There was rejoicing in the National League last Saturday. Baseball's Raines of Terror had ended. After stealing 27 consecutive bases over three seasons, just 11 short of the major league record, Montreal's Tim Raines was thrown out by Los Angeles Catcher Mike Scioscia trying to steal third at Olympic Stadium. From New York to San Diego pitchers and catchers embraced, second basemen and shortstops cried for joy and managers began to breathe again, albeit nervously. Raines, a 21-year-old rookie leftfielder, could begin another reign al any moment. For the time being, he leads both leagues with 20 steals in 19 games. When the Cardinals' Lou Brock set the alltime record of 118 steals in 1974, he didn't get his 20th until his 27th game.
That Raines is leading all base stealers is a feat in itself, because there are more good ones now than ever before. More impressive still, he has been one of the pivotal figures in the National League East. Inspired by his base running, the Expos have beaten the Phillies in four of six games and are just one game off the division lead. But the team that deprived the Expos of a title last season was the Dodgers, who beat them 11 of 12 games. When Montreal and L.A. met last Friday night, for the first time this year Raines singled once, walked twice, scored two runs, stole three bases, filled in for 5? innings as an emergency second baseman and won the game 9-8 with his first major league homer, in the 13th inning. Such an all-round performance was more or less routine for Raines, who is among the league leaders in average (.373), hits (28), runs (14), walks (13) and on-base percentage (.478) as well as steals.
After losing divisional titles on the final weekends of the 1979 and 1980 seasons, the Expos suffered another apparent setback last winter when their talented but troublesome leftfielder, leadoff hitter and base stealer supreme (97), Ron LeFlore, became a free agent and signed with the White Sox. Fortunately, Raines was waiting in the wings. The 1980 Minor League Player of the Year as a second baseman at Denver, he led the American Association with a .354 average and 77 steals and scored 105 runs. The Expos thought so much of him that in spring training they installed him in leftfield and made him the lead-off hitter. They did it even though he hadn't played outfield regularly since his junior year in high school and had gone 1 for 20 at the plate in two brief stints with Montreal last summer. He also appeared in six games late in the 1979 season.
At the winter meetings some 18 clubs had asked Expo President John McHale if Raines were available; the Cubs even offered as trade bait their fine reliever, Bruce Sutter. "If we had yielded to the temptation," says McHale, "we would have run the risk of repeating the same error the Cubs made 17 years ago, when they traded a certain Lou Brock."
Raines is one of six Expos who are allowed to run on their own. "When he's at bat he makes the infielders play shallower," says First Base Coach Steve Boros. "On base he distracts the pitcher. And he's as much of a threat to steal third as second. When he doesn't get on base there's a definite lull in our attack."
Boros deserves some of the credit for Raines' base-running success. Positioning himself a few yards up the first base line from the bag, Boros surveys the mound from the same angle as Raines, notes whether the pitcher signals his move home with his front leg, front shoulder or head, and records his findings in a notebook. Boros also carries a stopwatch to time pitchers' deliveries home and catchers' throws to second. "I don't time lefthanders because you can't tell exactly when they go home," says Boros. "The fastest righthander I've timed is Rick Reuschel of the Cubs, who takes 1.25 seconds from the time he comes out of the set position. The fastest catcher is our own Gary Carter, who throws to second in 1.88. When Tim times everything right, leans toward second just before the pitch and gets a good jump, he reaches second in 3.2 to 3.3 seconds. So only a combination of the best pitcher and catcher can hope to get him."
Raines has stolen second base 17 times and third three times. "To steal third you have to be moving before the pitch because the catcher has a shorter throw," Raines says, "but you can take a bigger lead off second than first because the second baseman and shortstop don't guard the bag."
Raines has good natural speed—9.7 in the 100—but the key to base stealing isn't so much sprinter's speed as quickness over short distances. "A cheetah is fast," says Expo Pitcher Bill Lee. "Raines is quick." So quick that he can take the standard 15-foot lead—right foot on the artificial turf, left on the dirt at many National League parks—and beat a pickoff back to first without sliding. A stocky 5'8", 172 pounds, he reaches full speed in a couple of short steps, stays low to the ground while running and hits second with a controlled pop-up slide. Though rightfooted, Raines slides off his left foot and hits the bag with his right. "I took off leftfooted as a high school long jumper," he says. "For some reason my left foot's stronger than my right." On the rare occasions he has a bad jump, Raines goes to a quicker but more dangerous headfirst slide.
Raines is equally versatile at the plate. A natural righthanded batter, he's learned to switch-hit so well that he's more comfortable batting lefthanded. Says Phillie Catcher Bob Boone, "We've tried a lot of things with him and he's handled them all well." Unusually patient for a rookie, Raines has walked 13 times and struck out seven. At Denver he taped a picture of George Brett to his locker, and their lefthanded stances are very similar—feet deep in the batter's box, weight back, bat tucked behind the shoulder and at a 45-degree angle to the ground. The results are also similar, namely, line drives to all fields. If Raines' ropes don't usually clear fences, Expo Manager Dick Williams doesn't mind. "Line drives, Tim," he said during batting practice last week. "Balls hit in the air aren't worth bleep."
In the field Raines occasionally misjudges fly balls, but he has made some long running catches and committed only one error. "This kid can do more than LeFlore," says Williams. "He fields better, throws better, hits better, runs intelligently instead of just stealing, has good instincts and gets to the park on time."