Detroit Free Press from Detroit, Michigan on March 25, 2013 · Page B10
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Detroit Free Press from Detroit, Michigan · Page B10

Detroit, Michigan
Issue Date:
Monday, March 25, 2013
Page B10
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the climb Mark took the mound against the Orioles on July 4. A crowd of 45,339 showed up to watch his first career appearance in Baltimore. The Tigers took an early 2-0 lead, and Mark didn’t allow a runner as far as second base until the fourth inning. The Orioles still had not scored when Mark warmed up before the sixth inning as Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” played on the public address system. Mark did not know it, but his baseball dream was about to turn into a nightmare. After two quick ground-ball outs, Ken Singleton fought off a 2-2 pitch and fisted it into leftfield for a single. Rookie Eddie Murray hom- ered on the next pitch. Lee May then doubled to the leftfield fence. After an intentional walk, Rick Dempsey lined a single to the outfield. Mark Belanger blooped a double just fair down the rightfield line. Al Bumbry grounded a single up the middle for the sixth straight hit (not counting the walk), and Mark was finally relieved. He got a standing ovation as he walked off the mound and tipped his cap to the fans; however, nearing the dugout, frustration took over and he fired his glove into the dugout, which turned some of the cheers to boos. “I was watching him pitch that game against the Orioles,” says Dave Rozema, another Tigers pitcher. “Mark threw a pitch, and I thought, ‘That really looked weird.’ His motion was different. And the velocity of the pitch was way off. I said, ‘Wow, something happened.’ I saw it happen. The next pitches were all hit hard. I don’t think it had anything to do with his knee. I think his knee was OK.” “All of a sudden, he couldn’t get anybody out,” says catcher Bruce Kimm. When (manager) Ralph Houk came out to the mound to relieve him, Mark said, “I feel fine, but the ball went dead.” Ralph answered, “Yeah, it seems like you’re throwing change-ups.” In his next start, July 8, Mark lost to the White Sox, 10-7, giving up six runs in less than six innings. Kimm noted that Mark was a much different pitcher. “That was the first game his stuff just didn’t look very good,” he said. “He really didn’t have anything on the ball. I could tell something was wrong. In the clubhouse after the game, he said, ‘Bruce, my arm is killing me.’ And I told him he should say something. He was just the kind of guy who didn’t want to complain and was trying to work through it.” Four days later, Mark started and pitched to four batters against Toronto in Detroit, then signaled that he was having arm trouble. Houk immediately pulled him out. Houk said after the game that there was “a slight muscle pull on the side of the right shoulder in a place not usually too dangerous.” “I threw three or four pitches that hurt,” Mark told reporters. “They were all fastballs. I didn’t throw any sliders.” He noted that he had been throwing well in warm- ups. He added: “I’m not worried like with the knee injury.” Newsmen on the team’s charter plane reported that he did not seem to be “as exuberant as usual” but didn’t appear downhearted either. It was announced that he would not be available for the All- Star Game now. He would need to rest the arm over the All-Star break so that he could come back strong for the second half of the season. Mark rested, but his arm didn’t get any better. A week later, he was examined at Henry Ford Hospital and diagnosed with tendinitis in the shoulder. A little bit more rest and it should be fine, he was told. But it wasn’t fine after a little bit more rest. On July 24, he was placed on the 21-day disabled list. Mark had tried lobbing a half-dozen balls to test his arm, but it still hurt. “The hurt is still there, what more can I say?” he told reporters. “Same pain, same location, same everything. It hurt every time I threw, and I was just tossing the ball soft.” It was noted that he would be eligible to pitch again Aug. 10. The season was slipping away. So began a long odyssey. The cause of Mark’s arm injury has been debated over the years. Was it due to the excessive load he pitched as a rookie in 1976? Did he try to come back too soon from his knee surgery before his arm had time to get in shape? Was there really a cause, or did it just happen? It’s all conjecture. “I thought his mechanics were different after he came back in 1977,” said pitcher Bob Sykes, who had watched him since rookie ball in 1974. “It wasn’t his normal pattern. I’m not saying he came back too soon, but it just changed his mechanics, and that led to the injury.” “I think he tried to come back too soon from the injury,” said reliever John Hiller. “He didn’t have time to get his arm in shape SEE NEXT PAGE LAST OF TWO EXCLUSIVE EXCERPTS he Red Sox game lowered Mark Fidrych’s ERA to 1.83 and improved his record to 6-2. He was dominating hitters even more than in 1976. Despite the late start to the 1977 season because of knee surgery — he was hurt shagging flies during spring training — he was named to the All-Star squad for the second consecutive year. Life was grand. Full-house stadiums were cheering madly for him. He was pitching great. It was just like last year, or even better. Then, suddenly, it wasn’t. t Leyland comforted Fidrych after injury, helped him regain form x x COVER STORY WHEN 'BIRD' WAS THE WORD TODAY Despite an arm dead for years, Fidrych has a final hurrah, in no small part because of an obscure manager named Jim Leyland. SUNDAY Mark Fidrych, already a folk hero in Detroit, becomes a national sensation when he stymies the Yankees on “Monday Night Baseball.” ONLY IN THE FREE PRESS & AT FREEP.COM The Free Press and have two exclusive excerpts from “The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych” by Doug Wilson (Thomas Dunne Books, 320 pages, $26.99), coming out Tuesday. FREE PRESS FILE PHOTOS Mark Fidrych makes a curtain call at Tiger Stadium after beating Chicago on Sept. 2, 1980 — his first victory since April 1978. At right is Jim Leyland (arm raised) and his parents, who received the game ball. back to glory 10B WWW.FREEP.COM MONDAY, MARCH25,2013 ◆

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