The battle for the inside corner of the plate (INSIDE BASEBALL, June 18) continues to escalate. Last week five players suffered broken bones when hit by inside pitches and consequently will miss significant numbers of games.
Tiger outfielder Gary Ward was the first to go down, when a pitch from the Mariners' Billy Swift broke the middle finger on his right hand. Ward is expected to be sidelined for four to six weeks. Next came the Padres' Benito Santiago, who was leading National League catchers in batting (.317), homers (nine) and RBIs (33) when a pitch from the Giants' Jeff Brantley fractured the ulna in his left forearm. Santiago, who will be out at least six weeks, had thrown up his arm to protect his face from the pitch.
Then Expo second baseman Delino DeShields was felled by a pitch by the Cardinals Joe Magrane while attempting to drag a bunt. DeShields suffered a broken left index finger and will be sidelined for four to six weeks. Last Saturday, a pitch from the Rangers' Brad Arnsberg fractured the right ulna of Seattle right-fielder Jay Buhner, who had missed most of the season's first two months with an ankle injury. In 16 games in June, Buhner, who will miss eight weeks with his latest injury, had five homers and 17 RBIs. The rest of the Mariners had hit only one homer in those games. Finally, the Cubs' Jerome Walton took a pitch in on the hands from the Phillies' Ken Howell and broke a bone in his left hand. He will be out for three weeks.
Of the five players, the most difficult to replace might be Santiago. Until he heals, Mark Parent, a standout defensive catcher who doesn't hit well, will replace him.
In the game in which Santiago was injured, Parent had already been lifted for a pinch hitter. That left San Diego without a catcher. Manager Jack McKeon asked for volunteers, and infielder Joey Cora said he had caught before, even though he had not. He worked two innings without trouble.
Still, the spectacle of Cora, who is 5'8", 150 pounds, as receiver was humorous. "He looked like a giant catcher's mitt back there," said San Diego pitcher Mark Grant. The Padres have since called up Ronn Reynolds, who is a catcher, to back up Parent.
Going into the season, things looked bleak for the Expos. They had lost four players to free agency, including pitcher Mark Langston, who six months earlier had cost them three young pitchers in a trade with the Mariners. Montreal was so desperate for arms that it signed free-agent pitcher Oil Can Boyd, who had won a total of 13 games for the Red Sox in the previous three seasons, and Joaquin Andujar, who was pitching in the Senior Baseball League at the time.
But the Expos have been one of this year's biggest surprises. At week's end they were 36-28 and trailed the first-place Pirates by three games in the National League East. They were playing terrific defense, led by shortstop Spike Owen, who had not made an error all season. They were second in the league in pitching with a 3.12 staff ERA. And they were leading the league in steals with 111.