Dodgers reliever puts difficult episode behind him
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- The scar extends a few inches down the inside of Joe Beimel's left pinky, to the top of his hand. The blemish will be there forever, as will the memory of how it happened.
"I'm over it as far as feeling guilty about it and stuff like that. You've got to move on," Beimel said at the Los Angeles Dodgers' spring training facility. "As far as how it changed my life, I'll never put it behind me. It turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me."
That might sound like a strange reaction, considering the firestorm surrounding Beimel after the Dodgers' most reliable left-handed reliever cut his finger last October after a night of drinking.
Beimel wasn't able to pitch in the NL division series against the New York Mets -- a severe blow to the Dodgers' hopes.
"I quit drinking because of it," he said. "It was enough of a problem that I missed the playoffs -- I don't get to play because of something like that.
"It was a bad thing when it happened, but it ended up being a really good thing. Just to quit drinking -- I didn't do that for anybody else but me and my family."
The 29-year-old Pennsylvania native came to spring training with the Dodgers last year as a non-roster player, and started the season in the minors. He was recalled May 1, and had by far his best season, going 2-1 with a 2.96 ERA in 62 relief appearances. He was especially tough in September, giving up two earned runs in 13 2-3 innings.
Since the Mets had several left-handed hitters in their lineup, Beimel seemed to be a key factor for the Dodgers. Thus, his absence was significant.
Beimel said he was drinking at a New York bar less than 36 hours before the series opener when he got up to go to the bathroom.
"It was 2:30 in the morning. It wasn't like I was drinking soft drinks all night," he recalled. "I stood up, put down my beer, the glass slipped out of my hand. I tried to grab it, it hit a post, the glass exploded and I was kind of shocked. `Holy cow, did that really happen."
Beimel noticed a little cut on his finger, and went to the bathroom.
"When I got there, I saw a whole lot of blood," he said.
Beimel told the team he was injured in his hotel room, but the truth quickly came out. He got stitched up and tried to throw the following day, but the stitches didn't hold. He would fly back to Los Angeles, where he was treated by a plastic surgeon and took 20 stitches.
Beimel said he could have pitched in the second round of the playoffs, but there would be no second round for the Dodgers.
"It was tough, watching the whole thing, knowing the situations I would have been in," he recalled. "I had a great year, and it was tainted."
After the Dodgers lost the first two games, the series shifted to Los Angeles, and naturally, several players were asked about Beimel a day before Game 3. Fellow pitcher Brett Tomko was the most outspoken, saying among other things that Beimel behaved irresponsibly -- a selfish act.
"If somebody speaks the truth, you can't get mad at them," Beimel said. "I'm the one who screwed up."
Beimel spoke to the team before Game 3, and then left Dodger Stadium.
"I just came in and apologized to everybody for letting everybody down," he said. "I said at the time that if anybody wanted to rip me up one side and down the other, I could take it. They accepted my apology."
Tomko said he harbors no hard feelings, and that seems to be the prevailing feeling at Dodgertown.
"I was upset at the situation, the whole team aspect," Tomko said. "I told him that if I had said anything to offend him, I apologize. He took full responsibility for what happened.
"He's a good guy -- I think he's trying to make himself a better guy. Maybe that had to happen for him to take a look at himself. He gets a second chance here, which is nice. The guy can pitch, he can help this team. He's going to be the go-to guy in the bullpen."
Understandably so, considering how well Beimel pitched last year. He had spent most of the previous two seasons in the minor leagues after three years with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"There's no secret formula," he said. "The main thing I did last year was getting ahead of hitters, throwing strikes, having fun playing the game. The mental part is the biggest thing, knowing you can get guys out. On the days after you don't get people out, it's realizing you weren't making your pitches. You have to throw that out of your mind."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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