Eyes went pop when Doug DeCinces made that play. The Oriole third baseman made a diving grab of a screamer. Even before he hit the ground, DeCinces stretched his left leg toward third base to make a force out. Clambering up, he then threw to first for a double play. The play was astonishing on two counts: that DeCinces, or anyone, could move that quickly; and that his instincts caused him to search for the base with his toe even before he came to earth.
"What did you think, Bill, of the DeCinces play? " one of America's sporting journalists asked Bill Madlock, the Pirate third baseman, today.
Madlock's teddy bear face took on a smile. "The play was excellent," he allowed. He glanced at DeCinces, who shared the rostrum, to make sure the Oriole was listening. Then Madlock said, "I made about 50 of 'em myself."
Everyone laughed a lot at that one. Not even St. Brooks of the Gold Glove made 50 such astonishments. But these Pirates come to town full of confidence and having fun at the prospect of playing good, country ball in the World Serious. And Bill Madlock's little needle, gentle and harmless as it was, is proof these Pirates ain't afraid of nobody, even men whose toes find third base without thinking.
For Bill Madlock, 1979 has been a trip: a trip from a San Francisco zoo to heaven in Pittsburgh. What fear can the Orioles send into his heart after he has made good his escape from the city by the bay?
In a midsummer deal that still doesn't make sense, the Giants traded Madlock for a mediocre pitcher and two minor leaguers. And while the Giants were miserable -- losing 18 more games this season than last -- the Pirates won their first National League championship since 1971.
"In a hurry," Madlock said today when someone asked how much he wanted to get away from San Francisco.
Madlock's .320 lifetime batting average, for seven seasons, is the best in the National League, three points ahead of teammate Dave Parker. Madlock has won two batting championships. At third, he is a decent fielder, and in a surprise he has shown he can steal bases this season, his 32 thefts double his best previous total .
The trade was made June 28, when Madlock was hitting .261. For April and May, he was at .130. He put a little sign over his locker then: "The Dog Days Have Returned." They call Madlock "Mad Dog," and he is so sure of his ability he can slip himself a needle. He knew he would hit .300. It was just a matter of time. That, and escaping the zoo.
"A zoo, yes," he said. "Everybody was just looking for somebody to blame. Everybody. We had finished well the year before and everybody expected us to be good. But we couldn't beat anybody. So everybody started making excuses. It was like a bad dream. We figured if we could beat the Dodgers, we could win it. We couldn't beat nooooo-body."
Baseball managers like to call team meetings when things are going bad.So the Giant manager, Joe Altobelli, figured that 17 defeats in 18 games was reason to talk it over.
"He comes in and what does he say?" Madlock said today. "He says we are not playing that bad."
We are left to imagine Joe Altobelli on the bridge of the Titanic, saying, "That chunk of ice don't look too big to me."
"So when the meeting is over, a newspaperman asked me about it," Madlock said. "And I told him it was a nothing meeting. Altobelli took it as criticism, but I didn't mean it that way. When you're playing bad, and we were really bad, you gotta tell people so they'll maybe bust their behinds to play good."
Later, Altobelli benched Madlock in favor of Rob Andrews. Andrews probably is a nice guy who never has overturned a police car. He should play in front of Madlock the same day Kate Smith wears Ann-Margret's hand-me-downs.
"I told Joe if he wasn't going to play me the next day, to trade me," Madlock said. "I didn't play the next day. And they traded me three weeks later."
It was one of those mysterious after-trading-deadline waiver deals, in which every team in the National League had to pass on a chance to hire Bill Madlock. Talk about astonishment. Anyway, no one wanted Madlock officially -- cynics say everyone agreed to pass on Madlock, and now the Giants and Pirates owe everybody one -- and on June 29 the little guy with the big bat made the Pirates a team that could win anything.
"Highway robbery," Willie Stargell said of the Madlock deal.
"Dog could steal 50-70 bases, hit .320, make all the plays at third," Tim Foli said.
Madlock's arrival gave the Pirates another right-handed bat in a lineup with lefties named Stargell and Parker. It is no coincidence that the Pirates were six games better against left-handers this season than last, what with Madlock hitting .328 for them, Foli .291 (after an April trade) and Phil Garner .293 (up from .261 of last year).
Now the Oriole brain, Earl Weaver, says in a seven-game Series he will start left-handed pitchers five times.
"That makes no difference," Madlock said. "That's the good thing about this team. Nobody is under any pressure to do anything. Omar Moreno (a left-handed hitter) can go one-for-30 and we can win. Parker sat out six games and we won them all. One or two guys not hitting isn't going to stop our show.
"Left-handers? Don't you think Steve Carlton is a good left-hander? And Randy Lerch? Are you telling me Mike Flanagan and Scott McGregor are better than those guys? Our left-handed hitters didn't get us here hitting only right-handers. Me, I don't feel I have to hit the Orioles' left-handers. None of us are pressured to do anything."
Madlock has come too far now to cave in. He signed with the Washington Senators in 1969, but first played in the big leagues for Texas in 1973. Traded to the Cubs for veteran pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, Madlock won his batting titles in Chicago. When it seemed he might want $150,000 as a free agent, the Cubs traded him to San Francisco in 1977 for Bobby Murcer, to whom the Cubs gave a $320,000 salary (shrewd, those Cubbies).
"Ever think you'd see a Dog in the World Series?" said Stargell in the Pirates' happy locker after the sweep of the Reds. "Arf, arf, arf-arf," Stargell said, dancing around Bill Madlock.
Joe Altobelli, by the way, was fired about two months after the Madlock trade.