Welcome to June, the former home of the Swindell Swoon.
Time was, you could depend on Greg Swindell of the Cleveland Indians to stumble like a newborn in June. If ever there was a pitcher who was cursed by the power of the calendar, it was Swindell, who began the 1989 season with a career 0-8 record in two previous Junes.
Swindell and June didn’t get along. It was his version of a four-letter word, what with a June earned-run average that nearly reached 8.00, a hits-to-innings-pitched ratio that sent Indian coaches into fits and a streak of ill luck that saw Swindell battle injury.
But now look at him: Undefeated so far in June. A pair of wins, the most recent a complete-game shutout of the Angels Wednesday evening at a quiet Anaheim Stadium. About the only noise made was the sound of Angel whiffs.
Swindell (7-1) allowed only two singles, and one of those was a high chopper by Devon White that bounced off the plate and into Swindell’s glove much too late. That same fourth-inning hit ended an abbreviated no-hitter.
“I wasn’t disappointed,” Swindell said. “It’s just the way (White) hit it.”
That about did it for Swindell complaints. He struck out nine Angels, many on a fastball that hummed past the plate. If that didn’t work, which was rare, Swindell mixed in his curveball and a hard slider. All in all, said Swindell, the performance was “probably the best of the year.”
Warming up in the Indian bullpen, he said he felt fine, but nothing to indicate a two-hitter was on its way. But then he stepped on the mound and it was different. His fastball was darting about like a hummingbird. And his other two pitches were working, too.
“I just had an exceptional fastball tonight,” he said.
He’ll get no argument from Angel starter Chuck Finley, who allowed just five hits and made only one real mistake: throwing a fastball to Luis Medina with a 1-2 count in the seventh inning. Medina promptly deposited the pitch in the left field bleachers.
“Sometimes you have to take a little bow to the pitcher that beat you,” Finley said. “Greg Swindell’s no slouch.”
Not this June he isn’t. This year he has victories over Mike Moore of the Oakland Athletics and now Finley. Finley entered the game with the second-lowest ERA in the league; Moore the third lowest.
“I knew coming on this road trip that I had my hands full,” Swindell said.
He also knew all about June, his personal month of dread. Last year, he entered June with a 10-1 record. Thirty days later, he was 10-6.
Everyone had their theories for Swindell’s struggles, including something as odd as fate. But Indian Manager Doc Edwards decided the reasons were more conventional. And simple ones, too: Swindell was a thrower, not a pitcher. There’s a difference.
“He forgot to pitch in the month of June last year,” Edwards said. “As it turns out, one of the best things that happened to him was that he struggled last year. He was like all young kids--they get in trouble and they just rear back and blow a few guys away and then go sit down.”
Not in the major leagues, they don’t. At least, not for long.
So Swindell learned. “Eventually, we convinced him to go back and use all of his pitches,” Edwards said.
Then the Indians went and got themselves better infielders, which helps. According to Edwards, Swindell should have finished the 1988 season with four more wins and four fewer losses (as it was, he ended the year 18-14).
“Did you see that (Brian Downing) ground ball?” said Edwards of a ball slickly fielded by shortstop Felix Fermin. “We couldn’t have come within 20 feet of that ball last year.”
That’s OK, Angel hitters were having a hard time coming close to anything Swindell threw Wednesday night.
“Swindell is the best pitcher in the league,” Medina said. “We got him a run and he took control of the game.”
And he did it in June.