PITTSBURGH — Lance McCullers throws with so much oomph, he gets blisters on his toes, not his hands. But limp or no limp, he still had a blistering fastball in Thursday night's 2-1 Padre victory over the Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium.
McCullers earned his first victory as a starter, giving up only four hits in seven innings. He even stole a base. And Craig Lefferts earned his third save, throwing the best pitches of his life. If you thought he was good in 1984, he says he's even better now.
Padre batters again took the night off, except for shortstop Garry Templeton, who broke an 0-for-13 streak with three hits, including two doubles, and an RBI. Before the game, Manager Steve Boros closed his clubhouse doors for a meeting, and besides reminding the team that there's a pennant to be won in the second half of the season, he explained that he would be using the bunt more to manufacture runs.
Sure enough, Steve Garvey bunted for a single. And Terry Kennedy--who apparently hadn't practiced a bunt in years--made a feeble attempt at sacrificing a runner to second in the eighth. Even though he failed, he tried.
"I don't like to bunt," Boros said. "I don't like to give 'take' signs either. But until we get going, I'll do that. With our good pitching and defense, we'll just manufacture runs."
He was right about the pitching and defense. McCullers conquered the heat (in the 90s and humid) and the Pirate hitters. He said it got pretty hot in Tampa, Fla., where he grew up and where the Mets' Dwight Gooden and Montreal's Floyd Youmans were raised. Team those two with McCullers, and that's a lot of heat headed toward the plate.
McCullers throws somewhere around 90 m.p.h., and he said he managed to keep his velocity for all seven innings.
"I don't think I lost much on my pitches," he said. "I felt the same in the seventh as I did in the fourth and fifth."
His big right toe didn't. Actually, as he was warming up to begin the seventh, he pivoted and threw so hard that he split open the toe of his shoe. He then gave up a leadoff single to R.J. Reynolds. Reynolds went to second on a passed ball (McCullers said it was a wild pitch because catcher Kennedy signaled for a fastball and he threw a slider).
Yet, McCullers retired the next three hitters--Tony Pena, Jim Morrison and U.L. Washington.
Lefferts entered in the eighth and did not let a runner near first base. He has now given up just six hits and one run in his last 22 innings (12 games) for an 0.41 earned-run average.
"Why? Most of all it's keeping the ball down with all my pitches," Lefferts said. "That's got to be it. . . . This is the best I ever have (thrown) in my career. When you look at my last six weeks and 25 appearances? I'm in a groove. The confidence level is very high."
Center fielder Marvell Wynne reached high to make a great catch in the first inning, and McCullers said it was the turning point in the game. The hitter was rookie Barry Bonds, and he led off the first by smacking one to deep left-center. Wynne ran a long way and caught it reaching high--his back crashing into the wall.
He then fell and grimaced in pain. He's a former Pirate, and the crowd applauded. One of the local television stations came after the game to do a feature on him.
And pasted to his locker was an old picture of him in a Pirate uniform. Written on the photo was the inscription, "Mr. Wynne? Mr. Wynne? Where are you?"
The author: Pirate all-star pitcher Rick Rhoden, who went six innings and got the loss. He sneaked into the Padre clubhouse and put it there.
Of his catch, Wynne said, "That catch ranked . . . uh . . . uh . . . No. 1 in my career. It's right ahead of another one I made against Bill Buckner of the Cubs here. That time, I ran a long way to get it, and caught it up high over my right shoulder. I thought it was a spectacular catch at the time. But it seems I always make spectacular catches without leaving my feet. I think my catches are better when I run for it and don't dive. I make them on my feet."