Milwaukee Brewers General Manager Harry Dalton held his breath tonight as the team trainer raced out to shortstop to inspect Robin Yount's index finger, which had been hit by a bad-hop grounder.
"That would be seven injuries to regulars in one week," said Dalton. "Lord, they always come in bunches."
Actually, it was a week and a day ago that strange and mysterious maladies and ailments began to afflict the Brewers as they try to cling to their four-game American League East lead. They helped their cause tonight, beating the New York Yankees, 5-3.
Last Thursday in Cleveland, starter Moose Haas grabbed his shoulder, which has bothered him periodically, and left the mound in midinning.
Four innings later, perhaps the most important Milwaukee player -- Rollie Fingers, the league's most valuable player and Cy Young Award winner in 1981 -- clutched his elbow after a pitch.
Fingers had already been suffering for three weeks with a painful elbow which had required extra rest, a trip to a San Diego doctor and two cortisone shots. This time, it was a torn muscle in the right forearm that, the Brewers at first said, would keep him idle for three to five days.
Now, on the ninth day, the Brewers say that Fingers will not risk playing soft catch for at least four more days.
Milwaukee fans have already begun to assume that the Brewers' real target date for Fingers' return is Sept. 20th -- the first of 13 straight games against Boston and Baltimore that conclude the arduous Brewers' schedule. However, the truth is that not even Fingers can be sure he'll be back at all this season.
"I've never had a torn muscle before, so I have no idea what to expect," Fingers said here tonight. "Since we're four games ahead, I have the luxury of taking the extra time and giving myself the best chance of not reinjuring it. If we were a game behind, I'd have to take some chances."
Before Fingers arrived in '81, the Brewers were the prototype of the big-hitting club that lost important games because of bad nerves and a worse bullpen.
In the first eight games after Fingers was hurt, the Brewers were a .500 club. Says Dalton, "We've lost all three games that have had 'Fingers situations.' It's fair to assume we'd have won at least two of those three if we'd had him."
Following Fingers injury, the eerie music began. On Friday, Ben Oglivie's hands were so sore -- with bruised tendons between the thumb and index fingers -- that he, too, needed pain-killing needles and missed three games. He now plays with both hands taped like a boxer's. It didn't stop him from robbing Dave Winfield of a three-run homer tonight.
On Sunday, Gorman Thomas hurt his elbow, already sore from throwing, while making a circus catch. He needed a needle, missed a game and hasn't hit a homer since. Also on Sunday, Jim Gantner, hitting .294, was hit on the left wrist by a pitch from Geoff Zahn and has missed five games; he's expected back Sunday.
On Wednesday here, catcher Ted Simmons got a foul tip on the right index finger, but played Thursday. The finger swelled, he missed tonight's game andmay have X-rays Saturday.
The net result is that this evening the Brewers had four less-than-famous starters -- Ed Romero, Ned Yost, Charlie Moore (who drove in three runs last night) and Don Money.
As for Yount, with his bruised index finger, the potential MVP continued playing with tape, but lobbed his throws to first base.
The Brewers have two saving graces Don Sutton and Doc Medich, two brave late-August acquisitions of old pitchers who will cost Milwaukee over $1.5 million in future salary.
"Sutton and Medich not only look like good deals," said Dalton, "they look necessary."
Medich, who says he's retiring to practice medicine after the season, is the bonanza; he is 4-1 as a Brewer.
For the Brewers, Medich has been the perfect answer. Right now, they're a team that definitely needs a doctor in the house.