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Ron Fimrite
September 01, 1980
The nation is tuned in as Kansas City's George Brett makes the most serious run at batting .400 since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941
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September 01, 1980

Brett May Do It Yet

The nation is tuned in as Kansas City's George Brett makes the most serious run at batting .400 since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941

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"He has such sound fundamentals, a good swing and all that confidence," says the Indians' pitching coach, Dave Duncan. "The thing you have to do is get him to go after that first pitch. If you try to pitch him too fine, you'll wind up with a 3-and-1 count, and then you've got to come in with the ball. The biggest thing is not to be afraid to throw the ball over the plate."

When a hitter is as hot as Brett, a pitcher might be forgiven for looking ahead with apprehension to his spot in the batting order. The sight of Brett in the on-deck circle can be disconcerting. "If you've got a guy on second and Brett on deck, you just have to get the hitter in front of him [usually Hal McRae] out," says Garland. "You have to bear down on that hitter, try for a strikeout or a popup. You can't lose your concentration."

The Indians' Len Barker held Brett to one single in three times at bat during his seven innings on the mound last Friday and came away from the confrontation feeling he had acquitted himself with honor. "You've got to go after him," Barker says. "I threw him fastballs away and curveballs in on his hands. Twice I got him out on curves. But he can adjust to anything. He pulled a high fastball away for his hit. I didn't expect that."

Brett isn't seeing as many good pitches as he did earlier in the year. Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver recently ordered him walked intentionally with runners already on first and second and the score tied 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth. With the bases now loaded, the next Kansas City hitter, Amos Otis, was unintentionally walked, forcing in the winning run. Brett will take the walks, but he doesn't like them. He walked only 51 times in 154 games last year. Already this season he has walked 42 times, which has contributed measurably to his extraordinary on-base percentage of .519. He rarely strikes out, averaging only one in every 24 plate appearances, and he has hit safely in 84% of the games he has started.

"The best defense against this kind of hitter," says Cleveland Manager Dave Garcia, "is to place your fielders in the right spots and then have your pitchers force him to hit line drives right at them."

Brett had one more opportunity on Saturday to get his average back over .400, but, as the big crowd booed, Indian reliever Victor Cruz walked him intentionally with one out and Willie Wilson on second base. Brett established once more his credentials as an all-round player by breaking up a certain double play on Willie Aikens' grounder with a diving slide into second base. The fans gave him a standing ovation as he jogged off the field—he now receives standing ovations in Kansas City for adjusting his cap—but he was still batting only .399 and a new three-game hitting streak had been terminated.

"I'm tired of starting new hitting streaks every other day," Brett joked in the clubhouse. And he didn't appear as discouraged as his zealous followers had been about the sorry decline of his batting average. After all, hanging in his dressing cubicle is a decoupage with a poem entitled That Man Is A Success. "Who knows, I might get five hits tomorrow," that man said confidently. And, as American League pitchers have come to realize, he wasn't exaggerating.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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