MIAMI -- Robb Nen's heat has become a hot topic at the World Series.
Pitching in the ninth inning of Game 1, the Florida closer's fastball registered as high as 102 mph on the radar gun at Pro Player Stadium, which displays the reading to fans like at Camden Yards. And just like in Baltimore, where Armando Benitez has reached 100 mph and Milwaukee slop-ball artist Doug Jones flirted with 90, the numbers here were viewed with some skepticism, especially in the opposite dugout.
"I don't have any comment on that," Cleveland reliever Mike Jackson said with a grin. Then, pondering how David Justice was able to get around on one fastball and line a single to right, Jackson decided to continue.
"I'll just say I know he throws hard," Jackson said. "He throws in the high 90s. But to see a guy throw 102 and David Justice turns on it like that, that's kind of hard to believe. I give him credit, he does throw hard. But it seems every ballpark we play in now, they have those radar guns up there. All their pitchers throw hard, and when we pitch, it's a little bit lower. I don't know if that's a psychological thing they use, but they get a couple extra miles-an-hour on their velocity."
Florida's Al Leiter, who will start Game 3 tomorrow in Cleveland, said he believed the readings to be accurate -- and was jealous.
"It's amazing. It's the best arm strength I've ever been around," he said of Nen. "It's a gift from God.
"It's actually fun to sit there and watch that radar gun and hear everybody 'Oooh.' I've never had 102 on it. And if you look back on [Saturday] night, Livan Hernandez was throwing 89 to 92, [Orel] Hershiser was 86 to 88, I think [Eric] Plunk hit 94. You saw five or six major-league arms that came in that game and didn't hit a hundred.
"Whether it's a slow gun, fast gun, I don't care. When a fastball reached 102, that's fast."
"I don't put a lot of stock in it," said Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove. "I don't know that I've seen anybody throw the ball any harder than Nolan Ryan, and I'm not sure he threw it more than a hundred."
Cook tasty alternative
Nen hasn't been the Marlins' only effective reliever. Left-hander Dennis Cook has thrown seven hitless innings over five postseason outings, including 1 2/3 in Game 1. Not bad for someone who had pitched for six teams, including the Indians twice, before signing with the Marlins as a free agent on Dec. 10.
"We signed Dennis because we really were short on experience in the bullpen, and to get a veteran left-hander was one of the main reasons," Leyland said. "He's a security blanket for some of the guys in the bullpen."
How does a pitcher like Cook, who allowed only two earned runs in his first 23 1/3 innings this year, end up bouncing around the majors, especially with left-handers at such a premium?
"Probably when you do as good as he does, you have to pay a guy like that," Leyland said. "What are you going to pay him? Quite a bit. And most guys are saying, 'Can't we find somebody like that a little cheaper?' I think that's what it is."
Try finding a reliever who can pinch hit like Cook. He was 2-for-2 with an RBI in that role.
Grissom swings record bat
Orioles fans know how hot a bat Marquis Grissom is swinging for the Indians after he played a key role in three of their ALCS victories. Now the whole country knows.
Grissom went 3-for-4 last night to stretch his World Series hitting streak to 14 games, tying late Pittsburgh great Roberto Clemente for the second longest such streak ever. (Hank Bauer, the onetime Orioles manager, hit in a record 17 straight for the Yankees.)
In addition, Grissom is hitting .441 (26-for-59) in the World Series, the highest career average for a player with 50 or more at-bats in the Fall Classic. Paul Molitor and Pepper Martin were both 23-for-55 (.418).
The Indians center fielder can't put a finger on the reason for his Series success.
"I'm just having fun," he said. "This is what it's all about, playing in the World Series."
And don't call him Mr. October.
"I don't want to take that away from Reggie Jackson," Grissom said. "He hit three homers."
Conine coming around
The last original Marlin, Jeff Conine, started at first base against Cleveland right-hander Chad Ogea. He began Game 1 on the bench, then replaced Darren Daulton in the fifth inning and contributed an RBI single to the Marlins' 7-4 victory.
Conine, 31, batted .364 (4-for-11) in the Division Series, but only .111 (2-for-18) in the NLCS. Saturday's RBI was only his second in the playoffs, following a disappointing year when his average dropped 51 points from the previous season, to .242, and his home run (17) and RBI (61) totals also plummeted.
"What happens is a lot of guys see that average down and they try to make it up overnight, and that usually compounds the problem," Leyland said. "But he's swinging pretty good right now."
Last night Conine went 1-for-3 with another RBI single before being replaced by Daulton, who flied out in the eighth.
Too cold for Fish?
The weather is expected to be cold and wet in Cleveland, RTC with snow in the forecast on Wednesday. The National Weather Service predicts temperatures in the 40s tomorrow, dipping into the 30s as the game progresses, with showers and snow flurries possible. Though neither team looks forward to such conditions, they figure to play more in the Indians' favor.
"The weather had been pretty cold for us until June," Jackson said. "I think we have a little advantage. We know what we need to do to adjust to the cold temperatures."
What about the Marlins?
"I don't know if fish can swim in snow," Jackson said.
Mound debate continues
Remember when Orioles pitchers and manager Davey Johnson complained about the high mound at Pro Player Stadium? Hargrove also noticed a discrepancy, though he said the only time it affected one of his pitchers was when Plunk slipped in Game 1.
"The pitchers didn't say much about it, but it really does look like a high mound," Hargrove said.
AL spokeswoman Phyllis Merhige said baseball officials checked the mound Saturday, and it was regulation height.
Representing the little guy
No matter how much Leyland tries to shift the attention to his players, it somehow finds the manager. His past failings in the postseason -- excruciating NLCS losses to Cincinnati and Atlanta (twice) in the early 1990s while with Pittsburgh -- have made for a warm storyline in this series that, for now, leaves Leyland cold.
"A lot of people have told me that this really won't hit you until this winter. It's something that you'll really enjoy more later than you will right now," he said.
"The one thing I think about, and I've said it to a couple people, this is for all those minor-league managers that are in the Instructional League or winter ball or all over Clinton, Iowa. There is a chance for those guys."
Around the horn
Omar Vizquel's double in the first inning was the Indians shortstop's first extra-base hit of the postseason in 48 at-bats. Florida's bullpen had thrown 10 straight shutout innings until former Orioles farmhand Jay Powell allowed a run in the eighth inning of Game 1. Justice drew his 18th career World Series walk, moving him past Gil Hodges, Gene Tenace and Ross Youngs for 13th on baseball's all-time list. Cleveland's bullpen hasn't allowed a run in its last 10 2/3 innings, dating to Game 5 of the ALCS against the Orioles. Despite a tight hamstring, Florida's Bobby Bonilla said he'll be at third base, not designated hitter, tomorrow even if it's cold in Cleveland. "I'm not DH-ing, trust me," Bonilla said after Game 2. "I think I'm 0-for-the-world DH-ing." Recording artist Gloria Estefan, wearing a Marlins jersey, sang the national anthem.
Pub Date: 10/20/97