No doubt, left-hander John Smiley considered it a defining moment in his baseball career when he recorded his 20th victory of the 1991 season. Right-hander Scott Erickson probably felt the same way. But both of them have to be wondering if it was a blessing or a curse.
Neither has won a game since.
Smiley, who was 20-8 for the National League East champion Pittsburgh Pirates, was hammered by the Atlanta Braves in two playoff starts before he was traded to the Minnesota Twins during spring training. He is winless in five 1992 starts and has a 6.84 ERA.
Erickson was 20-8 for the world champion Twins during the 1991 regular season, but he did not pitch well in three postseason starts and is 0-3 with a 5.10 ERA in his first five starts of the new season.
The two have made a total of 15 starts (including postseason play) since each won No. 20. They are a combined 0-7 with a 6.35 ERA in those games and 0-5 with a 5.89 ERA this year.
This is not what the Twins had in mind when they traded two top prospects for Smiley and put him right behind Erickson in the rotation, but general manager Andy MacPhail is urging calm. He correctly points out that Jack Morris started out 1-4 with the Twins last year before amassing 18 regular-season victories, three postseason victories and MVP honors in the World Series.
"Maybe he [Smiley] needs to get oriented," MacPhail said. "He's got the equipment. He's got the numbers. He's a bulldog. Morris was 1-4 at the start, and everybody thought he was done."
Smiley might be capable of making a Morris-like turnaround, but he has yet to give any indication that he is the same pitcher who helped lead the Pirates into the playoffs.
"It seems like he's just putting a lot of pressure on himself," catcher Lenny Webster told reporters after Wednesday's four-inning performance against the Orioles. "Maybe he's trying too hard to do well. He needs to take his time and relax and let the game come to him."
Smiley wouldn't say. He spent the post-game interview period sitting at his locker with his head in his hands. He had hoped to fill the void left when Morris jumped to the Toronto Blue Jays, but has allowed 42 base runners in 25 innings -- 15.1 per nine innings. He averaged 10.3 runners last year with the Pirates. He has had particular problems getting the ball in the strike zone. Last year, he allowed 1.9 walks per nine innings. He's averaging 6.1 walks this season.
Erickson's problems have not been so obvious. He did not pitch that poorly against the Orioles last week, but ended up with five earned runs in 5 1/3 innings of work. He, like Smiley, has more walks than strikeouts, but has averaged 12.3 base runners compared with 11.5 last year.
The Twins, meanwhile, are getting by -- just barely -- on the surprising performances of journeyman Bill Krueger and rookie Pat Mahomes. Krueger is 4-0 with an 1.69 ERA. Mahomes is 2-0 with a 4.34 ERA and opened some eyes when he struck out 10 Oakland Athletics in five innings last weekend.
Bear essentials: Last week, the Chicago Cubs had a string of four consecutive shutouts, the first three at Atlanta/Fulton County Stadium, more commonly known as "The Launching Pad" until the Cubs arrived.
It was the longest string by a Cubs team since 1968, when the club tied a major-league record with four straight shutouts and set a club record with 48 straight scoreless innings. The Braves have a solid starting rotation, but that was only part of the story.
The Cubs played Wednesday's game without Ryne Sandberg or Andre Dawson, both of whom were resting sore knees. The eight position players who started the game had combined for two home runs and 15 RBI, and first baseman Mark Grace had both homers and eight of the RBI.
Get-well card: Athletics third baseman Carney Lansford is off to terrific start at the plate, where he ranks among the league leaders in batting average. He is trying hard to forget the year he bTC spent rehabilitating his badly damaged left knee, but he was forced to relive it when he heard that Chicago White Sox shortstop Ozzie Guillen had suffered a similar injury.
"Last year is over, and I don't even want to talk about it, but I feel sorry for Ozzie," Lansford said. "He's got a long, tough year ahead of him. I really feel for him. I wouldn't wish that on anybody. You can come back, but it's one of those things where you have to stay with your rehab if you want to continue your career."
Lansford may have lost some speed on the bases, but he appears to have retained his knowledge of American League pitching. He entered last night ranked second in the league with a .395 average.* Cubs curfew: Cubs manager Jim Lefebvre, frustrated by his club's then-27-inning scoreless streak, said Wednesday that he was going to institute a hotel room check to monitor the team's behavior on Thursday's day off in Cincinnati. But it's not quite what you might think.
"I'm going to have bed check," he said. "As long as nobody is in their room, it'll be OK. I want them to forget about baseball for a day. I want them to do something -- anything."
There is no truth to the rumor that several rebellious players insisted on being in bed by 8 p.m.
Strange stat dept.: White Sox designated hitter George Bell entered Wednesday night's game with a .303 batting average, but only a .299 on-base percentage. How can that be? Bell had no walks and one sacrifice fly -- which counts against on-base
percentage but not batting average.
Trivia quiz: Three uniformed members of the 1992 Orioles have **
hit three home runs in a single major-league game, though only one of them did so in an Orioles uniform. Can you name them?
More Tigers tribulations: Detroit Tigers pitcher Bill Gullickson is off to a presentable start, but the rest of the club's starting rotation has been missing in action. Gullickson is 3-2 with a 3.94 ERA in his first five starts, which is about par for the course for him. The other Detroit starters entered the weekend with a 1-9 record in their 17 starts and are averaging 4 2/3 innings in those games.
Pitching travails are nothing new to Tigers manager Sparky Anderson. From the beginning of the 1989 season through Thursday's game, Tigers starters were a combined 154-220 with a 4.74 ERA. This year's staff ERA peaked at 6.13 last week, something Anderson noted with surprisingly good humor.
"A 6.13 ERA means that the catcher is not retrieving enough balls to break in his glove," Anderson said.
Too close for comfort: The Cleveland Indians always seem to be fiddling with their fence dimensions, but nothing ever seems to change.
Last year, they turned Cleveland Stadium into the baseball equivalent of the Grand Canyon to take advantage of their speed, but the club was slow to adapt. This year, they moved the fences back in, but the results have been just as
discouraging. During the first month of the 1992 season, opposing teams out-homered the Indians at home, 17-4.
The Indians entered the weekend averaging 3.5 runs, which won't do much to change the club's tarnished image.
"Coming out of spring training, the one thing I thought we'd do was score runs," manager Mike Hargrove said. "For whatever
reason, we haven't done that. It's a concern."
Trivia answer: If you got this one without cracking "The Sporting News Complete Baseball Record Book," buy yourself a hot dog and pretend it's from me. Two active members of the 1992 Orioles have hit three homers in a game. Randy Milligan hit three against the New York Yankees on June 9, 1990. Glenn Davis did it twice, but both times as a member of the Houston Astros. The third Oriole to hit three in a game was the first of the three to do so. That's first-base coach Davey Lopes, who hit three in a game for the Los Angeles Dodgers on Aug. 20, 1974.
The month of April was not very good to a number of baseball's most productive players. Here's a list of 10 of baseball's top power hitters who are experiencing a power shortage:
Name.. .. .. .. .. ..1991 HR.. ..Apr. '92
Cal Ripken.. .. .. .. .. .34.. .. .. .. 1
Frank Thomas.. .. .. .. ..32.. .. .. .. 1
Will Clark.. .. .. .. .. .29.. .. .. .. 1
Chili Davis.. .. .. .. .. 29.. .. .. .. 0
Jack Clark.. .. .. .. .. .28.. .. .. .. 0
Kevin Mitchell.. .. .. .. 27.. .. .. .. 0
David Justice.. .. .. .. .21.. .. .. .. 1
Eddie Murray.. .. .. .. ..19.. .. .. .. 1
Andy Van Slyke.. .. .. .. 17.. .. .. .. 0
Glenn Davis*.. .. .. .. ..10.. .. .. .. 0
*Missed 113 games in 1991.
The big hitters aren't the only ones trying to pick up the pieces of April. Here's a list of quality pitchers who did not score a single victory during the first month of the 1992 season:
Name.. .. .. .. .. ..1991.. .. Apr. '92
Scott Erickson.. .. .20-8.. .. .. ..0-3
John Smiley.. .. .. .20-8.. .. .. ..0-2
Ramon Martinez.. .. .17-13.. .. .. .0-1
Jose Rijo.. .. .. .. 15-6.. .. .. ..0-3
Terry Mulholland.. ..16-13.. .. .. .0-3
Mike Morgan.. .. .. .14-10.. .. .. .0-2
Mike Boddicker.. .. .12-12.. .. .. .0-2
Nolan Ryan.. .. .. ..12-6.. .. .. ..0-1
Kevin Appier.. .. .. 13-10.. .. .. .0-2
Frank Tanana.. .. .. 13-12.. .. .. .0-2