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Raines's splashy return to action amazes; prompts lively ball talk

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The rain in Spain may fall mainly on the plain, but when they sing about the Raines in Montreal, it usually means stormy weather (and an early shower) for the opposing pitcher. Think about it. Free-agent outfielder and 1986 National League batting champion Tim Raines misses all of spring training, sits out the first month of the season, and then re-signs with Montreal. Got to be some rough edges, right? In fact, most players would be sandpapering their hitting stroke for a month.

But at New York's Shea Stadium, with his first swing in his first 1987 at-bat, Raines hits a triple. To prove it was no fluke, he goes on to collect four hits in five trips to the plate, including a game-winning grand slam home run in the tenth inning. Then three days later he belts a seventh-inning homer to beat the Atlanta Braves.

All this from a man whose spring training consisted of participating in a women's aerobic's class, working out with his former high school team, and playing in one simulated game in Florida.

Wondering how any player could come back practically cold and do so well, I sought out Manny Mota, batting instructor of the Los Angeles Dodgers and baseball's all-time leader in pinch hits. Mota was so good at steering the ball into places where nobody could field it that even at age 42 he managed to hit .429 coming off the bench.

``First you have to remember that Tim Raines is very talented natural hitter,'' explained Manny. ``He has a short, disciplined stroke; he has good reflexes; he doesn't need a lot of time.

``What he needs mostly is to make sure he has his rhythm before he plays,'' Mota continued. ``My guess is that the high school kids who pitched to him probably threw between 80 and 86 miles an hour, not unusual today. A chance like that is all a talent like Raines ever needs to get ready.''

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