Mattingly Is On Pace for Record : Ties Long’s Mark With Home Run in 8th Straight Game
One of the cherished goals of Don Mattingly is to achieve consistency. He has done that in a department of baseball not usually associated with consistency.
The first baseman of the New York Yankees hit a home run in his eighth consecutive game Saturday night at Arlington, Tex., to become only the second player in major league history to accomplish the feat.
Mattingly hit an opposite-field home run off Jose Guzman leading off the fourth inning to equal the record set by Dale Long of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1956.
The sweet-swinging left-handed hitter will get a chance to break the record tonight against the Rangers when he opposes Greg Harris in the final game of the series.
Some of the joy was missing from the postgame celebration because a three-run home run by Ruben Sierra in the fifth inning had sparked the Rangers to a 7-2 victory. The loss ended the Yankees’ three-game winning streak and cut their lead in the American League East to three games.
Another of Mattingly’s cherished goals is to play in a league championship series and the World Series. In his four previous seasons the Yankees have not been in either.
For that reason, the defeat took some of the joy from the occasion. He intimated that the thing he would remember most about the occasion was that the Yankees lost. He also indicated he would purposely go for the record tonight.
“If the situation is right, I just might,” Mattingly told the Associated Press. “But when I try for home runs, that’s when I get into trouble.”
About Saturday’s homer, he said: “It was the pitch I was looking for. It was running away. I hit it good but I didn’t think it was going out. I thought he (left fielder Pete Incaviglia) had caught it, especially when the crowd cheered.”
The sellout crowd of 41,871 gave Mattingly a standing ovation and continued until he came back out of the dugout to wave to them.
“I appreciated that,” he said.
“One way or another this (media attention) slows down after tomorrow,” he said. “But it does feel better now that I’ve hit this.”
Long, a field coordinator for the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, called Arlington Stadium during the game to congratulate Mattingly.
“He’s a helluva guy,” Long said. “If you have to have a record broken, he’s the kind of guy you want to do it. I wish him luck Sunday, but I would rather the record read Long and Mattingly.”
When told that Long had called, Mattingly said he was a bit embarrassed because he didn’t know anything about the man whose record he had tied.
Mattingly began his amazing streak July 8 against Mike Smithson of Minnesota. He tied the record on a shot that just cleared the 385-foot sign in left. It was his 10th home run in the eight games and gave him 18 for the season.
The Yankee star has had two hits or more in seven of the eight games, going 17 for 37 for a .459 average. He has scored 11 runs and driven in 21 on the spree.
Although not considered one of the sport’s outstanding sluggers, Mattingly hit 35 home runs in 1985. He invariably hits more doubles than home runs, though. He has led the league in doubles in each of the last three seasons with a high of 53 last year.
Mattingly entered this season with a .332 lifetime average, but he struggled from the start of the season. He was bothered by minor injuries and an inability to get in his “groove.”
Then, in late May, he began to have back pains. It was discovered that he had a disc problem. Doctors ordered him to rest and there was some fear he might have serious trouble.
But when he came back three weeks ago, he was healthy for the first time and soon had “found my swing.”
“For the record to be tied after it’s existed for more than 30 years, the right guy definitely did it,” Yankee Manager Lou Piniella said.
Guzman (8-8) had the consolation of sticking around long enough to gain the victory. He gave up eight hits in 7 innings.
“I didn’t know anything about it (the record),” Guzman said. “The pitch to Mattingly was a good pitch, down and away. Give him credit.”
Coincidentally, Long, also a left-handed hitting first baseman, wound up his brief major league career with the Yankees in 1963.
Until that late May spree in 1956, Long’s claim to fame was that Branch Rickey, then running the Pirate organization, experimented with him as a left-handed catcher.
While Mattingly has hit 10 home runs in the eight games, Long hit just one in each game. He hit 27 during the 1956 season, his career high. He had a lifetime average of .270.