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Baseball : Slow Start by Mets Gives Expos and Rodgers Some Hope

Though the 1989 season is only two weeks old, the New York Mets’ staggering start has brought new encouragement to Manager Buck Rodgers of the Montreal Expos.

“Ninety-five wins will be good enough this year,” Rodgers said of the race in the National League East.

“The Mets won 100 last year, but they have question marks now. I’m not saying they’re not the team to beat, but they’re like the rest of us now.”

The Mets’ 2-5 start through Thursday left them last in the East and was their worst since ’83, when they went on to lose 93 games.

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In the wake of an opening-day victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, the Mets (now 3-6) scored 13 runs in their next six games, batted .186 and went 56 innings without a home run.

The middle of the lineup--Gregg Jefferies, Keith Hernandez, Darryl Strawberry, Kevin McReynolds and Gary Carter--was a combined 23 for 127 in that span, a .181 average.

Frustration? Though early, the Mets were already doing some finger-pointing, and Manager Dave Johnson seemed on the verge of contradicting himself.

It happened like this: When cross-town counterpart Dallas Green of the New York Yankees said at the start of the week that the Yankees stink, Johnson was asked what he thought.

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“I don’t understand how you can say something like that, especially in a media market like New York,” Johnson said. “If it works for some people, fine, but it’s just not me.”

Not, at least, until a couple days later when the Mets lost consecutive games to the Pittsburgh Pirates for the first time since 1985 and Johnson seemed ready to say the Mets stink as well.

Informed that he was managing a last-place team for the first time in his career, Johnson said: “I know that and I’m not handling it too well. My patience is wearing thin. I don’t like to have meetings, but I’m bearing down on one quickly.

“I mean, you don’t want to be overly concerned, but you do have to be concerned. There’s a lot of changes I’d like to make, but I don’t have enough guys on the roster to make them. After starting like this and a (lousy) spring, I have questions now.

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“It’s time for soul-searching.”

It was time for Howard Johnson to blame second baseman Jefferies for not catching a throw in the two-run eighth inning of a 4-2 loss to the Pirates Thursday, the latest in a series of throwing errors that were expected to send third baseman Johnson to the bench.

“The ball should have been caught,” Howard Johnson said. “It wasn’t that bad of a throw. Several teammates agreed with me. Ask Tuff.”

Said Tim Teufel, who was playing first base: “I don’t know. I didn’t have a good angle on it.”

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Said Jefferies: “I guarantee you I’m not going to let a ball go by if I can get it. From where I was, there was no way I could reach it. You know, there’s a lot of frustration on this team. I’m not saying it’s Howard or anyone else. But sometimes someone catches a person the wrong way.”

A rookie of the year candidate at 21, Jefferies figures to age rapidly in the Mets’ self-detonating atmosphere.

How do the Yankees stink? Dallas Green could count the ways. Sloppy baserunning. Poor location by pitchers. Even worse logic by pitchers.

Nevertheless, Green has stopped short of the wall-shaking outbursts that earned him the name of Mr. Bluster in Philadelphia.

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“I’m not sure this club has an understanding of what I’m trying to preach yet,” Green said of the Yankees, who are 3-7.

“That’s part of the frustration. It’s also partly why I haven’t busted loose. It would be like spanking your kids and they don’t know what you’re spanking them for.”

One of the players Green singled out for poor baserunning the other day was former Dodger Steve Sax, a player whose spring aggressiveness Green had applauded.

Sax was thrown out attempting to take an extra base on an overthrow against the Cleveland Indians, the third time in a non-steal situation that Sax has been thrown out. Green called it a mistake.

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The next day, Sax refused to respond to the urging of third-base coach Lee Elia and remained at third on Don Slaught’s fly to medium center, depriving the Yankees of a possible run in a game they lost to the Toronto Blue Jays in extra innings.

Sax later paced through the clubhouse, mumbling about his new uncertainty on the bases to the extent that coach Frank Howard had to settle him down.

Larry Bowa, who played under Green, knows how it can be and knows that Green will have to repair some bridges with Sax.

“Some guys will fight back, some will resent it,” Bowa said of Green’s style. “Other guys will put their tails between their legs and crawl into their lockers. Then Dallas could lose them.”

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Said Green, more concerned with the overall play: “I ain’t too sure we could beat Peoria right now.”

After his team started 1-6, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner was quick to provide a vote of confidence, saying Green would be there all year.

Said Green: “If we go 1 and 161 I’ll be here all year?”

Former Dodger Pedro Guerrero, through eight games, has driven in 14 runs for the St. Louis Cardinals, including the game-winner in the 10th inning Saturday against the Mets. Seven of Guerrero’s eight hits came with runners on base, six with the runners in scoring position.

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Said the modest Guerrero:

“Probably 90% of the time I come through, especially with men in scoring position. I love to go out there with the pressure of men on base. There’s pressure on me, but there’s pressure on the pitcher, too.”

The latest of Detroit Tiger Manager Sparky Anderson’s “can’t miss” rookies is former UCLA infielder Torey Lovullo, who put Keith Moreland on the bench but is 2 for 27.

“I’ll die before he comes out of the lineup,” Sparky said of Lovullo.

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The Tigers lost 12 straight games to the Minnesota Twins before winning, 3-0, Thursday night. Said Detroit pitcher Jack Morris:

“People say they’re surprised the Twins beat us 12 times. Hey, they’re the better team.”

Pitcher Danny Jackson of the Cincinnati Reds, winless after his first two starts, used a bat to demolish his Riverfront Stadium locker, claiming later it was the work of termites.

Teammate Kent Tekulve responded by buying Jackson a stand-up plastic punching bag called “Whammo,” labeled as an “anti-stress device . . . a high tech answer to low tech problems.”

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Jackson said he would share it with the team.

Advice for the lovelorn?

The Kansas City Royals’ George Brett says Wade Boggs of the Boston Red Sox will never escape reminders of the affair with Margo Adams.

“It’ll never end. Look at me,” Brett said. “It’s been nine years since the hemorrhoid thing in the World Series and I still hear about it. The pine-tar incident was in 1983 but I still hear fans yell about it every time I put on a uniform.”

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First baseman Mark Grace of the Chicago Cubs, who hit all seven of his home runs on the road last year, hit his first ever at Wrigley Field in Tuesday’s 5-4 victory over the Cardinals.

Said the relieved Grace:

“Every time I picked up a magazine or newspaper it was, ‘incredibly, Mark Grace did not hit a home run at Wrigley Field last year.’ King Kong is off my back now.”

The Milwaukee Brewers’ Terry Francona, who broke up Nolan Ryan’s latest bid for a no-hitter, was surprised to hear Ryan describe him as one of the toughest he faced in the National League.

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“If I’m one of the toughest, I’d sure hate to see the guys he owns,” Francona said. “Let’s put it this way . . . when I see his name in the pitching probables, I don’t exactly run to the ballpark.”

Add Ryan: It was the 23rd time he has struck out 15 or more batters in a game. He did it all with fastballs, throwing only 11 curveballs and only one for a strike.

Said Milwaukee’s Rob Deer: “He couldn’t get his curveball over. When he does, I hear he’s nearly unhittable.”


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