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Here's another tipoff on how well we've been doing since July 19: we've increased our scoring without increasing our home runs. Chambliss and Nettles have hit back-to-back homers twice, but basically it's been three, four, five hits in an inning. During the series in Fenway two weeks ago—they're calling it the Boston Massacre—we had 67 hits and 56 of them were singles.
And remember how teams used to go into the stands trying to find a lefthander to pitch against us? Well, it doesn't work any more. Before the streak started, we were 22-22 against lefties. Since then we're 24-5. One of the main reasons is Nettles. You remember how Casey used to say, "You can look it up." Well, I did, and coming into this year Nettles was a .249 lifetime hitter. But since July 19, he's batted .327, and his average for the season is up to .277. I asked him about it the other day, and he says he's only taking his uppercut, home-run swing when he feels strong. The other times he's swinging just to make contact. He says he wishes he had thought of that 10 years ago. He's been feeling strong a lot lately, though. He had two homers against Detroit last Thursday night, and another against the Red Sox on Friday. He's got 26 now. He might be the MVP of the streak, except everybody else has been doing so great that you can't pick an MVP. It's been one of those team efforts you always talked about.
I hate to be the one to tell you this, Billy, but they ought to give some kind of award to Lem, too. He's not just benefiting from everybody's good health. He's got Willie and Mickey stealing whenever they want, and Thurman and Piniella playing hit-and-run whenever they want. It seems to have made the whole team more aggressive. You wouldn't believe the way guys are taking the extra base. He's left the pitching pretty much to your buddy Art Fowler and to Clyde King. I'd say that's kind of nice, considering that Lem's a Hall of Fame pitcher himself. King, by the way, has done a good job with young Jim Beattie. Remember back in June when he lost to Boston and ol' George ran him back down to the minors the same night? The poor kid left with tears in his eyes, but he came back throwing bullets. He beat Detroit 7-3 the other night in the game that put us in first place.
As for Figueroa, I don't guess he's tried very hard to get in touch with you, has he? He's very happy now that Lem has him pitching every fourth day, and he's even happier that Lem isn't bugging him the way he says you used to. To hear Figgy tell it, you would "come to the mound late in the game and start messing up my mind." Whatever the cause, he's 10-2 in our streak.
I'm trying to think of the best way to explain how Lem manages. One of the guys on the bench complains that he'd like to have you back because you get on umpires more and make more moves in a game, but I think he's missing the difference in your two philosophies. Lem says he hasn't been thrown out of more than five games in five years as a manager, and that most of the time it's happened when he's tried to keep one of his players from getting the thumb. Lem just doesn't try to control a game as much as you do. He says a teammate in Cleveland once told him, "Baseball was made for kids, and grown-ups only screw it up." I guess that pretty much sums up how he operates. He hasn't screwed anything up. He's just going with a set lineup. Heck, the best hitters on the bench—Jim Spencer, Gary Thomasson and Jay Johnstone—have only gotten up a total of 43 times the last month. No, Lem says he likes to see the lineup that won the World Series out there. But it isn't exactly the same bunch, because Roy White was a non-person then, and now he's playing all the time as either the DH or the leftfielder.
It's kind of ironic about Roy. He's a lot happier now, even though Lem fined him and Rivers for being late to the ball park in Seattle one night. It was the first time Roy'd been fined in his 12 years as a Yankee, and I figure Lem did it mainly to show he can't be taken advantage of.
Oh, Billy, here's one you'll like that's been going around the clubhouse. You know how every time one of the writers tries to ask Thurman a question he brushes the guy off by saying, "I'm just glad to be here"? Well, he was taken to the hospital the other night because he felt dizzy and had a headache. It was probably the aftermath of having been beaned in Boston. Some of the guys claim that when the doctor asked Thurman how he felt, he said, "I'm just glad to be here." Anyway, they did something called a brain scan and found nothing.
Speaking of writers, they're still bugging us. I thought the New York papers were supposed to be on strike. Now the same guys are working for some makeshift papers that've come out while the regular ones are shut down. Anyway, the reporters' favorite question used to be, "Can you catch the Red Sox?" We got pretty good at giving them the line that goes: "If everyone stays healthy and if we get some help from the other teams and if we take advantage of our remaining games with Boston, yeah, we probably can." Not many of us really believed it, but we said it anyway. It's like Piniella admitted, "We were flat out of it. Optimism can only take a team so far."
Now that we've gone ahead, the writers are asking what we think about it. Well, I've got to give Nettles credit for originality, because the other day he must have gotten tired of saying that it isn't over yet and that Boston can still come back. He told a reporter, "Frankly, I'm more surprised than I am happy."
I think Graig is going to get that happy feeling pretty soon, though. I think we all are. Lem told his wife on the phone after we beat Boston on Saturday that it's been a lot of fun the last eight weeks. "Even better than sex" is how he put it.