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Working Overtime
Tim Crothers
May 12, 1997
Houston's new skipper is leaving his starters on the mound longer, A Tiger's tale, Tino cleans up
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May 12, 1997

Working Overtime

Houston's new skipper is leaving his starters on the mound longer, A Tiger's tale, Tino cleans up

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A Streaking Big Unit

When Seattle's Randy Johnson beat Milwaukee 8-1 on May 2, it was his 16th consecutive decision without a loss. That put him in select company, but as the list below shows, he is not yet close to matching the longest such streak.

PITCHER, TEAM

STREAK

YEAR(S)

CARL HUBBELL, N.Y. Giants

24

1936-37

ROY FACE, Pirates

22

1958-59

RUBE MARQUARD, N.Y. Giants

20

1911-12

ED REULBACH, Cubs

17

1906-07

JOHNNY ALLEN, Indians

17

1936-37

DAVE MCNALLY, Orioles

17

1968-69

WILD BILL DONOVAN, Tigers

16

1907-08

WALTER JOHNSON, Senators

16

1912

SMOKY JOE WOOD, Red Sox

16

1912

LEFTY GROVE, Philadelphia A's

16

1931

GENERAL CROWDER, Senators

16

1932-33

SCHOOLBOY ROWE, Tigers

16

1934

EWELL BLACKWELL, Reds

16

1947

JACK SANFORD, Giants

16

1962

TOM SEAVER, Mets

16

1969-70

RICK SUTCLIFFE, Cubs

16

1984-85

RANDY JOHNSON, Mariners

16

1995-97

Source: Elias Sports Bureau

With A 2-1 lead, one out and a Marlins runner on first base in the top of the eighth inning last Friday night, Astros pitcher Shane Reynolds thought his work was done. After all, his pitch count was approaching 100, and the Marlins' most dangerous hitter, Gary Sheffield, was striding to the plate. But to Reynolds's surprise, Houston manager Larry Dierker allowed him to face Sheffield, who promptly bounced into a double play.

After the Astros' Billy Wagner came in to pitch a scoreless ninth inning for his sixth save, Reynolds sat in the locker room and speculated that last season, under the same circumstances, he would have been pulled by Terry Collins, Houston's manager at the time. But so far Dierker, in his first season as a manager after 18 years in the Houston broadcast booth, has exhibited more faith in his starting pitchers than any other skipper in baseball. "I'm not trying to make heroes out of these guys," Dierker says. "I'm just trying to convince them that they can overcome adversity and pitch deeper into games. I'm asking them to expand their horizons."

Dierker doesn't believe his philosophy is revolutionary. In fact, he labels it his Back to the Future theory, because he's merely allowing his starters the leeway that he enjoyed as an Astros pitcher from 1964 to '76, when he went 137-117. During that time Dierker set team records that still stand for most complete games (106) and innings pitched (2,295). In the '69 season, when he went 20-13, he pitched 305 innings and completed 20 of 37 starts. Last season, by comparison, Houston's entire staff threw only 13 complete games.

"Larry handles us with a stubborn starting pitcher's mentality," Reynolds says. "He likes to let us determine our own fate. It gives us all an ego boost to know that when he gives us the ball, we usually don't have to give it back until we're ready."

As a result, at week's end Reynolds led the National League in innings pitched (54⅓), and he had a 4-2 record with a 2.65 ERA and two complete games. His teammate Darryl Kile was averaging more than seven innings per start—for the first time in his career—after throwing a four-hit shutout in a 1-0 win over the Marlins on Sunday. And Dierker is working with his No. 3 starter, Mike Hampton, on altering his power style to get quicker outs. "One of the hardest things for a young guy to realize," says Dierker, "is that the object of pitching is to make them hit the ball, not miss it. The sooner you can make them hit the ball poorly, the sooner you can get an out."

So far it's working. At week's end Houston was atop the Central Division by 1½ games over Pittsburgh, and Astros starters had a combined 3.36 ERA and were leading the league with 198⅓ innings pitched in 30 games, an average of nearly seven innings per start. "Dirk is showing a great deal of confidence in all of us," Kile says.

Meanwhile, Houston's bullpen has been among the best in baseball, with a 2.12 ERA. "We're not exactly overworked," Wagner says, "and down the road that could give us a huge advantage over last year, when we were all tired and sore in September."

Tony the Tiger

Tigers first baseman Tony Clark admits that he always hoped he would become a star—he just never hoped he would become a baseball star. As a kid growing up outside San Diego, the multitalented 24-year-old Clark, who broke a Detroit record with 27 RBIs in April, had his sights set on the NBA. "It wasn't that long ago," he says, "that I was still a frustrated basketball player playing baseball."

Who could blame him? A forward for Christian High in El Cajon, Calif., the 6'8" Clark averaged 43.7 points per game during his senior season ('89-90), and he broke many of the San Diego County scoring records set by Bill Walton. Still, though Clark barely played baseball in his senior year and was committed to pursuing a hoops career, the Tigers admired his skills enough to choose him second overall in the '90 draft.

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