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Myrtle Beach: It's Not Toronto, but Then Again, It's Not Gastonia, Either : Linton Just Happy to Make His Pitch

July 23, 1987|GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI | Times Staff Writer

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — Doug Linton, the unlikeliest of phenoms, sits in the cramped, darkened dugout and awaits freedom. For 12 long, thoroughly unenjoyable innings, Linton has sat near the two plastic water coolers, wanting nothing more than a merciful, quick end to an awful baseball game.

So far, Linton, a former pitcher at Canyon High School and UC Irvine, has witnessed 28 hits, 5 errors and 8 runs. He has seen his Myrtle Beach Blue Jay teammates wrestle away the lead from the Spartanburg Phillies, only to allow them to tie the game with just six outs remaining in regulation. He has heard the home plate umpire scream profanities after a foul ball finds an unprotected hand. Now he feigns interest in a game that could have, and should have, been over shortly after a two-run homer by Blue Jay catcher Francisco Cabrera in the bottom of the sixth.

The play-by-play, as recited by intern Matt Newsome of radio stations WLAT (nearby Conway) and WGSN (North Myrtle Beach):

" . . . and here's the pitch. Cabrera swings and it . . . it's a home run over the center-field fence. That ball made it all the way to the tennis courts. (Dramatic pause) So, the Blue Jays get a 3-2 lead and Frank Cabrera gets a large seafood platter. Next up is . . ."

More than seven hours have passed since Linton arrived at Coastal Carolina College, a smallish campus tucked neatly among the pines and palmettos. The Class-A Blue Jays, an affiliate of the major league Toronto club, lease the school's baseball facilities, such as they are. Tonight, the field's scoreboard has malfunctioned, providing the fast dwindling audience with crazily flashing inning-by-inning scores. A recent lightning storm, say Blue Jay officials, struck the scoreboard and caused a short circuit, though no one is entirely certain how to fix it.

Beer vendors plead with spectators--a whopping 68 by the start of the 13th inning--for business. One vendor, his tray filled with lukewarm Labatts, approaches three gentlemen.

"OK, three cold ones for you folks?"

"No, we'll pass."

"Oh, I get it. All three of you are on the wagon. Fine."

And then he leaves, in search of a paying customer.

Near midnight, strange-looking, exotic insects appear from the darkness. Moments later, a foul ball shatters a car windshield. Children make mad dashes through the glass for a chance at the South Atlantic League baseball.

In the press box, Newsome, a student from Davidson College who has volunteered his voice and evenings in exchange for air time and a demo tape, jokes with regular announcer Bill Durstein. The public address announcer joins in.

"And up steps Tom Quinlan," the PA announcer says to those in the press box. "Tom is 0 for 23 tonight."

"And by the way," says Durstein, "you listeners--and there can't be many--can hear me on the morning show which begins, I believe, in just a few short hours."

Meanwhile, Linton waits. And waits.

Then it happens: Spartanburg scores a run in the top of the 13th. It leads, 5-4. Linton is unsure of his allegiances. He wants the Blue Jays to score and perhaps win the game, but not if it means spending more time in this forsaken concrete dugout. He chooses: Win the game, but do it this inning. No ties or he might unleash several of the Spanish curse words taught to him by his Dominican teammates.

The Blue Jays fail to score. Game over. Linton gathers up the two plastic coolers and carries them to the team's clubhouse, a tiny cinder-block building located under a nearby football stadium. Inside, in a makeshift office adjacent to the dressing room, is Manager Barry Foote. Foote, who once played for the New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs, fills out a report on the game and each player's performance. Once finished, it will be sent to the parent club in Toronto.

An evening earlier, Foote wrote about a Blue Jay victory, not a loss. As has become the custom in many of the Blue Jays' wins, he wrote about Linton.

Linton, 22, had helped dispose of the Phillies in considerably less time than tonight's debacle. It was his 12th victory in 14 decisions, a record easily among the league's best. He completed six innings (the first game of a doubleheader; minor league teams play seven-inning games in such cases) and allowed no earned runs. He also struck out six Spartanburg players, noteworthy because it gave Linton 135 strikeouts in 110 innings. Even more impressive was his 1.73 earned-run average and only 23 walks.

"Amazing," a fan says later.

Linton grins. "Yeah, it is."

It doesn't stop. Four days later, in a game against the Gastonia Rangers, Linton would add 7 more innings, 10 more strikeouts (no walks) and a 13th win in this, his most unforgettable season.

Surprisingly enough, the numbers could have been even better. Had a strained shoulder not blotted out the month of May, Linton would have made about eight more starts. Modest projections might have included four wins, perhaps 48 innings and at least 30-40 strikeouts.

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