One of the best ways to judge the effectiveness of a pitching staff is to see how it stacks up in terms of bases on balls. Pitchers who allow too many free trips to first base give away extra runs, put pressure on their own hitters, and often get the manager fired. But whenever walks are kept to a minimum, you're halfway home in terms of building a contending ball club.
Boston's early American League East leaders are a case in point. Not only do the Red Sox pitchers have the lowest earned-run average in the league, they've also given up fewer walks than their counterparts on any other team.
Asked how Boston had gone about assembling its present staff, pitching coach Bill Fischer, who holds the major league record for going 84 consecutive innings without issuing a walk, told me:
``Basically a pitching coach can only play the hand he's been dealt. Since this is only my second year with the Red Sox, most of our strong-armed kids were here before I was. But I know Boston has a big commitment to its farm system -- signing good prospects and then spending a lot of time developing them into major leaguers.
``Of course it helps tremendously when you've got a young pitcher like Roger Clemens heading up your staff -- a kid you can put out there every five days and know he's going to keep you in most games,'' Fischer continued. ``Clemens wins because he consistently throws his fastball in the high 90s, which is about seven miles an hour harder than most of the top pitchers in baseball. Actually he's got two fastballs, one that rides up past the hitter and the other that explodes down and away.''
What was almost as remarkable to Fischer as Clemens's 20 strikeouts against the Seattle Mariners on April 29 (a major league record for nine innings), was the fact that he didn't walk anyone. According to the Red Sox pitching coach, control is two things -- having the proper body mechanics, and having so much confidence in your pitches that you're not afraid to challenge the hitters with any of them.
As for the four other young pitchers in Boston's regular starting rotation -- Dennis (Oil Can) Boyd, Bruce Hurst, Al Nipper (currently sidelined with an injury), and Mike Brown -- Fischer has kept a few superlatives in the rhetoric barrel for them, too.
While the 6 ft. 1 in., 155 lb. Boyd appears skinny, Fischer says, he has plenty of strength in the two keys areas for a pitcher -- the legs and the arm. This year he also has been able to raise his level of pitching another notch with men on base.
The coach says Hurst's curveball can actually be too good at times -- so much so that he even fools the umpires with it.
``John [manager John McNamara] and I have had to get on some of the umps for anticipating the pitch's location and making their calls too soon,'' Fischer said. ``Earlier, Bruce was losing some strikes, but we've complained enough now so that I think the situation has been straightened out.''
Bill can also give you a lecture on Nipper's toughness in the face of numerous setbacks, or on the vast improvement of Brown, who had created a lot of doubts in two previous chances with Boston.
Veteran relievers Bob Stanley and Steve Crawford, plus newcomers Sammy Stewart and Joe Sambito, have also shown that maybe the critics underestimated Boston's bullpen, which had only 24 saves a year ago.
But while the other starters and the bullpen crew have all been effective, they are mere light bulbs compared with the way Clemens (8-0) has blazed his way into the record books! Cowley mows down Rangers, for a while
It will hardly make anyone forget Carl Hubbell's feat of striking out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin in succession during the 1934 All-Star Game, but Chicago White Sox pitcher Joe Cowley is the new king of consecutive ``Ks'' at the start of a contest.
When Cowley fanned the first seven Texas batters the other night, he became the first major league pitcher in the 20th century to do so -- matching a feat accomplished before only by Mickey Welch of the old New York Gothams back in 1884. The modern record of six in a row had been held by five hurlers -- Bert Blyleven, Ray Culp, and John Hiller in the American League and Andy Messersmith and Pete Falcon in the National.
Cowley's strikeouts came against Oddibe McDowell, Scott Fletcher, Pete O'Brien, Pete Incaviglia, Gary Ward, George Wright, and Steve Buechele. The string ended when Orlando Mercado flied out to left field, and things continued going downhill for Joe thereafter; he failed to last beyond the fifth inning and was the losing pitcher in the Rangers' 6-3 victory.