DETROIT -- It was 1986 that Mark Leiter went to spring training with the Orioles, but only a few remember.
"I didn't even know he had been in this organization," said manager John Oates. "But Junior [Cal Ripken Jr.] and Richie [trainer Richie Bancells] said he was in camp one year, but never threw -- all he did was shag and pick up balls."
There was good reason Leiter didn't throw that spring. He was lame, and about to undergo three shoulder operations in a
17-month period. He did not play for three years, 1986-88, and the Orioles finally gave up and released him.
But Leiter had an ace in the hole. His younger brother Al was a promising lefthander for the Yankees and instrumental in getting his brother a second chance. After another year and a half in the minor leagues, Mark made his major-league debut in July 1990, was traded to the Tigers (his brother was long gone from the Yankees, having been traded for Jesse Barfield) this spring and now finds himself seemingly entrenched in the starting rotation.
Last night Leiter (9-8) pitched the first complete game of his major-league career, beating the Orioles 8-3. "Other than the triple and home run by Chito [Martinez] and the double by [Joe] Orsulak, we didn't do much with him," said Oates.
"He threw enough strikes and when he had to he seemed to reach back and throw with pretty good velocity. He threw decent. It just goes to show you that hard work pays off," said Oates.
* RIP HONORED: Cal Ripken's 11-RBI splurge against the Tigers over the weekend earned him a share of the American League's Player of the Week award. Ripken hit .462 for the week, with two doubles, a triple, three home runs and 13 runs batted in.
He shares the award with Oakland's Rickey Henderson (13-for-29, .448, three HRs, eight RBIs).
Each day that passes seems to bring another Ripken vital statistic. His bat was relatively quiet last night -- a ground ball single and an infield hit in four at-bats -- but Ripken has re-entered the AL batting race with a .330 mark.
hTC His recent power surge has left Ripken just five extra-base hits away from Robin Yount's all-time record for a shortstop (87). In addition, he leads all major-league shortstops in fielding percentage -- while handling 100 more chances (780-680) over Ozzie Guillen, his closest pursuer in the American League.
* VERSATILE TONY: Tony Phillips started at shortstop for the Tigers last night, then moved to third base after one inning. He will do the same thing tonight, when the Tigers meet the Red Sox in Boston.
The maneuver is manager Sparky Anderson's way of rewarding Phillips for his versatility. Shortstop will be the fifth position at which Phillips has started at least 10 games, something that's never been done before.
* THIS 'N THAT: Yesterday's win leaves the Tigers one victory away from clinching the season series against the Orioles. They lead 6-4.
The Orioles finished September with 37 home runs, most in the major leagues. They are third in the majors with 165 home runs, trailing the Tigers and Rangers . . . Speed, however, is something else -- the Orioles have stolen only 49 bases, fewest in the major leagues.
Ripken's two hits last night matched Al Bumbry's total of 205 in 1980, the second highest in club history. With six games remaining, Ripken is six hits shy of the club record he set in 1983.