Sunday, April 11, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Inside Pitch

Expansion Likely To Hit The Nl Hard

Times Staff: Times News Services

The New York Mets set a team record by pitching 15 shutout innings to start a season - a humble, yet significant record because they did it against an expansion team, the Colorado Rockies. Colorado fell short of the Mariners' two-shutout debut in 1977.

But the Mets' achievement is just the first of many highs and lows baseball probably will see this year, all lumped under the heading "Expansion Effect."

Roger Maris set the one-season home-run record of 61 in 1961, hitting nine against the expansion Senators. Maury Wills set the stolen-base record of 104 in 1962, lifting a combined 27 bases against the Houston Colt .45s (later the Astros) and New York Mets, each in their first year.

The Mets were amazing in 1969, the year the San Diego Padres and Montreal Expos joined the National League. And American League offense was awesome in 1977, the last time the AL expanded. With the Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays in the league, AL clubs averaged 86 more runs than they had the previous season. Offense often expands, so to speak, because the quality of pitching is diluted.

The Mets lost 120 games in their first season. The Yankees and Orioles won 109 games - the top two totals in the major leagues in the past 38 seasons - in expansion years.

The Orioles really had their way in 1969 when the Seattle Pilots and Kansas City Royals joined the AL. Baltimore lost its first game against the Royals, then won the next 23 over two seasons.

But while Baltimore was winning big in 1969, so were the Mets. Coming off a season in which they won just 73 games, the Mets had a combined record of 24-6 against San Diego and Montreal and took the NL East with 100 victories. In 1961, the first year AL teams played 162 games instead of 154, the Yankees won 109 games, Detroit 101.

The next year, the NL went to a 162-game schedule when the Mets and Houston were added. Wills and the Dodgers finished tied for first with San Francisco with 101 victories. The Giants and Dodgers had a 30-6 combined record against the Mets.

How many games will the Braves win this year, with potentially the best starting pitching since the Yankees or Indians of 40 years ago?

Salt Lake City Beavers? -- Portland Beavers owner Joe Buzas has said he will move his Class AAA Pacific Coast League team to Salt Lake City next year if the Utah city provides the Beavers with a new stadium.

Buzas said the contract with Salt Lake City would give him benefits such as skyboxes and full control of concession operations, which he cannot obtain from the Metropolitan Exposition-Recreation Commission. The commission oversees Portland Civic Stadium, home field of the Beavers. The contract between the commission and the Beavers expires after this season.

To move to Salt Lake City, the Beavers and the PCL would have to buy territory rights from the Salt Lake Trappers, a Class A team, and the Pioneer League. Dave Baggott, general manager of the Trappers, said the team would seek compensation of between $1.5 million and $2.5 million.

Around the majors -- Matt Young's three victories for Boston cost the Red Sox $2.1 million apiece before the club released him. Young is pitching for Cleveland's Class AAA farm club. If he doesn't make it back to the big leagues and win, he'll become the first player to pitch a no-hitter (a year ago tomorrow in a 2-1 loss to the Indians) and never win another game. . . . -- Oakland has four pitchers over 35: Bob Welch (36), Rick Honeycutt (38), Dennis Eckersley (38) and Goose Gossage (41). Eckersley, who walked only 11 batters in 1992, walked two in the season opener - and one was Milt Cuyler, who walked only 10 times last season. -- The Mariners are tied with Texas and Detroit for the most left-handed pitchers on the staff - five. -- With Kevin Brown on the disabled list, only two of 11 pitchers on Texas' Opening Day roster - Nolan Ryan and Kenny Rogers - were with the Rangers a year ago. -- Angels General Manager Whitey Herzog says to forget those rumors of a trade involving pitcher Mark Langston. "We made a decision not to even consider trading him. He may want to pitch somewhere else, but he's staying with us." -- In compiling a 7-15 record and 2.77 earned-run average for California last year, Jim Abbott received an average of 2.55 runs per nine innings, the worst support for a pitcher in the American League since the advent of the designated hitter in 1973. So Abbott makes his debut with the Yankees at Cleveland and loses when New York scores only two runs. -- Philadelphia left-hander Terry Mulholland has unveiled a "dry spitter," a pitch he grips without touching the seams. In his opener, 18 Astros hit ground balls. -- Largest ovation at Baltimore's opener? Not for Oriole shortstop Cal Ripken. Not for Oriole DH Harold Baines, a Baltimore native acquired in the offseason. Not for President Clinton, who threw out the first pitch. The biggest applause was for Texas' second baseman Billy Ripken, dumped by the Orioles after last season. -- Late in spring training, St. Louis Manager Joe Torre became so upset with the work ethic of second baseman Geronimo Pena that he benched him for three games. And to make sure he made the point, Torre even had Pena make a spring trip without putting him into a game. Pena opened the season by getting on base his first eight at-bats. -- Steve Sax is the White Sox's third-string second baseman. With first-stringer Craig Grebeck out, Joey Cora was given the job. -- San Diego GM Joe McIlvaine figures to be gone by the All-Star break, at which time the club's owners must decide whether to exercise an option on his contract for 1994 and 1995. McIlvaine said the owners assured him when he took the job that they were willing to pay the price to be a contender. "Now it's 180 degrees in the other direction," he said. "The owners are so consumed by the payroll that my hands are tied. I can't take on a player who makes more than $400,000. . . . I have to do things I know are not right from a baseball standpoint." -- Think there's a shortage of pitching? Some of the starters in the second game of the season: Bruce Ruffin (Colorado), Jim Deshaies (Minnesota), Bill Krueger (Detroit) and Jeff Mutis (Cleveland) and Al Leiter (Toronto). -- Pittsburgh Manager Jim Leyland is getting an education in dealing with a knuckleball pitcher. On Opening Night, Tim Wakefield had as many hits, two, as he allowed San Diego. He also walked nine and struck out nine. Leyland, asked how he knows when to remove Wakefield from a game, said: "I have no idea. If there is a guy on the club who knows, he can manage." -- After a contract hassle that lasted all winter, Carlton Fisk has begun his quest for the 25 games he must catch to break Bob Boone's record of 2,225. Fisk hit a home run in his first at-bat this season. "Put my name in the lineup and I'll be there," Fisk said. "They've tried to kill me before. I won't die."

Quotable -- "I'd like to have seen Matt get the ball until the All-Star break and see if he could have earned some of the money they hold over his head. You always saw his salary in the newspaper and Lou Gorman saying how much he made. We called him Father Young because he only picked the ball up once a week - usually on Sunday."

- Boston ace Roger Clemens, unhappy with the release of left-hander Matt Young.

-- "I shared my disappointments with friends, sure, but you can't bring that to work. I can't come to the park and act like Al Martin is as good as Barry Bonds. But just because you're disappointed, you can't go around acting like you've got no chance. You do that, and you're done."

- Pirate Manager Jim Leyland, on the drastic changes in his division-winning team of the past three years.

-- "If you look at our team on paper, you think sixth. It's tough to accept, but we can't do a damn thing about it. Winning is not the most important thing around here anymore."

- Padre star Tony Gwynn, on the drastic changes on the San Diego team.

-- "Woof. Woof."

- Marge Schott, suspended Cincinnati Reds owner, asked for a comment on Opening Day.

Bob Finnigan covers the Mariners and major league baseball for The Times. Some information in this notebook was obtained from The Associated Press, Knight-Ridder Newspapers, Boston Herald, Sporting News, Rocky Mountain News and Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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