MO BETTER BATTER
No one in baseball hit the ball harder in spring training than Red Sox first baseman Mo Vaughn, and so far he has kept his promise that the bashing would continue all year. "People thought it was a fluke, but now we're two months into the season," he says. "I knew it was no fluke."
Through Sunday, Vaughn was hitting .331—fifth-best in the American League—for a Boston team that was 10th in the league in runs scored and last in home runs. As the lone force in the middle of the Red Sox lineup, the 25-year-old Vaughn led Boston with seven homers, 31 RBIs and a .412 on-base percentage. "This is the most fun I've ever had playing baseball," he said last week.
A year ago he was miserable. On May 11, 1992, Vaughn and his .185 average were sent to Triple A Pawtucket—a stinging demotion for a player billed as Boston's first baseman of the future. He argued vehemently with manager Butch Hobson about the decision and still distrusts Hobson because of it. Vaughn was recalled from Pawtucket after six weeks to finish the major league season with a .234 average, 13 homers and a bad taste in his mouth.
"Lord knows I've had a lot of adversity," says Vaughn, who considered quitting last year, an option that was supported by his parents. "A lot of things were said about me—like when I went down, that I'd never come back. It was like I was a bad person or something. I had to make sure that wasn't the case. Sec, in Boston they want success right away. You can't afford to have any problems."
Last winter Vaughn received a boost from the new Red Sox hitting coach, Mike Easler. "One phone call from him," says Vaughn, "and I knew that this year was going to be a lot of fun. He told me, 'We're going to have your skills so sharp, you won't worry about anything at the plate.' " Easler, a highly touted hitting coach for the Brewers last year, was hired away from Milwaukee. He has taught Vaughn to be more focused and more patient at the plate. "The man saved my career," Vaughn says.
On May 23, against the Yankees at Fenway Park, the 6'1", 225-pound Vaughn had the biggest outing of his major league career when he hit two homers in a game for the first time. He did it off veteran lefty Jimmy Key, who had allowed just five homers to lefthanded batters so far this decade. During one at bat Vaughn laid off a 2-0 curveball from Key; had he faced that same pitch pre-Easler, Vaughn says, "I would have been hacking at it like a crazy man. But I didn't want that pitch at that time." He waited for a pitch he liked, and homered.
On May 16 the Dodgers had lost five of their last six games, were 14-22 for the season and stood nine games out of first place in the National League West. It seemed as if their 63-99 record of last season was no aberration. But then Los Angeles caught fire and won 11 straight games, the Dodgers' longest winning streak since 1976. The surge brought them within 6� games of the first-place Giants. During the streak, which ended with a 5-3 loss to the Pirates on Sunday, the Dodgers outscored their opponents 71-29.
"I think now we come to the park expecting to win instead of playing not to lose," says L.A. outfielder Eric Davis, who was a key player in the turnaround. After getting only three extra-base hits in his first 114 at bats this year—leading to speculation that he might be released—Davis took a hitting lesson from former Dodger Reggie Smith, Los Angeles's minor league field coordinator. In his next seven games Davis had two doubles, two homers and 11 RBIs.