A hero, Mike Scioscia wore a frown.
"Well," he said, "I could have hit a home run."
He didn't. The Dodgers' reserve catcher hit into a double play in the fifth inning of Game 3 of the World Series tonight, a topper to second that was wonderful in two ways: it drove in what proved to be the winning run of a 5-4 victory; more important, it kept Fernando Valenzuela in the game.
Almost anything but a double play, and the Dodgers would have trusted this game to somebody other than Valenzuela. They will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid this, although double play was not what Scioscia had in mind at the plate with the bases loaded and none out.
"All I wanted to do," Scioscia said, "was to avoid hitting the ball back to the pitcher."
But that's where it almost went.
Almost any other kind of out, Dodger Manager Tommy Lasorda admitted, and Reggie Smith would have pinch-hit for Valenzuela.
"Yep," Smith said. "I was ready."
When Scioscia's bat made contact with Yankee reliever Rudy May's second pitch, his heart sank.
"I topped it," he said, and in the general direction of the one place he did not want it to go -- the pitcher's mound. But the ball carried beyond May's reach, and while Willie Randolph was grabbing the ball, tagging second and throwing to first, Ron Cey was dashing home with the fifth run.
And Smith was moving back toward his seat in the dugout.
The chances of Smith's getting Pedro Guerrero home from third were not as good as baseball's best pitcher holding the Yankees scoreless the final four innings, Lasorda judged. He was right.
Any time a double play saves it, a game hardly is memorable in the traditional sense. For the Dodgers, this victory came about because Valenzuela became himself quicker than the other rookie wonder child, Dave Righetti.
Also, feeble Dodger contact tonight yielded mostly pleasant and productive results. There was nothing Nettlesome this game, and not necessarily because Graig Nettles was on the bench with a thumb injury. Even that magnificent glove would not have stopped these Dodger bleeders.
"A lotta good top spin forehands down the line," Steve Garvey said, playing Bjorn Borg with an imaginary racket in the Dodger clubhouse.
Garvey hit the first one in the fifth, a leadoff chop that Aurelio Rodriguez had to leap to control and throw off balance to first. After a walk to Cey, the Yankees played for a bunt from Guerrero.
Since Guerrero was three for 27 for October, including the National League playoffs, this probably was wise. Lasorda thought otherwise, undoubtedly recalling the last Guerrero at bat and what did not happen.
Twice Guerrero had squared to bunt, trying to sacrifice Garvey and Cey with none out. Twice he bunted foul. He eventually struck out.
Why not at least give him three solid cuts?
The Yankees gambled bunt.
"Hitting all the way," Guerrero said.
He did make contact, and his top spin lob bounded over the drawn-in Rodriguez for an RBI double. It might have been a double play had the Yankees played at normal depth.
"One in the left-hand (win) column," said Garvey, being realistic and hopeful in succeeding breaths. "I know it was one run, but it seemed a much larger victory. The fans got energized. And I think we got ourselves some momentum. If we'd lost (and trailed, 3-0, in the Series), it would've been just saving some face the next two days.
"Now we're moving."
They had been moving early in the game, although not in the direction anyone on the team had in mind. The first three innings were Fernando's fadeway, with the Yankees scoring four runs, leaving five stranded and forcing 71 pitches from a man going on three days rest yet another time under playoff pressure.
"Too high," Scioscia said. "When he was struggling, the pitches were strikes. But they were too high."
Two of them became home runs, from the only two Yankees that Valenzuela found overly troublesome, Bob Watson and Rick Cerone. Of the nine Yankee hits, Watson and Cerone had four. Of the team's four runs, Watson and Cerone had three.
Why the transformation?
"Well," said Scioscia, who entered the game as a pinch hitter for Steve Yeager in the third, "I went out there a couple times, turned on my bilingual touch and said some things."
"You wouldn't want to hear them."
He was smiling now.
"When he got his motion under control, he got his control," Scioscia said. "When he got his control, we got him some runs." Sounds simple, right? It wasn't.
It seemed simple when Dave Winfield was at the plate. The highest paid player in baseball is two for 27 these playoffs and seemed especially helpless against Valenzuela. He walked twice, but struck out once, hit a ground ball to third and a fly ball to right.
For a change, a Dodger pitcher was the beneficiary of some decent fielding. Or else the Yankees were cooperating with hits that could be fielded for a change. In Game 3, Bobby Murcer pinch-hit and moved two runners ahead with a sacrifice bunt. Tonight, he bunted into a double play.
In Yankee Stadium, that grounder Randolph hit to Cey in the eighth probably would have been a hit. It would have been a hit here, but Rodriguez on second was running toward third. Even a penguin could have tagged him out.