As early as the second inning, Bill Gullickson began to feel queasy and faint on the mound.
It wasn't because he was a 21-year-old rookie. It wasn't because he was facing the Pittsburgh Pirates in the biggest game of his life before 53,167 roaring fans in Olympic Stadium.
And it wasn't even because he is the hottest young pitcher in baseball, having won nine games in his last 10 starts with an ERA of 1.82, including a performance just four days before against Chicago in which he struck out 18 Cubs. The Montreal right-hander who was on his way to pitching a vital and symbolic shutout over the Bucs -- a 4-0, three-hit masterpiece -- had a far different problem.
"Get me a candy bar," Gullickson told the Expos trainer. "It's my diabetes."
Only six months ago, Gullickson learned that he had juvenile diabetes. That is the most serious kind, which can take decades off a life no matter how dutifully it is treated.
Today was the first time Gullickson ever felt the symptoms of his disease while on the mound.
"The game was delayed (91 minutes) by rain and that threw off my meal schedule," said Gullickson. "When your body starts getting too much insulin, it comes on quick. You feel weak and queasy. But I know what to do."
For the past two seasons, many an Expo has played as though in a faint whenever Montreal had to face the Pirates in the heart of a pennant race.
Last September, the Bucs spanked the Expos in five of six. This year, Pittsburgh had won 11 of 15. Only those wins had kept the Pirates breathing in their pennant chase. But this weekend, the world champs ran into the Expos two pitching prodigies -- Gullickson and his buddy, 24-year-old Scott Sanderson -- who both shut them out.
Montreal, which leads Philadelphia by one game in the National League East, and the Pirates by 4 1/2 games, has turned in six shutouts in its last 10 September games.
"When Gullickson fanned 18 this week, I told him, 'You're my hero.'" joked Sanderson. "When I shut out the Pirates, 1-0, on Friday, he said I'd topped him and he said, 'Now you're my idol.'"
"After today," laughed Sanderson, "I've got to tell him, 'You're still my hero.'"
It would be hard to find a more heroic, tense pitching performance. After his candy bar kicked in, Gullickson spent the rest of the game munching on a smoked ham sandwich between innings. After his victory, teammates had put the thing they knew he wanted most on his chair: a submarine sandwich. h
"I've learned how to keep my strength up, keep my internal chemistry feeling right during a game," said Gullickson. "Mostly today I'd just say I was lucky."
Gullickson did have good fortune. The Expos, who had only scored one run in two games during this series, scored three runs in the first inning off John Candelaria. That meant that the first three Expo hitters had scored as many runs off the 6-foot-7 Candy Man in a fraction of an inning as the team had over the past two seasons in 24 innings.
Also, Andre (Hawk) Dawson flew to the center field wall twice for crashing catches that saved two runs.
"I didn't have my best breaking ball," said Gullickson. "They hit some ropes, but my defense saved me. Today, I couldn't overpower anybody. I had to do some pitching."
That is what is most special about Gullickson. "He's a rookie who seems like a vet," said catcher Gary Carter. "He has that little something extra out there. You can't pinpoint it, but you feel his confidence and poise."
The 6-foot-3, 207-pound Gullickson even looks a bit different. In his dark brown hair, just above the right temple, is a streak of blond, almost white hair.
Sanderson says it looks like some prankster put vanilla ice cream there. Gullickson says, "It's just a birthmark, but people think I'm into punk rock."
Carter knows what it really is. "It's like some old white-haired pitching coach touched him, he says, "and injected all that veteran knowledge into a 21-year-old kid's head."
You either have to be old and bold, or young and a little numb between the ears, to pitch as Gullickson did today. After each hard-hit Pirate out, Gullickson -- instead of running shy -- jumped back with brave strikes to get ahead in the count.
"Nobody's been teachin' this kid much," said 40-year-old reliever Woody Fryman. "You don't teach what he's got in the heart. He's just himself."
But not his old self. He learned just three starts ago that he was tipping off every pitch before he started his delivery. Since then, he has, in order, shut out the Giants, fanned those 18 Cubs (putting him in the same company with Bob Feller and Ron Guidry) and blanked the Bucs in a crisis game.
"You could say we're glad to have him." said Manager Dick Williams. "Hell, he and Sanderson are our stoppers."
The fans here in the Big O know it; when Gullickson batted in the seventh, they gave him a standing "o" that lasted throughout his seven-pitch at bat. Gullickson lashed a full-count single back past Candelaria's ear.
In fact, Gullickson even found his way around the bases to score his first, major league run. However, when Enrique Romo walked Carter with the bases loaded to force home Gullickson, the rookie made his only unpoised mistake of the day. He refused to take his foot off third until the coach patted, prodded and assured him that it was safe to trot home.
Gullickson , who is Swedish-Norweigian stock and one of nine childeren who grew up in Joliet near Chicago, has always been able to function under scrutiny. In one high school game, five scouts had radar guns on him. In '77, the Expos made him the second player drafted in the nation.
"I spotted him for greatness in spring training last year," said Bill Lee.
"If he stays healthy, heLl be great for years."
In fact, diabetes was the first major setback in Gullickson's life. "I felt like crying. I felt like everything I worked for had just given up on me." he recalls. "But my second reaction was to learn everything I could about it, so I could beat it."
Against this fellow, the Pirates had little chance. After the last Buc grounded out, Gullickson led a score of Expos in a wild hugging, hand-slapping demonstration that meandered all over the infield. The Montrealers exchanged "high fives," low fives" and "sidearm fives." They didn't want to leave the field as the waves of cheers washed over them.
In the clubhouse, the disco rock blared, "Another One Bites the Dust." But Carter, the team leader, yelled out a warning to his teammates: "Long way to go."
That thought may apply to the Expos as a whole. But it doesn't applly to Bill Gullickson. He has already arrived.