This Yankee-killer Bob Welch excites baseball for his poise as much as his 95-mile-per-hour fast ball. As his catcher, Steve Yeager, said, "Here is a 21-year-old in his first season in the majors and his first World Series, against the defending world champs and the best clutch hitters anywhere, with everything on the line, and he don't know what pressure is."
Yes he does.
"Look at his fingernails," said Welch's older brother, Don. "That's his release."
Welch's family considers it miraculous he is alive let alone a significant part of World Series lore. The last few World Series have been special moments - and Welch vs. Reggie Jackson with two on and two out in the Yankee ninth Wednesday night becomes even more memorable because the kid won.
Jackson has been baseball's Liberty Valance in pressure games, the one hitter every team would want at the plate in a situation similar to game two of the Series, down a run with a man in scoring position and two out. And the swiftest slinger in town gunned him down.
"Welch's speed and Jackson's power could have produced the most prodigious home run in the history of baseball," Davey Lopes said.
The scene played nine pitches, each a frame of drama to be savored, and, also seen in its relation to the whole, ended with the damnedest strikeout in recent years, although the most significant pitch was not a strike.
Everyone recalls the first pitch and the last, two swings and two misses, one that caused trees to flutter and the other that sent tremors of joy through California. Yeager has a fond feeling for the second pitch.
"Landed him on his butt, didn't it?" Yeager said. "The kid was not gonna let that man swing from his heels."
After an early tantrum and some mental gymnastics with reporters, Jackson took his return to mortality rather well. Only Reggie would have to publicly verify his recentry into flesh-and-blood existence.
"You see?" he said, pinching his stomach.
"You see?" he said, pinching harder.
The man who chewed up the Reggiel bar was a few hundred feet away, exposing his own return to reality. For a 21-year-old who threw only 11 pitches to two batters, Welch spent an extaordinary amount of time with his right shoulder and his right elbow surrounded by ice.
For most of his early years, Welch walked wounded. It was unusual to see him without a broken arm or a scab on his head from a thrown brick or some other adventure. At age 11, he nearly died.
It began as a strep infection. Then trips to two Detroit hospitals. A fever would not break for almost two weeks. Finally, an ear operation brought relief. He left the hospital after 42 days, but was under treatment for more than a year.
Welch exudes confidence on the mound and even has a verbal swagger. When someone wondered about a particular pitch to Jackson, he said: "Yeager wanted me to throw the spitter, but I didn't have any grease with me."
This was Welch's second pro season. Promoted to the Dodgers in mid-June, he was 7-4 with a 2.03 earned-run average and 66 strikeouts and 26 walks in 111 innings. In his first five appearances, he won two games and saved two.
Manager Tommy Lasorda said Welch has the tenacity and attitude of Don Drysdale, the savvy and selectivity of pitches of Don Sutton and the stuff of Carl Erskine.
"He is mature man who lives at 98,000 feet," said Yeager. "I mean, I've never seen anyone his age so poised. A (Terry) Forster you can figure out. He yells and screams."
Welch got Thurman Munson to fly to right and then offered Jackson nothing but two varieties of fast balls, a straight sizzler and one that rises a bit. Once he shook off Yeager; it was Yeager's way of keeping Jackson off balance.
"I pointed to my head," Yeager said, "and my head was shaking. I wanted Reggie thinking as much as possible. But we were going with nothing but his best pitch, that hummer, all the way. That was no disagreement."
Jackson said he "had the clubhead on the ball" on what became strike three "but the kid beat me fair and square. He was throwin' aviation fuel. He came right after me."
As Jackson was beginning to remove the T-shirt that says "Nobody Does It Better." Yeager was leaving the Dodger clubhouse, laughing and telling the attendant, "I've got to get me another ring."
And the kid, rangy and with teenage features but a decidedly adult manner, was returning to the clubhouse. The Iceman had been iced, and when his brother grabbed his hand in celebration, Welch winced.
Laughing, his father scolded Welch for lingering so long. And had he remembered the dozen autographed baseballs for an uncle? Yes. It was more than two hours after the game and strangers still were poking at his mind.
"No butterflies?" said a friend.
"I wish," said baseball's newest celebrity.