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LEN-NEE! LEN-NEE! LEN-NEE!"
The chant began in the seventh inning at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium last Thursday night, and it may not die down for quite a while. Up at bat was Lenny (Nails) Dykstra, .400 hitter (.414 at the time), spark plug of the Phillies, discard of the New York Mets. In the first inning of that evening's game with the Atlanta Braves, he doubled. In the second, he came up with two outs and the bases loaded and singled, driving in two runs in what would be a four-run inning. Then, after flying out in the fourth, he singled again in the sixth to ignite a three-run rally that would cement Philadelphia's 8-4 win.
So when Dykstra came up for the fifth time, in the seventh, many of the 21,160 people in the Vet started the mantra once heard in New York but never before in Philadelphia: "Len-nee! Len-nee!" The joint was jumping for the first time in years, and even though Dykstra grounded out to first base, the fans gave him a big hand. Not too long ago, when he was a Met, they hated him. Now that he's a Phil, they love him.
They should. In the Poseidon adventure that is the National League East, where everything has been turned upside down, the Phillies, who finished in last place in 1989, were battling the Pittsburgh Pirates, who finished fifth, for the lead in the division; at week's end, the Pirates were ahead by 1� games. And the player most responsible for Philadelphia's role in this reversal of fortunes is Dykstra. Not only was he hitting .404 through Sunday, but he was also inspiring everyone else in the Phillie lineup by playing the heck out of centerfield and being a hellcat on the bases. "He has made us a much better club," says Phillie manager Nick Leyva, "and it's not just because he's imitating Ted Williams."
Asked if he will sit Dykstra down the last day of the season if he is hitting .401, Leyva says, "He wouldn't let me."
This .400 talk is, of course, premature. But if Dykstra can keep his average at that level until June 1, he will become the first hitter since Rod Carew in 1983 (.441) to finish May at or above .400. The magnitude of Dykstra's average is only now beginning to dawn on people. After the game on Thursday night, Phillie leftfielder John Kruk said to Dykstra, "Good thing you went 3 for 5 tonight. Because if you had gone 2 for 5, your average would have gone down"
"If I hit .400 this year, the world will end," says Dykstra. "It can't be done, not with fork-balls and relief pitchers and the schedule. I saw a lot of Rod Carew while I was growing up in Anaheim, and if he couldn't do it, I sure as hell can't. It's hard enough just hitting four out of 10 balls, much less hitting them to where people ain't even standing." Dykstra may not hit like Wee Willie Keeler, but he sure sounds like him.
So far this year, Dykstra has accounted for an extraordinary 18% of Philadelphia's runs. As of Sunday, the lefthanded-hitting Dykstra was batting .444 versus righthanders and .460 at home. At his current pace, he will have 240 hits this season, the most by a Phillie since 1930, when Chuck Klein had 250. What's more, at week's end Dykstra led Philadelphia in runs (35), hits (61), total bases (83), doubles (14), stolen bases (7), times hit by a pitch (4), on-base percentage (a major league-best .480), slugging average (.550) and tobacco juice dribbled (trust us, you don't want that stat).
Dykstra is a throwback—not just to Keeler but all the way back to Java man. He once said he doesn't read books because they might hurt his batting eye. As a teenager, he and his friends sneaked into Anaheim Stadium one Christmas Day, and while his buddies tossed baseballs around, he practiced diving into the outfield wall. He is not going to make anyone's 10-best-dressed list, unless an ensemble of cowboy boots and shorts suddenly comes into vogue. And he is the recent recipient of a haircut that would look good only on a standard poodle. Says Leyva of the coif, "It looks like the barber started at the bottom, then died of a heart attack or something."
The haircut has only served to heighten Dykstra's resemblance to Bart Simpson, the pestering yet lovable fourth-grader of the TV series The Simpsons. You know, the kid on the T-shirts that read I'M BART SIMPSON. WHO THE HELL ARE YOU? Dykstra has the same protruding upper lip, the same habit of calling everyone "dude," the same (sometimes) charming demeanor. When a reporter asked him if he had changed since last season, during which he hit .237, Dykstra replied, "Have I changed? What do you mean? Am I leaving bigger tips at restaurants?"