Fernando Valenzuela kept sticking his left hand in his hip pocket today. Probably to make sure the Montreal Expos were still there.
For this entire season, Valenzuela has had the whole National League in his hip pocket. So, it was only justice that, in a frigid, thrilling one-game season, the 20-year-old should pitch, hit and lead his Los Angeles Dodgers into the World Series.
Valenzuela, the innocent who has brought wonder and delight to a dismembered season, beat the Expos, 2-1, today in the fifth National League championship series game with a performance no rookie has ever matched. The Dodgers now open the Series against the New York Yankees Tuesday at 8 p.m. (WJLA-TV-7).
Oh, Valenzuela had glorious ninth-inning help today.
Rick Monday made this Blue Monday for 36,491 fans in Olympic Stadium by crushing a game-winning, 400-foot solo home run over the center field fence off Montreal ace-of-staff Steve Rogers, who had begun the ninth inning in relief.
And Dodger smoke thrower Bob Welch got the game's final out, retiring Jerry White on a weak, first-pitch grounder to second base after Valenzuela had walked Gary Carter and Larry Parrish with two out in the bottom of the ninth.
This, to be sure, was a day for all the Dodgers. Never before in baseball history has a team faced five sudden-death postseason games in which a defeat would end their season; then gone on to win all five. That's what the Dodgers, who trailed Houston two games to none and Montreal two to one, accomplished.
Nonetheless, this was Valenzuela's celebratory day.
In this Year of Valenzuela, the Dodgers are heading to Yankee Stadium for one primary reason: because a rookie, who seems to be part Buddha, part 1,000-year-old enigmatic Mexican icon, and part miniature reincarnation of Babe Ruth, refused to let them die today.
As Valenzuela trudged around the cold Canadian mound in Olympic Stadium this afternoon, Los Angeles Manager Tommy Lasorda kept having the same thought.
"How can we lose with him out there? The kid's done everything right all season. It's his year. We're goin' to the World Series," said Lasorda. "If you threw Fernando in the bottom of the river, he'd swim out the other side with a fruit stand."
Valenzuela beat the Expos with his left arm, allowing only three hits and one tainted first-inning run in 8 2/3 innings that included a streak of 20 outs in 20 batters.
He beat them with his bat, driving home Monday with the game-tying fifth-inning run that kept the Dodgers' nerves from becoming terminally frayed.
And he beat them by the example he set for his veteran teammates. As Valenzuela trudged off the mound after a nightmare of a first inning, in which his teammates had looked like frozen buffoons, the barrel-chested lad from Navajoa Sonora began to laugh.
"That was his way of telling us that he had his great stuff," said veteran Reggie Smith. "Franky (Valenzuela's nickname) was letting us know that one run was all they were probably going to get."
In memory, this game will have two vastly different halves. The first lasted 2 hours 24 minutes as Valenzuela was engaged in an eight-inning, 1-1 pitchers' duel full of lost opportunities for both teams.
The second act of this drama lasted only 17 minutes. It began when Monday blasted a 3-and-1 fast ball barely over the wall in deepest right-center and it ended with Steve Garvey on his knees at first base, prayerfully holding both hands aloft after digging out the final throw to first base. "A lot of destiny goin' on around here," said Garvey when the champagne had stopped flying.
Those long, cold, introductory eight innings had two key crisis points -- the first inning when the Dodgers might have destroyed themselves and lost their team faith, and the fifth when Lasorda's managing and Valenzuela's knack for the clutch act brought the Dodgers back to parity.
In the top of the first, LA's Dusty Baker and Garvey stranded Bill Russell at third after a one-out triple. "We all thought, 'Oh, no, not this again,' " said Smith, mindful not only that the Dodgers have been in a horrid clutch-hitting slump but that the team saves its worst offensive support for Valenzuela as though they want to see him rise to the worst occassions.
In the bottom of that first, the Expo crowd went wild as leadoff man Tim Raines blasted a 3-and-2 pitch for a double off the center field wall. Next, Rodney Scott laid down a poor sacrifice bunt to Valenzuela, who had the lightning Raines dead at third. But Valenzuela, in his only mistake of the day, hesitated, forgetting for a second that Raines is the fastest man between bases in history. Raines was safe by inches. First and third, none out.
That, perhaps, is when the Expos lost. Their central star, Andre Dawson, who did not drive in a run in the entire 10-game postseason, hit a perfect double play ball to second. That meant a run, but it also got Valenzuela out of the inning. That was the last Montreal highlight of the day.
Hopes were high here for the first Canadian Series when Burris, who had shut out the Dodgers and Valenzuela in Game 2 in L.A., extended his scoreless innings to 13. The sign in the stands said, "Valenzuela has recurring Burris-itis."
That Burris hex ended in the fifth and Lasorda, who is often maligned as a star-struck glad-hander who only parrots Dodger-blue epigrams, can take the bows.
Leadoff man Monday was in the lineup only because Lasorda put him there in Game 4, benching young Ken Landreaux in what Smith called a bold move. After Monday barely missed a homer foul, he singled. Next came rookie Pedro Guerrero, a .300 hitter in 1981 in a disastrous slump with a zero for nine here in Montreal that included four double play grounders and a failure to advance 10 base runners 10 consecutive times.
Lasorda stuck with him, and helped him. First, Lasorda, trying to take pressure off the kid, tried a hit and run. Guerrero fouled it. Then, Lasorda called for a bunt, but the suffering Guerrero fouled that, too. Finally, on a 3-and-2 pitch, Lasorda put on the hit and run again -- anything to open up a hole for Guerrero. Finally, Guerrero responded with a line hit to right, Monday racing to third.
Valenzuela the hitter had his moment with one out and Guerrero on second (after a short wild pitch) and Monday at third. On a two-and-two pitch, Valenzuela, a creditable .250 hitter this season with seven RBI, managed to nudge a ground ball to the left of second base. It was a weak little dribbler, but, like so much that Valenzuela does, a stroke that seemed touched with magic and luck.
"For a pitcher, it was hell of a job of hitting just to get the bat on that pitch," said Garvey.
"We just knew Fernando would find a way to bring the run home," said Smith. "He always does, with that ridiculous little swing. He's going to be one of the all-time greats. It's just written on everything he does."
The final act, as written today, was one that will cause reliever-for-a-day Rogers and rookie Expo Manager Jim Fanning much pain.
Why pinch-hit for Burris in the bottom of the eighth? Why bring in a starter, even the team ace Rogers, when an excellent reliever, Jeff Reardon, is ready?
Finally, and perhaps most importantly from a dugout viewpoint, why did Rogers challenge Monday with what the hitter called "a fast ball waist high and on the inside half" on a 3-and-1 pitch with two out and nobody on base? Why not be careful?
"Perhaps a relief pitcher would have been more careful," said Smith. "A starter doesn't think that way. His first inning isn't usually the ninth inning."
"It's two different (pitching) psychologies," said Garvey. "It will be talked about (by players)."
Monday, too, will talk about it. But, amazingly, he will not remember it. Monday has hit 218 major league homers and, he said, "I've seen every one of them come off the bat and followed the flight of every one.
"Today, I never saw the ball. It left the bat, and I knew it was hit a long way. But I didn't know where in the damn park it was hit. I was running and screaming, 'Get out of the park, ball. Wherever the hell you are.' "
In the Montreal clubhouse, all was silence. That pitch to Monday was on many minds. "In the same situation, I'd call exactly the same pitch," said Carter.
Rogers, walking by at that moment, heard his catcher's words.
"Yeah," said Rogers, "but I'd sure have thrown it different."