Phillies' Kruk fights off cancer to return to baseball

The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA _ John Kruk slid his nameplate into the lineup board in the Philadelphia Phillies' clubhouse. General manager Lee Thomas came by later and started to slide it out, then stopped.

Thomas' change of heart signaled good things for the Phillies yesterday, who nonetheless lost their home opener 8-7 to the Colorado Rockies.

Kruk, seeing his first major-league action since doctors removed a cancerous testicle March 8, went 3-for-5, had an RBI and scored two runs.

Six hours after undergoing the 16th of 18 low-level radiation treatments he is scheduled to receive, Kruk forced himself into the lineup by talking Manager Jim Fregosi into starting him.

"We had discussions," Kruk said. "The concern was if I played one game and then I couldn't play for two-three days, then why take me off (the disabled list). I had to convince them to let them know that I didn't think it would be any problem. They bit."

Kruk said he felt like he was ready to be an every-day player, but Fregosi said otherwise.

"I will not play him every day," Fregosi said. "He will have rest. I'll probably play him four-five times a week."

"That's up to him," Kruk said. "I'm just glad they let me play today."

Kruk was told the radiation treatments, which are designed to assure that the cancer does not spread, might make him weak. But he insisted he felt fine.

"Everything will be all right," he said. "They had a concern about whether I could play back-to-back games or three-four in a row, but I don't think it would be that much of a problem."

The first game certainly wasn't a problem, although Kruk wasn't happy that he dropped a one-hop throw from shortstop Kevin Stocker on his first fielding play in the first inning.

Joe Girardi reached on the error charged to Stocker and then scored on Andres Galarraga's double to put Colorado up 1-0.

But in the Phillies' first, Kruk, batting third, drove a high fastball off Mike Harkey deep to center field, bringing home Mariano Duncan with Philadelphia's first run.

His thought at the time?

"It's a tie game, thank God, because I dropped that ball Stocker threw and let them score," he said.

The sellout crowd, which saved its loudest and most sustained pregame ovation for Kruk, roared again.

"I didn't know whether I should tip my hat or stand there and be stupid," Kruk said. "So I just decided on that."

Kruk lined a single past second base in the sixth and another single in the seventh, but he missed his chance to be the Phillies' hero in the ninth.

With Lenny Dykstra on second and one out, Kruk looked at a curveball from reliever Darren Holmes for strike three.

"Dickie Noles didn't throw me too many of those breaking balls when I was here," Kruk said, referring to the ex-major league pitcher who threw him batting practice in the past month.

The Phillies were thrilled to have Kruk, who in addition to being the starting first baseman for the National League in last year's All-Star game, is a fun-loving guy who helps keep the clubhouse loose.

"He can still swing the bat," Fregosi said. "He can hit and everybody knows it. When you're a veteran player, the time he had off he can get back in batting practice."

"Having him back was the lift we needed to get out of this losing streak," pitcher Roger Mason said. "Unfortunately, things didn't hold up."

The Phillies have followed a three-game win streak at the start of the season with four straight losses.

Mason said Kruk, whose final two radiation treatments are today and tomorrow, "should be the ingredient we need. He is more support than we realized." Read Next Article