Some highs, lows, and unusual twists of the '86 baseball season
Major league baseball has just completed another regular-season tapestry of more than 2,000 games. Its most striking feature, of course, was the crowning of four new division champions -- the Boston Red Sox, California Angels, New York Mets, and Houston Astros -- who begin play in the league chamionship series tonight and Wednesday. But along the way there were many feats, follies, and peculiar developments -- some obvious, others obscure -- that gave the season its special texture. What follows is a sampling of these. Best two-out rally: In what looked more like batting practice than a real game, Boston scored 11 runs with two outs in an incredible sixth-inning explosion against Cleveland. The winning run in this 24-5 rout scored on a balk.
Most bizarre home run: An inside-the-park job hit into a pea-soup fog by Toronto's Kelly Gruber. Detroit center fielder Pat Sheridan lost sight of it until he heard the ball land behind him.
Most frustrated baserunner: Rookie infielder Robby Thompson of the San Francisco Giants, who was caught stealing four times in the same game, a major league record. In Thompson's defense, manager Roger Craig explained that the hit-and-run had been on the first three times, but the batter hadn't made contact. Besides, how could you fault a player who had collected three singles plus a sacrifice fly, and driven in two runs in a 7-6, 12-inning victory over Cincinnati?
Most redeeming hit: San Francisco's Bob Brenly, a catcher-turned-third baseman for the day, became the first player to make four errors in an inning since Lenny Merullo of the Cubs in 1942. Fortunately, he got off the hook by hitting two homers, including a solo shot with two out in the ninth that gave the Giants a 7-6 victory over Atlanta.
Most overpowering pitching effort: A tough call among several candidates, including (1)the 13-strikeout no-hitter thrown by Houston's Mike Scott in a dramatic division-clinching victory; (2)the major league record 20-strikeout game turned in by Boston's Roger Clemens against Seattle; and (3)the incredible feat of Houston rookie Jim Deshaies in striking out eight straight batters at the start of a game with the Dodgers.
Greatest slugging display: Atlanta's Bob Horner had a dream game against Montreal, belting four home runs in five at-bats. Still, the Braves lost 11-8, as three of Horner's blasts came with the bases empty. After briefly tying for the National League home run lead, he slipped well off the pace of Philadelphia's Mike Schmidt, who finished with 37. The last player to hit four homers in a game, ironically, was Schmidt a decade earlier.
Most shocking batting average: Pete Rose's .219 mark. Though Rose hasn't hit .300 since 1981, no one ever expected a season like this. Cincinnati's player-manager never found his accustomed groove at the plate, and consequently used himself sparingly.
Best pitching turnaround: The low point for Jack Morris came during a June outing against the Yankees, in which the first four hits he yielded were home runs. Once the perennial Detroit act got into gear, however, he transformed a 5-4 start into a 21-8 record. He was 14-2 over the second half of the season, and at one point went 44 innings without giving up an earned run.
Most dubious pitching record: Minnesota's Bert Blyleven, a 17-year veteran and former 20-game winner, surpassed Hall of Famer Robin Roberts by serving up 50 home run pitches. The record-breaking 47th homer was hit by Cleveland's Jay Bell on the first pitch of his first major league at-bat. Ironically, Bell was involved in the trade in 1985 that brought Blyleven to Minnesota. Roberts sympathetically observed that his successor probably pitches in the ``worst home run park ever built,'' Minneapolis's Metrodome, alias the Homerdome.
Most ingenious fielding play: When San Francisco pitcher Terry Mulholland couldn't get a fielded ball out of his glove, he threw the glove to first base for the out.
Shortest managing stint: John Vukovich's one day with the Chicago Cubs. Placed at the helm when Jim Frey was fired, the team's first base coach managed two games, both decided in extra innings. The Cubs lost the first game to St. Louis 1-0 in 10 innings, but came back to win the second 3-2 in the 11th. Afterward, Vukovich was replaced by Gene Michael.
Most elusive pitch: Charlie Hough's knuckleball. Rich Gedman's inability to handle it in the All-Star Game made headlines, though the American League held on to win. During the regular season, the Texas hurler nearly pitched a no-hitter, only to lose when a defensive specialist brought in to catch allowed two passed balls.
Lightest hitting team: The St. Louis Cardinals, whose 58 homers were three fewer than Roger Maris hit in 1961.
Rudest return to baseball: Earl Weaver probably wishes he'd never been talked back into the Baltimore dugout. The Orioles finished last for the only time in their 33-year history, convincing Weaver, who once guided a perennial contender, to quit for keeps.
Most cockeyed playoff plan: Fortunately, the Chicago Cubs ``cooperated'' and failed, by 37 games, to win their division. If they hadn't, the National League was prepared to schedule the Cubs' postseason home games in St. Louis. This supposedly was the only way to abide by a TV contract calling for prime-time coverage, an impossibility at lightless Wrigley Field.
Most intellectual newcomer: ``I've always found baseball the most satisfying and nourishing game outside of literature,'' Bartlett Giamatti said after he was named to replace Chub Feeney as president of the National League. Giamatti brings rare academic credentials to his post. He came to the job from Yale University, where he has taught and served as president.
Least likely major leaguer: Los Angeles infielder Craig Shipley, only the second Australian to play in the majors. The other was John Quinn, who played for six teams from 1884 to 1901.
Best spoiler: California rookie Wally Joyner, who twice broke up no-hitters in the ninth inning.