Arizona Tries to Close the Deal
The Diamondbacks made a gutsy move in trading two of their best young pitchers to get closer Matt Mantei from the Marlins. Granted, they gave up two players who could be headed for stardom -- Brad Penny and Vladimir Nunez -- but the trade turns a potentially crippling weakness into a strength.
Mantei doesn't just have good stuff -- he has overpowering stuff. His fastball is routinely clocked at 97 mph, sometimes as high as 100 mph, and he's only 26.
In the end, it was a simple call for Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo. As his executives debated the move, Colangelo said his years in the NBA had taught him that if you have a chance to win a championship, you go for it. With Randy Johnson at the front of their pitching rotation and Mantei at the back of the bullpen, with Luis Gonzalez and Jay Bell having career years, the Diamondbacks have a chance.
"It was a very tough call, because we gave up two great arms in Penny and Nunez," Manager Buck Showalter said. "It was a very emotional call. But we couldn't go on and hope to win as we were."
They didn't have a chance with a bullpen that had blown 14 save chances in the first half of the season. They also took a risk. Mantei has just 20 career saves and has been on the disabled list four times in five seasons. He never has faced the kind of expectations that will follow him this season, and in his first chance after the all-star break, he looked shaky in walking the bases loaded and blowing a game for Johnson.
Shouldering a Burden
The Dodgers have been roundly criticized for the 1993 trade that sent Pedro Martinez to the Expos for second baseman Delino DeShields. The Los Angeles Times this week reported the deal was done, in part, because of a recommendation from renowned orthopedic surgeon Frank Jobe. "I think I definitely influenced Fred on that," Jobe said, referring to former Dodgers general manager Fred Claire. "It wasn't all Fred's fault."
To his credit, Claire never ducked responsibility for the deal, even after being fired last summer. But Jobe told the Times that Martinez separated his left (non-throwing) shoulder late in 1992 while swinging a bat in Albuquerque. Jobe repaired it, and Martinez had a productive 1993 season in the bullpen. But the shoulder injury cast Martinez's career in a new light.
"I don't think I said, `Get rid of him,' " Jobe told the Times. "I'd never say that, but the circumstances kind of spoke for themselves. His shoulder had come out once, and once an injury of that type occurs, you can't say it won't reoccur. He had kind of a delicate stature to start with and there were already questions about his stamina. It's a judgment call, but you had to kind of wonder, `Golly, is this kid going to break down?' "
As it turned out, the shoulder hasn't been a problem. Martinez made 117 starts for the Expos and is 32-10 the past two seasons with the Red Sox. He appears on his way to a second Cy Young Award.
Here's how Padres third-base coach Tim Flannery ended up being the batting practice pitcher for Mark McGwire's thunderous display in the All-Star Game Home Run Derby. "I'm in there after [practice], eating about two dozen clams and sippin' on a Guinness," he said. "Mark McGwire comes up to me before the Home Run Derby and says he doesn't have a guy to pitch to him. I don't know what happened to the guy who was supposed to throw, but I start thinking: Irish guy hitting, Irish guy throwing, Irish beer, Irish city. Gotta be. Gotta do it." McGwire took 16 swings and hit 13 out of the park, including one 480-foot shot over the left field light standard.
Among the sweet stories at the All-Star Game was Phillies catcher Mike Lieberthal, who had idolized Tony Gwynn for so long that he didn't have the nerve to go up and meet him.
"I watched him all the time in high school," Lieberthal said. "I'm just going to take it in and watch him. If you get a chance to talk to him, that's great, but it's just great to be here with him."
When Gwynn heard what Lieberthal had said, he struck up a conversation while the team pitcure was being taken. "He said, `Don't be afraid to say something to me,' " Lieberthal said. "I said, `I remember watching you in eighth grade and you were hitting .400 then.' "
In the Spotlight
As for Gwynn, he said he was amazed at the demands on McGwire and Sammy Sosa. "I sat in the clubhouse before the Home Run Derby just watching McGwire and Sosa," Gwynn said. "It's amazing to watch. McGwire knows that he and Sosa and [Ken] Griffey are the main guys here in major league baseball, and he's always acting so responsible. He always does the right thing. Here he is, trying to put on his game face for this home run contest, and he's constantly getting disrupted. Guys are asking for autographs. They're handing him balls and bats and gloves to sign. ESPN comes up and wires him with a microphone. It's got to get old, but he handles it so well. Same with Sammy."
When third baseman Travis Fryman was injured, Indians General Manager John Hart began working the phones searching for a veteran player to replace him. But the more Hart looked, the more he began to realize another benefit of having one of baseball's best farm systems.
The Indians found their replacement for Fryman in their system. He's shortstop Enrique Wilson, who hit .405 in his first 22 games as Fryman's replacement.
"Enrique is a good fallback guy," Hart said. "Is he a prototype third baseman? No. He's not a 30-homer guy. But he's a good hitter, and he deserves the first shot. Maybe this is as far as we need to look."
The Rockies will use their current nine-game road trip to Cincinnati, Oakland and Los Angeles for one last evaluation of their roster. If they make any kind of move to stay in contention, they probably will keep the team together. Otherwise, almost anyone will be available as the July 31 trading deadline approaches. Both Vinny Castilla and Darryl Kile could be available.
Hot, Hot, Hot
Reds left-handed pitcher Ron Villone had wanted to show the Indians they made a mistake by releasing him last spring. But when he was removed one out before qualifying for a victory over the Indians last Saturday (and after he had been given leads of 3-0 and 9-4), he lost his temper. He kicked over a metal sunglass container in the dugout, fired his hat to the floor and punched a hole in a clubhouse wall. Afterward, he showed reporters the cuts on his right hand, pointing out that at least he didn't punch anything with his left hand. "I'm not stupid," he said. "I didn't punch it with my pitching hand. A couple of years ago, when I wasn't too smart, I would have. And, yes, I expect a plastering bill from the Indians." Cleveland, by the way, ended up scoring two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to win, 11-10.
Jim Abbott appears to have hit the end of the road once again. The Brewers summoned right-hander Kyle Peterson, their 1997 first-round draft choice, from Class AAA Louisville this week and handed him Abbott's spot in the rotation. Peterson was 7-6 with a 3.55 ERA in 18 starts at Louisville. He allowed 90 hits and struck out 95 in 109 innings. As for Abbott, he was 2-8 with a 6.84 ERA in the first half of the season and is believed to be contemplating retirement.
The Pirates could be shopping all-star third baseman Ed Sprague. Sprague signed with the Pirates after being let go by Oakland, and the team is reluctant to offer him an extension because it has a pair of highly regarded young third basemen in the minors -- Aramis Ramirez and Kevin Haverbusch.
What Ails Them
The Cardinals are a mess. Three of their five usual starting pitchers -- Matt Morris, Alan Benes and Donovan Osborne -- are injured. Eric Davis, Ray Lankford, Shawon Dunston and J.D. Drew have missed significant time because of injuries. And yet the Cardinals were just two games under .500 at the all-star break.
"It qualifies as surviving," Manager Tony La Russa said. "How do you talk about going through the injuries we've gone through? Because if you talk about it, people say you're making excuses. I know it's a bottom line -- you either do or you don't. But our chance in the second half is to get some reliability, some dependability, to get our team out on the field."
THE WEEK AHEAD
Matchups to Watch
Cleveland at Houston
Today through Tuesday
Cleveland brings the AL's best offense into Houston for a three-game series against the Astros, who entered yesterday in first place in the NL Central. The Indians lead the AL in batting average, hits, runs and home runs. Cleveland is led by Manny Ramirez (.331, 25 HR, 96 RBI) and Roberto Alomar (.323, 78 runs, 62 RBI). Jeff Bagwell (.316, 29 HR, 87 RBI) has been the Astros' bright spot this season. Tuesday's game should provide the best pitching matchup of the series, with the Indians' Bartolo Colon (8-3, 4.95 ERA) taking on Shane Reynolds (10-6, 3.89).
San Francisco at Texas
Today through Tuesday
San Francisco and Texas enter this three-game series leading the West division in their respective leagues. Because of injury and attitude, outfielders Barry Bonds and Juan Gonzalez did not face each other in the All-Star Game last week, but will have the opportunity in this series. Gonzalez (.313, 24 HR, 79 RBI) has led the Rangers in the season's first half while Bonds (.270, 9 HR, 27 RBI) has struggled since returning from an early-season elbow injury. A late-game lead for either the Rangers or Giants may prove tough to beat, as each team's closer ranks among the saves leaders. San Francisco's Robb Nen has 21 saves while Texas's John Wetteland leads the American League with 26 saves and has arguably the best set-up man in Jeff Zimmerman (8-0, 0.86 ERA).
Cleveland at New York
Friday through Sunday
After a two-day homestand against Toronto, the Indians take on the AL East-leading Yankees in a matchup of the league's top two teams. Cleveland holds a 2-1 edge in the season series. Derek Jeter (.373, 14 HR, 60 RBI) and Bernie Williams (.334, 13 HR, 52 RBI) have been everything the Yankees hoped for offensively, while Clemens (8-4, 4.98 ERA) has disappointed recently.
BY THE NUMBERS
Dodgers right fielder Raul Mondesi had 18 home runs in the season's first two months. He has one since.
The Mariners have offered Ken Griffey Jr. a seven-year, $106 million contract extension.
The Rockies entered the all-star break hitting .324 and averaging 7.1 runs per game at home. They were hitting .247 and scoring 4.1 runs per game on the road.
Five Cleveland pitchers combined to throw 198 pitches in an 11-10 victory over Cincinnati.
The Diamondbacks have scored two runs in Randy Johnson's past five starts.
"I would have been the batboy if they asked me to be. I walked into the clubhouse and there were lockers for Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Randy Johnson. And then there was one for Paul Byrd. We took a lot of pictures of that."
-- Phillies pitcher Paul Byrd, on being a member of the NL all-star team.
CAPTION: Marlins closer Matt Mantei was acquired by the Diamondbacks in exchange for two pitchers.