Before the game started, Frank Lucchesi made his prediction: "Bump Wills is going to prove I am right on this whole thing."
And so it was that all the threads of this spring's Texas Ranger soap opera came together here in the 10th inning of the opener against the Baltimore Orioles.
Bump Wills, son of the great base thief Maury Wills, and the young man who took Lenny Randle's second base job, began his major league career by beating Jim Palmer and the Baltimore Orioles, 2-1, with a 10th-inning single to center.
It was a little hit, just a snapping, first-pitch line drive past the ear of the man who has won the American League Cy Young Award three of the last four years.
But it meant a great deal to Wills and Lucchesi, who have been under pressure this spring because of the "Randle incident."
Just today Lucchesi learned that Randle would not contest the $23,407 fine and one-month suspension the Rangers slapped him with for publicly beating up his manager 10 days ago.
"I'm damn sorry to hear Randle won't be here tomorrow for a hearing," said Lucchesi, furious that Randle, by accepting the disciplinary action, had avoided a face-to-face meeting with the man who still bears the marks of his fists. "I wanted to answer some of his lies."
It seemed like simple justice to Lucchesi today that Wills would vindicate his judgment immediately by winning the opening day game with his first big league hit.
"This is so great for the kid," said Lucchesi. "He has been caught in the middle all spring between being the son of a great player and now the Randle sneak attack on me." Wills also complicated his first days by holding out durint the first week of spring training, asking for a multiyear contract before ever playing an inning in the majors.
Wills is as handsome and smooth as Lucchesi is gnarled and weathered. When he came off the field after the last out, Lucchesi grabbed him in a long bear hug. "I was stuck for words," said the loquacious Lucchesi. "I couldn't get nothin' out."
Lucchesi retreated to his office and doodled, as he always does after games, on his note pad. The scrawl read, "Bump. You did it for me."
"I was getting a little nervous," Wills said. "After the eighth inning I came back in the tunnel and got some heal on my hands. I was thinking, 'I haven't even thrown to first yet.'"
But in the 10th he knew just what to do. Juan Beniquez led off with a liner to center that the previous Oriole incumbent, Paul Blair, easily would have snagged. But "defensive replacement" Larry Harlow, one of seven O's rookies, broke sideways, not back, and never touched the drive that fell for a cheap double.
As a ground-out-moved Beniquez to third, Wills made his plan. "Palmer had only thrown me two curves all day and he likes to get ahead. I guessed a high fastball," said the compact, barrel-chested 24-year-old, who look like a sawed off power hitter, not the heir of a speedster.
As the liner whizzled up the middle, Wills watched the O's rookie second baseman, Rich Dauer, dive in vain.
"I wanted to watch it go through, admitted Wills. To prove he was a rookie, Wills rounded third rambunctiously on Claudel Washington's subsequent double, fell flat and was trapped in a rundown.
While this day was a grand season's start for Wills and Lucchesi, it was a day to worry for Randle. Lucchesi hinted bluntly that he plans to file a civil suit against Randle, a suit that would fall outside baseball's protected little world.
Lucchesi has gotten plenty of advice, and some say pressure, in recent days from baseball men who were shocked to hear his original position that he would not sue Randle. "I guess I'm just an old softie," said Lucchesi then.
But today Lucchesi snapped: "I don't say "no comment" too much, but I'm sayin' it now, pal, about this lawsuit business. I'll have a lot to say at the right time.
"I'll just say these words - 'For the integrity of baseball.' Those words might be the key to my thinking. I may have to do something to set a precedent to protect future managers."
Randle's agent, Gary Walker said today that, "Lenny is not anxious to debate or talk about the matter further. He has apologized to Lucchesi and his teammates."
Randle added that he hoped his fine would be given to Lucchesi. "I do not want my spntaneous behavior to be an example for any other athlete or young person," Randle said from Phoenix.
Lucchesi, his swollen, brused face still showing Randle's autograph, hardly felt conciliatory. "He feels he's in the hot seat and better not say much," said Lucchesi, referring to Randle's peace offerings. "I don't see how I can ever accept him back on this team now. It's not just me, it's how the other players feel, too.
"If Randle wants to meet me again face-to-face, he can wait at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. He'll have a long wait."