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MOLITOR'S 39-GAME HITTING STREAK : It's All Over Now, but He Is Looking Ahead, Not Back

August 30, 1987|RICHARD JUSTICE | The Washington Post

MILWAUKEE — An hour before Thursday's game, as the Milwaukee Brewers were finishing batting practice, Cleveland Indians rookie John Farrell approached Paul Molitor and extended a hand.

"Congratulations, Paul," Farrell told him.

The two men shook hands, and Farrell asked Molitor to autograph a baseball, which Molitor did, writing, "To John, Wishing you a great career. My best always. Paul Molitor."

Of all the weird exchanges that took place here this week, this surely was one of the weirdest. A night earlier, Farrell, making only his second major league start, held Molitor hitless in four at-bats to end Molitor's 39-game hitting streak--the fifth-longest this century and the seventh-longest ever.

As Molitor arrived at County Stadium Thursday to get on with the rest of his career, Farrell's request was one of several awaiting him. He found a locker filled with mail, telegrams and telephone messages from around the country. He received a congratulatory handshake from Cleveland Manager Doc Edwards, who whispered, "I appreciate the class way you've handled this. You've done a good thing for baseball."

He also autographed baseballs for several other Indians, did another round of interviews and played a Day After game, getting two hits as the Brewers beat the Indians, 3-2.

"I'm not sure the importance of the streak has set in to the degree that it eventually will," Molitor said. "Talking to my teammates about going six weeks without (a hitless game) . . . I think that as time goes by I'll appreciate it more and more."

He wore a day's growth of beard and looked tired after not getting to sleep "until about 3 o'clock. I was really emotionally drained, although I feel good." But he accepted the continued demands with patience and grace, admitting that while the attention might not end for a while, neither will his feelings.

"I know something like this is going to linger," he said. "Some of the things that happened are going to be hard to forget. But right now, I just want to get back up on my horse and help the team these last six weeks."

Molitor's streak ended in the oddest circumstances possible Wednesday night. Held hitless in his first four at-bats by Farrell, he was on-deck in the 10th inning when pinch-hitter Rick Manning singled in Mike Felder with the winning run.

A crowd of 11,246, probably made smaller by day-long rains, booed as Felder scored the winning run, but Molitor shook Felder's hand as he scored the winning run, then sprinted toward first base to congratulate Manning.

He joked that he'd waved for Felder to go back to third base, "but he completely ignored me." Later, in a more serious moment, he admitted that Felder had to score.

"You're talking the integrity of baseball," Molitor said. "Really, there wasn't much choice there."

However, Molitor was honest enough to admit that a tiny part of him wanted to root against Manning.

"It's human nature in a lot of ways," he said. "You could tell that by the reaction of the crowd. It just seemed that the streak was more important at that point. But it's impossible not to pull for a teammate. I just can't be disappointed when the guy in front of me gets a game-winning hit."

The moments after that were a blur, although the overriding feeling, he said, "was that reality had set in. It was over. I went to congratulate Archie (Manning's nickname), and I was surprised how the congratulations went from him to me in about four or five seconds. I'd thought that might happen when we were in the clubhouse. Tony Muser (Milwaukee's third base coach) was the first there to give me a nice warm hug around the neck."

Manning took the booing good-naturedly, saying, "I had a good night, too. Well, a couple of snipers did take shots at me on the way home. Luckily, the bullets ricocheted off my van."

Manning also said he'd asked the clubhouse attendant "to go start my car for me the rest of the year in case anyone plans to try any funny business."

Molitor finished the streak with a .415 batting average and raised his batting average from .323 to as high as .370 during it. In the 39 games, he was so efficient that he had a hit in his first or second plate appearances 22 times and went to his last at-bat only three times.

He'd been going for his 40th consecutive game, which would have tied him for the sixth-longest streak of all-time, that one by Ty Cobb in 1911.

"Really, it's mind-boggling to be named in company like that," he said. "It's an honor, and something I'll always treasure."

As Farrell and Milwaukee's Teddy Higuera combined for a double shutout through nine innings Wednesday, four hitters had streaks end. Molitor's was the longest, but teammates Ernest Riles and Robin Yount had 11-game streaks stopped, while Cleveland Brett Butler had a 19-game streak snapped.

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