The Detroit Tigers' starting lineup was posted last night without Cecil Fielder's name, but manager Sparky Anderson had his reasons.
"Every time afterwards, he came on like smoke," said Anderson. "I'm playing a good-luck shot, a superstition. It's worked before. Why not try it again?"
Why not, indeed? The numbers are staggering.
On the six occasions Fielder has returned this season after not starting a game, he is 13-for-26 with six home runs and 12 RBI. And tonight's Baltimore Orioles pitching choice, Dave Johnson, has been known to serve up a home-run ball or two (he is tied with the Houston Astros' Mike Scott for the major-league lead at 26) and will be starting for the first time since Aug. 14.
Johnson allowed the first of Fielder's 45 homers this season -- April 14 at Tiger Stadium.
That opposite-field shot launched what is baseball's most phenomenal success story of 1990 as Fielder zeros in on 50 homers, a total only 10 major-leaguers ever have reached.
The last to do it was also managed by Anderson, the Cincinnati Reds' George Foster in 1977.
"I haven't figured him [Fielder] out," said Anderson. "I don't know whether he cares about 50 or not. I know Foster didn't. He just came to park, played and went home."
Said Fielder, "Forty-five is fine with me if I don't hit another one."
Fielder got into last night's game, drawing a walk as a pinch hitter for Dave Bergman in the seventh inning. He grounded into a force out in a second plate appearance.
Fielder's improbable season after a year in Japan stunned baseball executives and captured the imagination of fans everywhere.
"All the reporters and media downgraded me for the contract I got," he said. "Now everybody is saying I'm a bargain. I'm happy with what I've done. Besides, getting to 50 hasn't happened yet."
Fielder, 26, received a $3 million, two-year deal from the Tigers, who had failed in attempts to plug their first-base vacancy with free agents Pete O'Brien and Kent Hrbek last winter.
This was a team coming off a 103-loss season and needing help in a lot of places. General manager Bill Lajoie had a hunch about Fielder, one of Japan's leading sluggers in the Central League while playing for the Hanshin Tigers.
Fielder had 31 homers in 506 at-bats during four seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, but always was running into a platoon, first with Willie Upshaw, then with Fred McGriff.
He said he bears no ill will toward the Blue Jays, that their recommending him to the Japanese was "the best thing that could have happened. I'm glad they gave me the choice. I was caught between a rock and a hard place there. I was just happy to get the opportunity to play every day. The rest is history."
He has relaxed because there is less pressure playing regularly.
"When you only play twice a week, you've got to try to do something when you're in there," he said. "You have to produce, go for broke. It's a different world when you go 0-for-4 and know you're going to be back in there. Physically and mentally, that helps."
Although like many sluggers, he frequently strikes out (158 this year, a club record), Fielder is so strong that anything he hits usually is hit hard.
"He's a powerful man," said hitting coach Vada Pinson. "He brought these skills with him. There's nothing being taught to him. And he'll go to the opposite field to get men around the bases and get in runs."
Fielder has tied Rocky Colavito for the second-highest homer total in Tigers history. Hank Greenberg's club record of 58 (1938) appears out of reach, but Fiedler leads the American League in homers, RBI, total bases, extra-base hits and slugging percentage.
He has hit some prodigious drives, including the first by a Tiger completely out of Tiger Stadium.
"I don't really go up there looking for a home run," he said. "If you try to hit it out, you don't. You just tighten up and come off the ball. They just happen. I let everybody else worry about how far they go."
Anderson figured Fielder would hit 30 homers by "just running into balls. I think this is a surprise, and I'd say it right to his face."
So does everybody else.
One of his three-homer games came after a non-start in Toronto. Rests have done him good.
"He's been starting to chase a little bit," said Anderson. "He's been a little over-anxious."
Said Fielder: "I haven't been getting hits for a couple of days. I definitely need a day off. I could use this to get my thinking back together."