketball center, averaging 21 points a game. But he liked baseball enough to turn down basketball scholarships at Florida State and Tennessee. Instead, he chose to attend the University of New Hampshire, which promised to allow him to minor in baseball. But after breaking his right ankle and then badly spraining his left ankle by the time he was a junior, Gale came to doubt his future in either sport. It was only at the insistence of scout Al Diez that Kansas City made him a fifth-round draft choice in 1975.
Gale was scheduled to start his first game for K.C. last Sept. 1, but was left in Omaha when he suffered a cracked right wrist. He won two more games before the fracture was placed in a cast.