Dale Murphy had a bad season in 1984, right? Wrong. The center fielder of the Atlanta Braves hit .290, tied for the home-run title with 36 and drove in 100 runs.
The important thing is that Dale Murphy thought he had a bad season. Murphy, winner of MVP awards in 1982 and 1983, has decided to make amends for his "terrible" year. The pitchers are running for cover.
Murphy began May where he left off in April. After a record-tying month in which he drove in 29 runs and hit nine home runs, Murphy started the new month by hitting his 10th home run and driving in three more runs Wednesday at Cincinnati to lead the Braves to a 17-9 victory over the Reds.
The Braves rapped out 25 hits, eight in succession in the first inning. Murphy had two hits in addition to his home run, scored four runs and raised his average to .395, the best start in an eight-year career that is already outstanding.
Although he had his worst outing of the season, Rick Mahler, given 12 runs to work with in the first two innings, won his major league-leading sixth game without a defeat. A rain delay of more than 2 1/2 hours in the fifth inning took its toll, and Mahler needed help in the sixth.
Mahler hasn't pitched all that well. He hasn't gone the route yet and his earned-run average is 2.68. But he brings out the best in Murphy. In the six games Mahler has pitched, Murphy is 11 for 23, has hit 5 home runs, driven in 13 runs and scored 9. You think Fernando Valenzuela couldn't use a fellow like that?
"Last year was a tough year," Murphy said. "It was frustrating, and I hadn't been frustrated for a couple of years. I was worried, and it's hard to do anything when you're worried.
"I started out slowly and got down on myself. I really didn't go out there with the proper attitude. I battled myself."
Aside from the slow start, Murphy also was unhappy because he struck out 134 times and batted only .229 with runners in scoring position.
Murphy's frustration reached a peak Aug. 9 when Dodger rookie Ken Howell struck him out in the ninth inning with the game-tying run at third base. He went back to the dugout and smashed a water cooler, something unusual for him.
He credits his wife, Nancy, for pointing out what he was doing to himself. He said she calmed him and he finished strong.
"I had a relaxing spring and it seemed the pressure was off," he said. "I made up my mind to try to get off to a good start so I wouldn't put any pressure on myself."
Hardly anybody expects Murphy to keep up his pace, but as Manager Pete Rose of the Reds said, "He better cool off or he will end the season with 200 RBIs."
Actually, the pace he is on would give him 81 home runs, 163 runs scored and 249 runs batted in.
With the Reds getting 13 hits, there were 38 in the game. The Braves had 15 of them in the first two innings.
"I've seen big innings before," Rose, a 22-year veteran, said, "but I don't think I've ever seen that many hits in successive innings. Everyone on their team had at least one hit before the third inning."
Chicago 4, San Francisco 3--When the wind is blowing in at Chicago's Wrigley Field, it's a good time to use your speed. The Cubs did just that in this game, stealing five bases, one of them forcing an error that gave Dennis Eckersley his fourth victory of the season.
With the score tied, 3-3, in the ninth, rookie Shawon Dunston on second, Bob Dernier on first and one out, Manager Jim Frey flashed the steal sign. Dunston broke for third and Giant catcher Bob Brenly, in his haste to get Dunston, threw the ball into left field and Dunston scored the winning run.
Eckersley, who lost his first start this season, became the first Cub pitcher to hurl four consecutive complete games since Ferguson Jenkins did it in 1972.
Houston 10, New York 3--Jose Cruz, who earlier in the game had two singles and scored two runs, put the finishing touches on the win over the Mets at New York when he hit a three-run home run in the ninth.
Bob Knepper (2-0) gave up seven hits and all three runs, but Bill Dawley and Frank DiPino held the Mets to one hit in the last four innings. Ron Darling, a shutout pitcher in his previous outing, was the loser.
The Mets were without Gary Carter, who has a cracked rib and may not play until next week.
San Diego 6, Pittsburgh 4--Al Bumbry went 3 for 5 and Steve Garvey drove in two runs at Pittsburgh to keep the Padres in first place in the West.
The Padres gave Eric Show a 4-0 lead, but Tim Stoddard and Rich Gossage had to come to the rescue. Gossage earned the save, but he had to get George Hendrick to pop out with the bases full in the ninth to earn No. 6.
Montreal 3, Philadelphia 2--Hubie Brooks hit his first home run of the season with two out in the seventh at Philadelphia to end the Phillies' winning streak at four.
Jeff Reardon matched Gossage with his sixth save, holding the Phils to one hit in 2 innings. He struck out four batters. David Palmer was the winner, giving up five hits in six innings.