It was almost six weeks ago that the Houston Astros started the hassle over doctored bats when they questioned the legality of one used by New York's Howard Johnson, the National League's most surprising home run hitter.
Johnson was exonerated, but the ensuing controversy brought about a rash of bat confiscations.
Ironically, the first illegal bat uncovered belonged to a Houston Astro. When Billy Hatcher, the team's best hitter, broke his bat in the fourth inning at Houston in the Astros' 3-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs Tuesday night, it was discovered the bat had been hollowed out and filled with an illegal substance, cork.
Hatcher had an apparent infield hit taken away from him and was ejected from the game. He also faces a possible suspension.
Several other players, including the Dodgers' Pedro Guerrero, have been accused of using illegal bats, but Hatcher, hitting .311 for the Astros, was the first one to be caught in the act.
Hatcher claimed the bat was not his and said he was unaware it contained cork.
"I was out of bats, so I borrowed a pitcher's bat," the outfielder said. "I know some of the pitchers use them in batting practice. I don't know whose bat it was."
Chicago third baseman Keith Moreland gave the broken bat to umpire Dana DeMuth, who gave it to crew chief John McSherry.
"It was obvious when the bat broke open, there was a groove inside with about four inches of cork," McSherry said. "Billy said it wasn't his. All that matters is who uses it."
McSherry said the bat will be sent to the National League office in New York.
The loss of Hatcher was only one of Houston's problems. The Astros have lost seven in a row and are rapidly falling apart before the stretch drive really begins. Houston, last season's division champion, has fallen 5 1/2 games behind the San Francisco Giants in the National League West.
Cub starter Jamie Moyer, who had given up 15 earned runs in his last two starts, lasted 6 innings to improve his record to 11-11.
The Cubs beat Manny Hernandez, brought up earlier in the day from Tucson of the Pacific Coast League, but he deserved a better fate. He went seven innings, giving up five hits and only one of the three runs was earned.
San Francisco 14, Montreal 4--Rick Reuschel gained his second pitching victory in a Giant uniform and drove in the team's first two runs at San Francisco.
The Giants, who were five games out of first place on Aug. 6, have gone 18-7 since then and now have the biggest lead in the major leagues.
Reuschel (10-7) allowed six hits, struck out seven and walked none in seven innings. He retired the last 11 batters he faced in his third start since being acquired from Pittsburgh in an Aug. 21 trade. The veteran right-hander has walked only three batters in his last 10 starts.
Trailing 2-0 in the third, the Giants' Robby Thompson singled and Jose Uribe doubled, and both scored on Reuschel's single to right-center field. Reuschel then scored the go-ahead run, coming home from first on Eddie Milner's double. Expo starter Floyd Youmans left after walking Kevin Mitchell and giving up an RBI single by Mike Aldrete.
Cincinnati 7, St. Louis 4--The Cardinals' luck, which has been mostly good, turned sour at St. Louis.
Bob Forsch, cruising along with a two-hitter and a 3-0 lead with two out in the fifth, pulled a groin muscle and had to leave the game.
The Reds jumped on relievers Ricky Horton and Bill Dawley for seven runs and ended the Cardinals' six-game winning streak.
Eric Davis, Nick Esasky and Buddy Bell hit home runs, but it was an RBI double by Davey Concepcion in the seventh that gave the Reds only their second win in their last 11 games.
Jack Clark drove in two of the three Cardinal runs in the first inning to boost his RBI total to a career-high 104.
New York 9, San Diego 1--Keith Hernandez drove in four runs, three with a fifth-inning home run, at San Diego to give the Mets their fifth win in the last six games.
With the Cardinals losing, the Mets are 4 1/2 games back in the East, the same position they were a week ago.
David Cone held the Padres to three hits in 7 innings to improve his record to 4-3.
Atlanta 4, Pittsburgh 0--One of the best-kept secrets this season is the year Zane Smith of the Braves is having.
The left-hander pitched a four-hitter at Pittsburgh to win for the seventh time in his last eight decisions and improve his record to 15-7. He struck out eight and didn't walk a batter. Furthermore, his designated catcher, Ted Simmons, hit a two-run home run in the second inning to give him all the offensive help he needed.
Smith gives much of the credit for his improvement after 9-10 and 8-16 seasons to Simmons.
"I've learned a lot about pitching in a short period of time," he said. "Ted has really worked with me and taught me a lot. I don't think I made any mistakes tonight."