A FATEFUL NIGHT?
Remember Aug. 13—that was Friday the 13th. It was the night that one division race all but officially ended and another might have been decided by one of the biggest turnaround wins of the year. It was a night of destiny for two front-running teams and of bad omens for their pursuers.
In the National League East, the Cardinals trailed the Phillies by eight games heading into their Friday night game in Montreal, a deficit St. Louis pitcher Bob Tewksbury called "Def Con 5, an all-out nuclear alert." The Cards then went out and blew a 3-0 lead and lost 4-3 in 11 innings.
Even though Montreal manager Felipe Alou had used up all of his position players with a series of strange moves—he had already pinch-hit for his catcher twice by the eighth inning—the Expos won on a sacrifice fly by pitcher Dennis Martinez, who had to pinch-hit for reliever John Wetteland. Adding to the comedy of the moment, Martinez looked toward leftfield when he hit the ball, thinking it was headed in that direction, when in fact it was going to right.
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, the Phils were trailing the Mets 5-4 after eight innings but then scored five times in the ninth to win 9-5. The big blow: a grand slam by Kim Batiste, who had not batted in August and had only one hit since July 5. "I can honestly say that's the first grand slam I've ever had, going back to when I was five in Pee Wee ball," Batiste said. His blast gave the Phillies a nine-game lead. End of race.
In the American League West, the White Sox led the Royals by 2� games and the Rangers by three going into the games of Friday the 13th. But Chicago was staggering, having lost six of its last nine, including one to Kansas City the night before. The White Sox were trailing again, 4-2 going into the bottom of the eighth on Friday night. And they were facing the best reliever in the game this season, Jeff Montgomery, who had converted 24 straight save opportunities.
Montgomery had allowed only one home run this year—and none to right-handed hitters since Aug. 4, 1992. But White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas, who is challenging the Blue Jays' John Olerud for MVP honors in the American League, hit a monstrous two-out, two-run homer for a 5-4 victory that drove a stake through the Royals. Instead of being 1� games out, they fell 3� back.
"If we finish one game behind," Montgomery said, "we can say why it ended that way." And White Sox manager Gene Lamont had to admit, "It's hard to put a lot of emphasis on one game, but that's as good as it gets."
It couldn't have gotten much worse for the Rangers, who were tied 3-3 in Cleveland and had runners at first ( Rafael Palmeiro) and second (Doug Strange) with one out in the eighth and slugger Juan Gonzalez at the plate. He hit a line drive that Indian leftfielder Albert Belle dived for but dropped. Strange didn't realize the ball hadn't been caught, so he stayed at second. Belle heaved the ball from his knees into the infield, where it was retrieved by pitcher Jeremy Hernandez, who was so confused he had to be told by shortstop Felix Fermin to throw the ball to third for the force on Strange. Third baseman Jim Thome was so befuddled, he had to be told by second baseman Carlos Baerga to throw to second to get the force on Palmeiro for a 7-1-5-6 double play.
The Indians then scored three in the bottom of the inning to win 6-3. "Unbelievable," said Gonzalez.