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American League Roundup : Tommy John Is Still Going Strong, and So Is Mattingly’s Streak

This was the season that ageless Tommy John was supposed to retire gracefully and become a college baseball coach.

Instead, the 44-year-old left-hander is a key reason the New York Yankees have reached the All-Star break holding a three-game lead in the American League East.

While such highly touted pitchers as Joe Niekro, Charles Hudson, Bob Tewksbury and Bob Shirley have fallen by the wayside, John and his bionic arm have been most trustworthy.

John, whose career was believed finished in 1974 when orthopedic specialist Dr. Frank Jobe performed a delicate transplant operation, pitched another strong game Sunday at New York.

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With Don Mattingly hitting a home run in his fifth consecutive game and Henry Cotto, just back from the minors, driving in four runs, John improved his record to 8-3 in the Yankees’ 6-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox.

John gave up six hits in seven innings, then turned it over to Rick Rhoden, who pitched two scoreless innings to keep in shape for the second half which begins Thursday.

Although his earned-run average is above 4.00, John has been one of the Yankees’ few consistent pitchers in the first half. In addition to his eight victories, John has started six other games the Yankees eventually won. In two of those, he pitched shutout ball for seven innings without getting a decision.

Some people may be surprised that John is still pitching well, but the pitcher, who has had three 20-win seasons since the arm surgery, one of them with the Dodgers in 1977, isn’t.

“Everybody keeps asking me if I’m surprised with the way I’m pitching and I’m not,” John said. “Everybody thinks I’m going to break down, but I’m not. I know this is a game for youth, but there’s something to be said for an old guy who can adjust.”

John said he relies on a cut fastball, his newest pitch, in the early innings, before going back to his old standby, the sinker.

“He continues to learn how to pitch,” Yankee pitching coach Mark Connor said. “Some guys a lot younger than he is aren’t receptive to new things, but he keeps trying to learn.”

In the previous two seasons, John struggled. He spent time pitching in such places as Modesto, Madison and Fort Lauderdale, but he came back far enough to pitch the Yankees’ home opener.

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Possibly, with the acquisition of Steve Trout from the Chicago Cubs Sunday, John may be used less frequently in the second half. But Manager Lou Piniella isn’t likely to forget the job John did helping the Yankees reach the top.

After a slow start, Mattingly, too, is making a big contribution to the Yankees. He needs a home run Thursday night in Texas to tie the league record for home runs in six consecutive games. It was first done by Frank Howard of the Washington Senators in 1968.

The major league record of eight games in a row was set by Dale Long of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1956.

Mattingly now has 14 home runs. In his first 65 games, he hit only eight.

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In the five-game spree, he has hit 6 home runs, driven in 13 runs and has batted .500.

The Yankees are 55-34. At the same point a year ago, they were 50-39, trailing the eventual division champion, Boston, by seven games.

Seattle 6, Boston 1--The Red Sox have fallen on rough times this season. This loss at Seattle dropped them 6 games below .500 and 13 1/2 games behind the Yankees.

Moreover, they were done in by the Old Sarge. Gary Matthews, making his American League debut after 16 eventful seasons in the other league, hit a tremendous home run in his first at-bat for the Mariners and finished up with 2 for 4 and 3 RBIs.

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Matthews hit Al Nipper’s third pitch of the second inning off the facade in the second deck in left field. Matthews became only the third player to reach the upper deck in the Kingdome’s 11-year history. Sarge hit 231 home runs in the National League.

In the third inning, with the bases loaded, Matthews hit a two-run single.

Milwaukee 4, Oakland 3--The Brewers found a way to stop sensational slugger Mark McGwire and came up with a power hitter of their own at Oakland.

The Brewers walked McGwire both times he was in a position to hurt them.

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Meanwhile, former Dodger Greg Brock homered in the second inning and singled home the winning run in a three-run rally in the eighth.

Baltimore 5, Minnesota 0--For the most part this season, the Orioles’ pitching has been for the birds. The exception is usually when Dave Schmidt pitches.

Schmidt (9-2) pitched a two-hitter, and Mike Young hit two two-run home runs at Baltimore. Schmidt, who was knocked out in the first inning Friday night, struck out seven and didn’t walk a batter.

Eddie Murray hit a 415-foot homer for the Orioles’ other run. It was his 20th and his sixth in the last eight games.

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Toronto 3, Kansas City 2--It was hot and humid at Toronto, but hard-throwing Jim Clancy was brilliant while he lasted.

In improving his record to 10-6, Clancy had a career-high 11 strikeouts in 7 innings. Tom Henke pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his 17th save.

Jesse Barfield drove in the winning run with a two-out single in the seventh.

Texas 7, Cleveland 6--Steve Buechele singled home the tie-breaking run in the sixth to cap a come-from-behind Ranger win at Arlington, Texas.

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Pitcher Jose Guzman, pitching in relief for only the third time in two years, allowed just two hits in three innings for Texas.

Buechele broke a 5-5 tie with an RBI single off Indian reliever Doug Jones during a three-run rally in the sixth.

Texas starter Mike Loynd didn’t allowed four runs on three hits and two walks and didn’t get out of the first.

Mel Hall beat out an infield hit, and Julio Franco and Pat Tabler walked to load the bases. Joe Carter singled home two runs, and two outs later, Tony Bernazard doubled to make it 4-0.

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