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In 1984, when they contended to the last, bitter weekend, the Twins were a friendly bunch of underpaid kids. This year, after a nine-game losing streak and a 10-game losing streak, they're pointing fingers at one another. "It's frustrating when you're working your butt off and [other] people are playing without intensity," said staff ace Frank Viola, 0-3 in his last four starts, after another loss last week. Viola was immediately rebuked by catcher Tim Laudner and later by shortstop Roy Smalley. "Frank doesn't have a good barometer for team intensity," said Smalley. "He has enough problems doing his own job."
Then there is Mike Smithson, who had a 7.71 ERA in his last seven starts. He says the Twins pitchers, whose 4.90 ERA is 13th in the AL, have a "feeling of alienation from the rest of the team. I never thought I'd feel that here. I just hope we have enough class and self-esteem that when we lose 1-0 and 2-1 games, we don't start throwing the blame on somebody else."
Mickey Mahler is 32 years old, lefthanded, the brother of Braves righty Rick Mahler, and a professional minor-leaguer. He spent most of 1978 and 1979 in the Braves' rotation (9-22, 5.17) but worked only 14 innings in the big leagues the next five years. He tried again this year with the Expos, who sent him to Indianapolis to start the season but recalled him when they released Steve Rogers.
"Even though people told me they didn't feel I was a big league pitcher, I never accepted it," he says. "I knew if somebody gave me a chance I'd prove myself. I kept persevering."
Last Wednesday in San Francisco, Mahler got to start when Bill Gullickson pulled a muscle. "I knew I had to pitch a great game, not a good game," says Mahler. "It was easily the biggest game of my life. I knew I was only going to get one chance and that was it." He pitched a one-hitter, his first winning big league start since 1979, also in Candlestick.
Things go from bad to worse for Eddie Haas, the Braves' rookie manager. People have accused him of being a poor strategist, of being uncommunicative, of being too unaggressive on the bases, of being unable to settle on a lineup. Worst of all, he recently got a vote of confidence from Ted Turner. Then there was a players-only meeting last Tuesday.
"We have to quit being so down in the dumps and let it out," said outfielder Claudell Washington, who added that the players should stop "second-guessing the manager and questioning what he's doing. It's up to us to do things. If we see runners at first and second and nobody out, bunt them over instead of pulling the ball right at the shortstop for a double play." The next day, in fact, Washington did try a sacrifice bunt on his own.
Haas said he didn't mind the meeting, but he wasn't thrilled at his players' bunting on their own. "You have to have a sign for that," he protested.
Andy Hawkins may be 11-0 and Joaquin Andujar may be 11-1, but the Mets' Dwight Gooden (9-3, 1.67 ERA) has been the best pitcher in baseball. His ERA in his losses is 2.86, and his team has scored one run for him in the three defeats. He hits, too. In one start last week he became the first pitcher to nail Fernando Valenzuela for three hits in a game.... Maybe pitching isn't as important as we thought. The Giants lead the National League in pitching but are last in hitting and in the West Division standings.... When the Cubs played the Pirates last Thursday, their infield combined for 147 birthdays and 57 years of major league experience. From right to left: Richie Hebner (age 37), Chris Speier (34), Larry Bowa (39) and Ron Cey (37).... Davey Lopes, 39, has become a Cub supersub. Playing third and all the outfield positions, he's hitting .326 with four homers and 20 RBIs in only 95 at bats. He's also 18 for 19 stealing.... There may be a terrific comeback story developing in Pittsburgh. Rick Reuschel, the 36-year-old former Cubs ace, is 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA in four starts for the Pirates since being recalled from Triple A Hawaii. He had a seven-inning, two-run effort in Wrigley Field last week.
Bob Boone, the Angels' 37-year-old catcher, hit .202 last season and was hitting .167 after 20 games this year. He thought he might be through. "I kept asking myself why I was struggling, and the obvious answer was I was old," he says. "I'd wonder, 'Is this a slump or the end?' I was confused. I was constantly searching for the next answer."