Reardon has lost it, and now so have Braves

October 22, 1992|By Dan Shaughnessy | Dan Shaughnessy,Boston Globe

TORONTO -- "Losing your fastball" has become part of our language.

Writers lose their fastball. Pretty women lose their fastball. Musicians, politicians and basketball players lose their fastballs. It can be complacency or burnout or just plain old age. There comes a day when the product loses its zip.

Baseball players don't use the term metaphorically. When a pitcher loses his fastball, it means he simply doesn't throw it up there very hard anymore.

This is why it was so painful to watch Jeff Reardon pitch in Games 2 and 3 of the 1992 World Series.

Toronto fans cheered madly when Atlanta manager Bobby Cox opted for Reardon Tuesday night. Reardon immediately surrendered the game-losing hit.

This is the way it was in August in Fenway Park. Reardon's hometown fans didn't want him to come into games anymore. They cheered Butch Hobson when the manager opted for somebody else. They booed Hobson when he gave the ball to Reardon. It was a humiliating way for Reardon to end his career with the Boston Red Sox.

Now it is happening all over, this time on the international stage.

The Red Sox shipped Reardon to Atlanta Aug. 30. The Braves went with him in the final month and saw little of the problems that plagued Reardon in his final daze at Fenway. In 14 games with the Braves, the Terminator went 3-0 with a 1.15 ERA and three saves. He was the closer.

It was Reardon who pitched the top of the ninth last week against Pittsburgh, minutes before one of the most dramatic comeback victories ever. Reardon was the winner in the Francisco Cabrera miracle game.

Then came Black Sunday. Reardon walked Derek Bell and gave up a two-run bomb to the immortal Ed Sprague. Ballgame.

The Braves dodged the issue after the Game 2 loss. Cox said Reardon was his man. "Jeff's done the job for us," the manager insisted.

Meanwhile, a Blue Jays scout was whispering about how his hitters feel very comfortable against Reardon.

The pitch to Sprague was a terrible one. Players call it a batting practice fastball -- 82 mph and straight as the part in Ross Perot's hair.

At a post-Game 2 reception, we asked Braves president Stan Kasten if he would be comfortable bringing Reardon into another close game. The always affable Kasten stuffed a piece of food in his mouth and walked away without saying a word.

Tuesday night at SkyDome, a series of ninth-inning moves put Reardon back on the spot. He came in to pitch to Candy Maldonado with the bases loaded and one out in a 2-2 game. He made Maldonado look bad on the first two pitches, then tried an 0-2 curveball, and the Candy Man spanked it to deep center. Ballgame.

You don't have to be Tony La Russa to know that an 0-2 pitch in that situation should be way out of the strike zone.

Cox was ripped for not going longer with lefty Mike Stanton. The Twins could not hit Stanton last year. Stanton and Mark Wohlers have the best stuff in the Braves bullpen, but Cox apparently has little faith in his younger relievers.

Explaining Reardon's presence in Game 3, Cox said, "We wanted someone who could throw strikes. Not that Mike Stanton couldn't have. But we thought Jeff could do the job. He got two quick ones and then hung one. He could have easily struck him out."

It looks like it's time for Cox to terminate the Terminator. This is the World Series. It's one thing for Butch Hobson to use Reardon to help the veteran get his save record. It's quite another matter to come to the World Series and stick with a once-great closer who no longer can throw 85 mph. This is the World Series. People will remember these games.

Reardon will be the last to admit he can't do the job. It's not part of his makeup.

"I've had pretty good success against this club throughout my career," he said. "But so far in this series, they've got my number."

Reardon sounds a little like Marty Barrett at the end. Either he has something we can't see or he's in a serious stage of denial.

"If you're afraid to go back out there, you shouldn't be in the big leagues."

Braves outfielder David Justice said, "I haven't said anything to him, but I still have all the confidence in the world in him. Reardon's been playing a lot longer than I have. He's had bad ballgames, but he's also had an awful lot of great ones. We just want him to know that we still have all the confidence in the world in him."

That's teammate doublespeak. The guys are trying to keep Reardon pumped up, but the Atlanta people are worried.

It's too bad. But this is the World Series. And Jeff Reardon has lost his fastball.

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