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JUST CAN'T STOP
For closers, April 21 was a bad day. Rob Dibble of the Reds broke his left forearm and will be sidelined for four to six weeks. Dennis Eckersley of the A's blew his third straight save opportunity. Stan Belinda of the Pirates (page 76) lost a one-run lead when he gave up a three-run homer. And Joe Grahe of the Angels couldn't pitch at all because of a pinched nerve in his neck, an injury that occurred when he sniffed.
All of a sudden, Reardon, who gave up game-winning hits in back-to-back World Series appearances for the Braves last October, has a future this year. Reardon takes over for Dibble, who suffered his injury in a ninth-inning play at the plate against the Pirates. Dibble had already blown the save earlier in the inning, and then with two outs he bounced a slider with the potential winning run—Pittsburgh's Kevin Young—at third base. Catcher Joe Oliver quickly recovered the ball and threw to Dibble, who made a blind sweep tag to get Young at the plate. But Young slid hard into Dibble's left arm, causing the fracture. Up to that point Dibble hadn't been effective this season, walking eight batters in six innings.
Reardon, a free agent who signed with the Reds in January, relishes his return to the stopper role after serving as a set-up man. "I felt I could do this all along," says Reardon, whose 357 career saves are second only to Lee Smith's 362. "It was a big adjustment going from a closer to a set-up man. like warming up three times and not going in. When you're the closer and you warm up, you go in."
Eckersley, 38, has his health, but this season he hasn't had the same effectiveness that gave him a near-perfect record as a closer the last five years. His control has been good, and he hasn't been falling behind in the count, but lefthanded batters are hitting .412 (7 for 17 through Sunday) against him. Eck's second blown save in as many nights against the Yankees was excusable—he came in with the bases loaded and none out in the ninth and allowed three runs in a 5-3 loss. But the surprise was that unheralded Dion James and Bernie Williams, both of whom were batting lefthanded, got hits off him for the second night in a row.
Eckersley is the man who, since the start of the '88 season, had pitched in 318 games as of Sunday and had permitted runs in back-to-back appearances only nine times. He is the 1992 American League MVP and Cy Young winner, who blew only three saves in 54 opportunities last year. He is especially crucial to Oakland's success this year because the A's have a below-average starting rotation.
Elsewhere, the Orioles moved to a closer-by-committee arrangement after Gregg Olson was unimpressive in several outings and botched two saves. The Yankees' Steve Farr, with an 8.10 ERA through Sunday, blew two ninth-inning leads that led to defeats. ("I could picture myself going to the Tokyo Giants if I don't get one of these nailed down," Farr said.) The Brewers' Doug Henry had a 12.86 ERA through Sunday. The Dodgers' Todd Worrell hasn't pitched since April 7 because of a strained right forearm, and he's not due back until May 1. After pitching just two innings this season, the Mets' John Franco finally went on the disabled list last Saturday with a sore left elbow.
HOLD THOSE TIGERS
According to catcher Mickey Tettleton of the Tigers, "the only people who think we're any good are ourselves." That will change really quick if they keep scoring like the Detroit Lions. Through Sunday the Tigers had played games in which they had scored .20, 20, 17, 16 and 12 runs in their romp to a 12-5 record and first place in the American League East. In the 17 games combined, including Sunday's 16-5 victory over the Twins, they had scored 145 runs, averaging more than 8.5 a game. One indication of how deep this Detroit lineup goes is that slugger Cecil Fielder drove in only three of the 85 runs in those five double-digit games.