When Mike Schmidt walked toward the plate to lead off the ninth inning of the fifth game of the World Series today, with the Phillies trailing by a run, he noticed Kansas City third baseman George Brett in a strange position: even with the bag, almost 10 feet closer than usual.
"I looked at him," Schmidt said, "smiled and said to myself, 'So there you are.'"
Brett was there because of what Schmidt had twice done earlier in the Series -- bunt. The Royals were determined Schmidt would not get away with that again.
"Don't give it to him," K.C. Manager Jim Frey had told Brett before he left the dugout.
Brett was not going to take it. Had Brett been backed all the way to the Missouri line, Schmidt said he would not have bunted just then.
"My job is to get a good pitch and drive it," he said. "Maybe out of the park. No way in that situation am I going to bunt. But him being in that far is the reason I got on. If he plays me normally, he gets me. Instead, we win it the old-fashioned Phillie way. Can't hold a lead, but ol'Del Unser comes through again.
"And me gettin' that hit (off Brett's glove) was the only break we got the whole day."
It was an exaggeration, but not by much.
Once again the Phillies dusted off their new-found courage. No more will their character be seriously questioned. Until Tug McGraw tapped his heart when Hal McRae's potential game-winning homer in the bottom of the ninth went foul, much of America still assumed the Phils had none.
"Let me tell you," Schmidt said, "Ain't nobody gettin' no heart taken out in this Series." He winced, saying: "Sorry about the bad English. But in that last inning (when the Phils scored twice to take the lead and then held the Brett-Aikens part of the Royals scoreless), I was almost as nervous as I was against Houston (in the playoffs).
"That experience lessened the pressure here tonight. Things just won't get any louder than there. Not here. Not even at home (in Game 6 Tuesday night)."
"As Schmidt suggested, this was an affair to remember more for fielding than hitting. And the Phils nearly were White-washed. Too often they dug themselves into a hole, only to find yet another glorious escape route.
How the Phils could have lost makes why they won, 4-3, even more satisfying. And they could have lost by hitting the ball toward Frank White far too often. Let Larry Brown explain that double play White pulled off with a stunning, back-to-the-infield catch in the third.
Bowa had led off the inning with a single, stopped halfway to second when Bob Boone's soft liner headed toward right and then motored on, assuming no human could make the catch.
"I said to myself, 'Frank ain't gonna catch it,'" Bowa said. "I'm sure it's in there. Some great plays by both second baseman, huh?"
Indeed. The Phils' second baseman, Manny Trillo, who also mustered the game-winning RBI, made a wonderful 120-foot relay from Bake McBride to nail Royal catcher Darrell Porter at the plate after Willie Wilson's sixth-inning double.
That allowed the hitless wonder, White, to make the final out. If Porter had scored and Brett been allowed to bat with Wilson on second, the Royals might well have improved on that two-run inning that gave them a 3-2 lead, perhaps broken the game open.
"That was the key," Schmidt said, "Not letting them have the big inning, not letting them have the two-out hit."
Once again, the more efficient team won. The Royals stranded 13 runners, three of them in the tingling ninth, with Tug on the mound and everyone tugging at something substantial to stay mildly sane. What Tug was grasping is not known, for it is universally assumed relief pitchers already are goofy.
"In the eighth," Bowa said, "the tension's already building. So when U.L. Washington comes up, Tug turns to me. He's remembered U.L. almost killing me the other night, so he looks over at me, at this big pressure moment, and says:
Washington struck out.
Perhaps Royal reliever Dan Quisenberry had forecst this royal turnabout tonight. When he was asked after Game 4 Saturday how long he could pitch again today, Quinsenberry snapped, "Forty-five minutes." He was joking, but the time frame was just about right.
From the seventh inning until Schmidt's hit off Brett, Quisenberry had been splendid. Then he made the mistake of having to again face the Phils' grenade, Del Unser, the silent pinch hitter who explodes when activated at all the important postseason moments.
Was the pitch Unser smacked for an RBI double tonight similar to the one he hit off Quisenberry for an RBI double in the Phils' comeback vitory Wednesday night in Philadelphia?
"Similar only in that it was a fast ball," Unser said. "His sinker. The only difference was that this one was in a little more. I said to myself that if he threw in on me, I'd be able to pull it."
The key to hitting Quisenberry, arguably baseball's reliever this season?
"Just trying to get a good pitch to hit. That was Ted Williams' philosophy." Ancient baseball watchers will recall that notion was planted when both were with the Senators.
Nearby, Bowa was saying, "We got one more to win and we're going with our best (Steve Carlton) at home.
"I like our chances. No one here quits. But they (the Royals) battle the hell out of us."
"We know what it's like to go into the opponent's town down two, like the Royals," Schmidt said. "We've done it. You can talk all you want about us going home with a one-game lead and the best pitcher in baseball going for us and it won't mean a damn in either clubhouse."
"This really has been fun," Bowa said, "Like Pete Rose said it would. Yeah, you want the ball hit to you (t the most critical moments). Of course, you don't want a smash that comes on the short-hop. You want a nice two-hopper."
Bowa paused a moment and said:
"You want to think the man upstairs has predicted a winner long ago, that whatever happens will happen. But it's hard not to get quivery during something like tonight."