UNLIKELY HERO (1987)
Newspaper guys were waiting around the clubhouse that night to interview me, I later heard. Well, that had never happened to me before. I had some friends in the ballpark for the game, and after it was over, I just went off with them. The writers hung out expecting me, but I never came back.
That was the first of June . It was my fourth win of the season, with no losses. I was on my way to winning ten straight games to start that season. The unlikely hero was going to make his little splash. Davey didnít put me into the starting rotation right away. He said I was more valuable to him coming out of the bullpen, because he could go to me time and time again. Some writers called me at the hotel in Los Angeles and asked me what I thought about that. I told them it was fine with me, I liked my role. Between you and me, starting sounded nicer. But Iíd never done it steady enough to know if I could do it for a whole season. Trying to go all the way every day takes a lot of endurance, and I had to be honest with myself and admit I didnít really know if I was that strong.
After the win over Fernando in L. A. on the first of June, I went back to the bullpen and pitched relief for the next couple of weeks. Keith Hernandez was starting to call me "Jack," for Jack-of-all-trades. Jesse Orosco and I were the only two guys on the staff who were pitching effectively at that point, so they just kept using us. We were both working nearly every day, but because I worked early and Jesse worked late, I was getting a lot more innings. People were saying I had a bionic arm, I had the best arm God put on a man, to be able to throw as much as I was and thrive on it.
The 16th of the month they came up an arm short again, so I got sent out to start a game in Montreal. The Expos were contending with the Cardinals and us in the East. That team could generate some offense. They had good hitters, and they had Tim Raines, guys who could really run. I knew the first thing I had to try to do was keep those guys off the bases. Okay, I went right after them, no walks, shut them out through eight innings. Got eleven guys on groundballs, because I had that old side-winding sinker of mine working fine. Down the home stretch of that game I retired seventeen batters in a row before they finally scored a couple of runs off me in the ninth. McDowell came in and finished up for me. We won 7-3. I really wanted that shutout. I was getting hungry -- pitching very well was just whetting my appetite to do even better.
Now I got to have my little Cinderella tour in the starting rotation. I won my sixth straight in Philadelphia on June 27, then on July 2 in Cincinnati I pitched probably the best game of my whole streak. The Reds were one of the toughest teams in the West. They had some heavy guns, Eric Davis, Dave Parker, serious major league hitters. But not too much was going to intimidate me at that point. I got my shutout that night, a two-hitter. Shut those hot-hitting Reds down. That was the third and last shutout of my big league career. I was pitching as effectively as Iíd ever pitched in my life. I felt so good out there, it was like I was being gifted.
I think other people could feel it too. I had something special going on. My stuff was just unhittable. In fact, about the sixth inning of that game, as we came running off the field, Keith Hernandez, our first baseman, ran up beside me. "Boy, am I glad Iím not hitting against you," he said. For Mex to be saying that to me just bowled me over. That was coming from a man who could hit anything. Remember I told you about what Ray Knight said to me after that game Iíd pitched against Vida Blue in í85. Well, this little thing Mex said was the second great compliment Iíd ever got from a teammate when I was pitching. What was different this time was, I was getting it from a hitterís perspective.
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Copyright © 2000 by Terry Leach and Tom Clark. Excerpted with permission.
Book cover designed by Carolina de Bartolo.