- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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For Yastrzemski, it was his first thumb since 1975, which bodes well for Red Sox fans awaiting another pennant. In the ninth inning of a game against the Texas Rangers that Boston was winning 8-0, Yaz was called out for swinging at and missing a 2-2 pitch. Well, third base Umpire Vic Voltaggio called it a swing when the Rangers made an appeal. Yaz thought he'd checked it, and instead of going directly back to the dugout, he made a loop in the direction of Voltaggio. "I didn't swear at him," said Captain Carl later. "I told him he was doing a lousy job." Yaz winked. "Then I proceeded to show him exactly what a checked swing was."
Rose, normally the model of decorum, lost his cool when rookie Umpire Randy Marsh called him out on strikes in the ninth inning of a close game Rose's Phillies were playing with the Padres. The pitch in question was at least three inches outside, and no doubt was seen as such by the other umps, the members of both teams and the 26,695 fans at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium. "Strike three," yelled Marsh. "Your bleeping bleep," yelled Rose, thereby earning himself some immediate time off. By his own recollection the ejection was his first since his old team, Cincinnati, was playing at Crosley Field at least a dozen years ago, though Rose cannot recall exactly when and why it last occurred.
Rose's and Yastrzemski's dismissals offer clues as to why these otherwise perfect gentlemen are having what would be wonderful years for 22-year-olds at ages when they should be scouts or something—certainly anything but driving forces for their teams in hot pennant races. "I don't want to give even one at bat away," said Yaz on Sunday afternoon. "I don't want to give away one strike. It doesn't matter if it's 8-0 or 1-0. You've got to have that competitiveness inside. That's the name of the game." Interjected Rightfielder Dwight Evans, a clubhouse neighbor, "Actually he only wanted to get an early beer.... I'm just being facetious."
At the end of last week the Phillies and Red Sox were in virtual ties for first place in their respective divisions. But apparently Philadelphia was the more virtuous of the two, because it was .001 of a point ahead of the Cardinals in the National League East and Boston was .002 of a point behind the Brewers in the American League East.
Meanwhile, Rose is fighting for another hit title—his eighth—with 96 (and a .287 average) at midseason. He doubled off the Cardinals' John Stuper on June 22 to pass Henry Aaron, take possession of second place on the alltime hit list with 3,772 and enter the homestretch of his race against time and Ty Cobb. Rose expects to pass Cobb's 4,191 hits by the 1984 All-Star Game. He has already equaled Cobb's record of seven hitting streaks of 20 or more games by batting safely in 21 straight from June 7 through June 27.
The other day Rose was asked what Cobb's hit record would mean to him. Uncharacteristically, he hemmed and hawed for a full 20 seconds. Finally he said, "I think the record that will stand forever is Aaron's 755 homers. Cobb's record can be broken by a guy who plays every day, hits from both sides and plays for an offensive team. But you take a guy who comes up at 20 and averages 35 homers for 20 years and he'll still be 55 short."
A bit of undue modesty there. You take a guy who averages 200 hits for 20 years and he'll be 191 short of Cobb. As it happens, Rose will finish this, his 20th season, with about 3,900.
But Rose won't be content to stop anywhere short of 4,192. He's obsessed by the record, though he tries to deflect discussion of its meaning to him. Consider the matter of his batting second behind Outfielder Bob Dernier, who has the Phillies' rookie stolen-base record, with 35 at the end of last week. The situation costs Rose at bats and forces him to take pitches and hit behind the runner. He doesn't complain openly—"I would only bat first if it helped the team," he says—but he makes it clear by inference that he'd rather lead off. "My average dropped when Lonnie Smith was moved to leadoff last September," he says.
How much does each hit mean to Rose? Last Friday night he smashed a line drive to left that the Dodgers' Rick Monday badly misplayed. Monday raced back, turned the wrong way and reached up. The ball bounced off the heel of his glove for a clear-cut, two-base error. But Rose wasn't satisfied with the scorer's decision. "Monday wasn't stationary, was he?" Rose said to reporters after the game. "The ball would have reached the fence on the fly, wouldn't it?"