Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
The Los Angeles Dodgers moved into first place last night. Mark the name of the 21-year-old pitcher who put them there: Bob Welch.
Every Dodger believes Welch already has shifted the outcome of the National League West pennant race in their favor. August and September will be simply a playing out of what they believe they have seen: the coming of the next great pitcher.
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound rookie beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 5-2, last night with as much assurance, poise and occasional grit as could be imagined.
After Reggie Smith crashed a grandslam homer in the third inning off old Jim Kaat - Smith's 14th RBI and sixth homer in six games - the Phillies looked comatose against Welch's 95-mile-per-hour fast balls.
Welch, drafted out of Eastern Michigan last June as L.A.'s No. 1 free agent pick, has been in the majors since June 20. In 15 games (only six starts), Welch has a 5-0 record, three saves in relief and a 1.83 earned-run average.
"He has Don Drysdale's bulldog tenacity, Carl Erskine's fluid mechanics and Don Sutton's confidence and control," Dodger Manager Tommy Lasorda said.
Is he a mortal lock for the Hall of Fame?
"Well," Lasorda said with unaccustomed restraint, "not yet"
At the other extreme stands reserve I. A. catcher Jerry Grote, who is proud of being the grouchiest man in baseball.
"The kid is one of the fortunate few," growled Grote, every word causing him pain. "He was born mature. His delivery is compact and short. He's further along at a comparable stage than Tom Seaver . . . Grrrrr."
Last night, Welch dusted off Greg Luzinski and Mike Schmidt twice each, blowing his best heat past their chins as a calling card. It was no rookie wildness. Welch's amazing ration is 42 strikeouts vs. 10 walks in his first 53 innings. He's control plus power.
He struck out five and walked only two in this one, a six-hitter. Once, thanks to a bloop single, the Phillies loaded the bases. Welch blew away Schmidt and Gary Maddox.
Welch crushed a double off the top of the left-field wall in the fifth, barreled into second and scored on a hit that barely left the infield.
Phillie catcher Barry Foote flipped Welch in a somersault at the plate with a nonchalant hip. Welch remembered, in midair, to reach back and touch the plate. "He (Foote) was awful big when I got up to him," Welch said. "I think I shoulda slid."
"I was 50 years old when Welch headed for home," Lasorda said, "and 60 when he got up out of the dirt."
"I gotta teach that kid to slide - tomorrow," Steve Garvey said.
When Welch batted in the ninth, the 37,660 fans cheered. Reliever Tug McGraw threw at his head. "Yes," Lasorda said. "It was on purpose. No doubt."
"Don't let that stop you," Dave Lopes told Welch as he took the mound. The second Philadelphia batter in the ninth, Richie Hebner, hit only the third ball in history into Veterans Stadium's top deck in right field. Welch blinked.
Welch was so upset that he moved down Luzinski and Schmidt to end the game without the ball leaving the infield.
"He doesn't even know who these hitters are yet," Sutton said. "They all look the same to him."
Welch sat with his elbow in ice. Not a fancy ice bucket, but a washtub full of soft drinks and beers. The rookie, who has sent Rick Rhoden to the bullpen, quietly analyzed his game - his hair lank, his face gentle, a Jerry West lookalike.
He had done a great deal wrong, he said. "There was much to improve. He could not be compared with Drysdale for 10 years. "I get my razzings," he said. "They call me 'Rookie.'"
"Hey, Bob," Lopes yelled. "Can you breathe in there?"
Welch smiled, and murmured, "Yes."