McDonald's growing is pain for Yankees Maturing pitcher beats adversity in 5-2 win

July 29, 1992|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Ben McDonald said it was all an unhappy coincidence. He was the Orioles starter the night that New York Yankees pitcher Tim Leary broke a bone in Chris Hoiles' wrist with an allegedly illegal pitch. He also was the pitcher last night when Yankees catcher Matt Nokes was hit in the head with a fastball during a 5-2 Orioles victory.

Nokes apparently was not hurt seriously, but the Yankees were still wondering afterward if the two incidents were connected.

Manager Buck Showalter said that it was "questionable." Some other Yankee players were talking tough, much as the Orioles were when they found out Hoiles would be out of action four to six weeks. McDonald was just trying to keep the peace.

"I wasn't trying to hit him," said McDonald, who would recover from a shaky start to go eight strong innings and earn his 10th victory. "It's a scary thing when someone gets hit in the head, but it was an accident."

McDonald said he didn't make the connection until after Nokes left the game, then he wondered if one of his teammates would pay the price for his wildness.

"I definitely wasn't thinking about that going into the game," he said, "but it did cross my mind afterward. I wondered if one of our guys was going to get hit, but that's baseball. I wouldn't try to hit a guy with an 0-2 count. It was a set-up pitch. I was trying

to come inside, and it got away."

Not everyone in the Yankees clubhouse was not willing to accept that at face value. First baseman Kevin Maas wasn't making any threats, but he wasn't quite ready to let it go as a simple twist of fate.

"It's one of those things that you don't like to just let go," Maas said. "That's something that we're going to remember. When you start getting up around the neck and the head, that's pretty dangerous. But we've got to focus on baseball and do what we've got to do."

Strangely enough, Nokes getting hit represented a turning point for McDonald, who had given up six hits in the first three innings. He would strike out nine batters and give up just two more hits in the 5 1/3 innings that followed. He turned the game over to Gregg Olson, who worked a scoreless ninth to record his 24th save.

Either McDonald settled down in a hurry, or the Yankee lineup came unglued. Showalter said it had nothing to do with intimidation.

"He has good stuff," Showalter said. "He doesn't have to hit someone in the head to prove it."

He just collected himself. He fought through a couple of bad innings and then overpowered the Yankees, working eight innings and giving up eight hits to become the third Orioles pitcher to reach double figures in victories. But he certainly took his time getting there.

Remember, this is the same pitcher who started the season with five wins in a row. He had five victories on May 12. He has had five in the 11 weeks since.

The Orioles are not complaining. This is also a pitcher who is only 24 years old. He still is a developing talent, so the club is willing to gut out a few inconsistent performances and chalk them up to experience.

The game brought together two of the most homer-prone pitchers in baseball, so there figured to be some offensive fireworks. McDonald and Yankees right- hander Scott Sanderson are two of the last remaining arguments in favor of the Strategic Defense Initiative, what with the 46 home runs they had surrendered between them, but both teams took it one base at a time for most of the evening.

McDonald leads the majors with 25 home runs allowed. Sanderson is second to McDonald in the American League with 21. It would have taken only one at the right time to loosen up a tight game.

The Yankees had baserunners all over the place in the early innings. McDonald gave up back-to-back singles to Dion James and Randy Velarde to open the Yankee half of the first inning, but got out of trouble with three consecutive fly balls. He allowed the first three batters to reach base in the second inning and was fortunate to give up just one run.

Second baseman Pat Kelly bounced into a third-to-home double play to water down the rally and the Yankees had to settle for a run-scoring single by James to get on the scoreboard. Two innings. Six baserunners. One run and happy to get it.

McDonald would get progressively better as the night went on, but he continues to be something of a mystery man -- capable of throwing a two-hitter one night and giving up four home runs the next time out. Manager Johnny Oates concedes that the situation is not easy to figure, but he is not ready to throw back McDonald's 1992 numbers.

"I look at it the same as I look at the standings," Oates said before the game. "If he could be 9-7 and pitching terrible or 4-9 and pitching great, which would you take? I see improvement in Ben. I see him getting more consistent."

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