To a sport already cluttered with specialists, we must consider one more. Call it DMO, Designated Mr. October, and give a salute to the fellow who has earned it, Lou Piniella.

Some sub, this Piniella. If you think carefully about it, the Yankees have experienced just five games that could be called vital since spring training -- and played three of them without Reggie Jackson. He hardly has been missed.

Sweet Lou made it so.

The postseason numbers on Piniella will come later; his most memorable moment was tonight, and it did not involve the bat that keeps him in baseball at age 38. He was special against the Dodgers in the opening World Series game for his guile and his reputation.

They allowed him to steal second base.


Lou Piniella at full speed is Bill Rodgers jogging. He steals signs once in a while, some affectionate glances from middle-aged women, but never bases. Not in two years, anyway.

"They weren't paying attention to me," he said of his thrilling third-inning theft. "They must have been following their scouting report."

It was a gift-wrapped steal. Standing on first after his second straight hit, Piniella watched Jerry Reuss pay attention to just about everything but him, throwing ball one to Bob Watson. Bowie Kuhn need not shed his sport coat to grab second under such circumstances.

Lou lumbered; he did not draw a throw.

"Stole it on the pitcher," Piniella said. "The catcher had no chance. I'm positive they hadn't been paying attention."

All of baseball already had been paying strict attention to Piniella's bat. With two hits, one RBI and one run scored tonight, he was as effective, though not quite so dramatic, as usual in the postseason. At least Jackson gave him some warning this time.

"I told him last night when I left," Jackson said, "to be ready to play when he came to the ballpark tonight."

When will that muscle in his left leg be unknotted enough for Jackson to play?

"Maybe tomorrow," he said. "Probably Friday."

In the third inning of Game 2 against Oakland, Piniella was minding his own business on the bench when Manager Bob Lemon told him to gather his glove and replace the suddenly limping Jackson in right. He did that, and later hit a three-run homer.

In Game 2 of the Milwaukee series, Piniella hit a homer off Mike Caldwell. Tonight he increased his World Series hitting streak to seven games, then put that in Yankee perspective.

"I won't talk Yankee superiority until after we win it all," he said, "but one of the best players ever in postseason is hurt, we can't use the DH (designated hitter) and we still make the plays. That's the key to our success. We have a bench, a true major-league bench.

"We don't lose all that much (when a regular is hurt). Reggie's a great postseason player, but we don't lose a position with me out there. It's not like whoever's out there won't do anything. I know the importance of these games. If I can't rise to the occasion under these circumstances, something's wrong."

Something was wrong against Milwaukee, Piniella sensed. Looking back, he realized Game 5 had been the first important test of the sad, split season. The Yanks had won the first half without realizing it at the time; the second half meant little more than staying healthy.

"George (Steinbrenner, the Yankee owner) was very disgusted the second half," Piniella said. "What he didn't understand was there was no incentive and we were not playing on all cylinders. Some guys were hurt. But we hadn't been tested.

"That's why you saw mistakes against Milwaukee we don't usually make. But the fifth game we came out on top. That's what made us as a team, getting by a very important opponent."

From a far corner near the training area, Piniella surveyed the clubhouse. Knots of reporters were scattered about the entire area, fussing over more than a half-dozen Yankees. Piniella smiled. This is how it should be.

"Graig (Nettles) makes some plays; Willie (Randolph) makes some plays. Dave (Winfield) makes a throw from left you don't see every day. This is a very businesslike, veteran team. We're not an awesome team; we're very well-rounded -- and if we score some runs, we're very, very tough."

Piniella took batting practice with the reserves tonight. He shrugged his shoulders about it.

"You can get ready (with the regulars) and lose it," he said. "You've gotta discipline yourself to be ready when the ump says: 'Play ball.' Not a moment before."

The Yankees do not consider these October Dodger collisions a rivalry, he said. LA hasn't earned that yet.

"We respect them," he said. "It's a rivalry for them, I'm sure. And if they'd beat us (in a Series) that would get us more charged up."

This is not a showcase, Piniella insisted.

"Business," he said. "We're getting paid to win the World Series."

If there had been jokes after his startling steal, Piniella could not recall them. He was more certain about the past than the future, for he and several others are at the end of contracts.

"I'm not sure at all what'll happen," he said. "If George doesn't sign me, I'll try the free-agent market. If that doesn't work, I'll go into business in Tampa."

And what business would that be?

"Whatever I find."