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Mitchell Leaves His Woes at Home

September 15, 1987|BILL PLASHCKE | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — Late Monday afternoon, in a runway underneath Candlestick Park, San Francisco Giant third baseman Kevin Mitchell met Padres Manager Larry Bowa for the first time in two months.

"He just said hello to me," recalled Mitchell. "Just said, 'Hi,' like nothing happened. I can't see how people can do like that.

"After all that happened, to just act like nothing ever happened."

It seemed that way Monday, when the Padres met the Giants for the first time since the seven-player Fourth of July deal that has changed the face of the National League West pennant race.

For the other six players involved, it was an evening of old times. The Giants still fondly remembered the inexperience and potential of Padre pitchers Mark Davis, Mark Grant and Keith Comstock. They are still making jokes about the fragility of Padre third baseman Chris Brown.

And the Padres still remembered the quiet championship effort given by Giant pitchers Dave Dravecky and Craig Lefferts.

But with Kevin Mitchell, there was nothing to say. To remember someone's past, one must first recognize him in the present. This wasn't the Kevin Mitchell they knew. Earlier this summer, in three months with the Padres after coming over in a winter trade with the New York Mets, Mitchell hit .245 with 7 homers and 26 RBIs in 196 at-bats.

In just two months here, he has had 15 more at-bats than in San Diego (211), hit nearly twice as many homers (13) and nearly 75 points better (.313).

What was once a sluggish, statue of a third baseman is now a .280 hitter with 20 homers and 60 RBIs. Since the trade the Giants are 38-26 and have moved from 5 1/2 games out of first to a six-game lead.

Dravecky, who is 6-3 with a 3.02 ERA since then, has had a big impact too. But Mitchell is perhaps the biggest reason that the trade is becoming baseball's biggest this season. He who once pouted and brooded, now laughs and smiles and is happy.

Like none of it ever happened.

"Except you can't say it didn't happen, because I was there," said Mitchell, 25.

And Monday, Mitchell said he could not forget. He said the trade culminated three months of pressure and tension and unhappiness that actually made him glad to leave his hometown.

"Larry (Bowa) likes to win, and we weren't winning, and he got the heat, and then put it on us," Mitchell said. "One thing players should never have is that kind of pressure. People were afraid to make mistakes or they would get yelled at by Larry.

"I know the players there, and they've got a lot of talent, but everybody was scared. You could look in their eyes and tell. Nobody wanted to go to the plate in big situations. No pitchers wanted the ball. Everyone was scared to make a mistake,."

He said the bad thing about any mistakes were, they would be amplified by Bowa in the next day's newspaper.

"Larry would talk about you in the paper, then meet you on the field like nothing happened," Mitchell said. "How could that be?"

The right-handed hitting Mitchell, who platooned with the Mets in 1986, said it was all made more difficult because he was being asked to hit right-handed pitching for the first time.

"They expected me to hit right-handers right off the bat, I'm supposed to fill Kevin McReynolds shoes right away," he said of the ex-Padre who was sent to the Mets in the deal that brought him to San Diego, "and I wasn't ready for it yet. They told me, don't worry about it. And then they traded me."

Mitchell, who on the night of the trade hurried out of the Padres' clubhouse in Montreal with no comment, said his original reaction was anger.

"I got called into Larry's office and I just thought, 'OK, what team am I going to now?' " he recalled. "It was my third team in two years and I couldn't understand it."

He met the Giants in Chicago, where he first called his father.

"My dad could tell how mad I was, and he told me to take it out on some balls," Mitchell said.

So he went to Wrigley Field, introduced himself, and hit two homers to beat the Cubs.

"I knew he could play, but not like this," Craig said. "I never realized what a star he could be."

Monday, Bowa said he knew too. But Bowa, echoing the club's view, said he thought Mitchell was hurt most by playing in his hometown.

"I knew he had talent, but a lot of people were tugging at him down there," said Bowa, whose team is 31-30 since the deal. "I know what it's like to play in your home, everybody always wanting tickets, wanting good seats, and everything. It had to effect his concentration."

Bowa said Mitchell just didn't give him enough time.

"You have to look at my personality," Bowa said. "On first impressions, I'm too high strung, too emotional. But if you know me better, you know that my bark is worse than my bite, and that in the long run, I care more about my players than anything. That's why I get so upset.

"Ask any of our young kids. They understand me now."

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