The bad news for the uptight, worn-out Milwaukee Brewers is that the California Angels think of the pressure-packed playoffs of October as a nice, relaxing chance to have a little fun.
Tonight, in the second game of the American League championship series, the Angels beat the Brewers with almost casual ease, gliding to a 4-2 victory that gives them a 2-0 lead and puts them within one victory of their first World Series.
At a glance, this less than scintillating contest might seem a simple matter. Tall, skinny right-hander Bruce Kison pitched as fine a game against Milwaukee as the Brew Crew has seen all season. He struck out eight, got 14 out on ground balls, retired the last 13 batters and, hard as it is to believe, allowed only two weak flies to reach the outfield.
In other words, the gang that hit 216 homers this season didn't hit a single ball more than 250 feet in the air. Both Milwaukee's runs were tainted, scoring on a fluke inside-the-park home run by Paul Molitor when Fred Lynn missed a sliding catch of a short liner to center.
As the oft-injured Kison, who has a 4-0 career record in the playoffs, continued a three-week stretch of hot pitching in cool weather, the Angels managed to chip and chisel their way to four early runs off Pete Vuckovich, who previously had a 5-0 career record against them.
"When we've faced Vuckovich, we've had him in more hot water than a two-pound lobster," said California Manager Gene Mauch before the game. "But Vuckovich is a master of evasion."
This evening, before a crowd of 64,179, Vuckovich couldn't escape two RBI from Bob Boone on a squeeze bunt and a sacrifice fly. He couldn't dodge an RBI single from Tim Foli. And, most certainly, he wasn't able to avoid a 440-foot home run over the center field fence in the third inning by a familiar October face: Mr. Reggie Jackson.
It's often said that Jackson plays to the national TV cameras, but his homer tonight bordered on the ridiculous: the ball flew directly over the remote ABC center field camera before banging off the seldom-reached back tarp.
With that swing, Jackson tied or set three records. He tied Mickey Mantle for most postseason home runs in a career (18), and tied George Brett for most homers (6) in AL championship series history. The home run was his 18th RBI in an AL championship series, breaking the record he held with Graig Nettles.
"It's satisfying to tie Mantle," Jackson said, "but since I've been to bat twice as much as almost anybody else (in postseason play), it would almost be embarrassing not to have some records. I probably have the most strikeouts, too. I just hope I don't get the record for most errors."
While the Brewers looked like a collective nervous breakdown looking for somewhere to collapse, the Angels looked like a team that couldn't wait to finish winning a pennant and get on with the World Series.
No team has won an AL championship series after losing the first two games. Game 3 will be played at 3:15 p.m. EDT on Friday, when Geoff Zahn, 18-8 for the season but 0-2 against the Brewers, faces Milwaukee's Don Sutton.
Neither that, nor any future October game, seems likely to hold fear for the Angels. They are the reverse of most clubs, which feel at home in the regular season but become paralyzed in October.
For the Angels, whose average age in Tuesday's opener was 33.8, the hard part comes in Cleveland in June or Toronto in August. The difficult part of their sport is purely physical, not emotional or psychological. These famous and wealthy Angels, so many of them emblems of the free-agent era, passed all their tests of pressure and late-season character in other cities and other seasons. All that truly troubles them is staying in one piece for six months so they can cavort now.
Those endless April to September days are when Bobby Grich's and Doug DeCinces' lower backs hurt so badly that, from day to day, they don't know if they can play. That's when Jackson and Foli have to consult with their over-tight hamstrings to see if they can run. That's when Lynn's chronically misshapen ankle, Boone's deteriorating knee, Don Baylor's battered hand and Rod Carew's sprained wrist take on the sort of nagging arthritic ache usually reserved for senior citizens.
Yes, those are the days when the Angels look like a limping, limited club, showing its age. They've wondered all season if they could just make it through the long, hot mean season and into the cool, invigorating playoffs of October. Then, they knew, they could rest up a bit, get the adrenaline pumping and show the baseball world what Angels they could be. Then, they'd be in their natural element, in that national spotlight where all of them have been so comfortable for so long.
"Instead of feeling apprehension, this club looks at the playoffs as a chance to enjoy itself," said Grich, who, along with DeCinces and Foli, combined for a half-dozen classy infield plays behind Kison.
"The 162 (games) are hard. The playoffs are fun . . . Rest does us more good than any other team. Heck, I'm 33, I've played 11 seasons and, on this team, I'm young. The last six days of the season, we had a pretty good lead and not much pressure. Then we had Sunday and Monday entirely off. It's gotten us fresh."
Said Lynn: "You only have to be a little flat, just infinitesimally off your game, and a club like ours will give you a lot of trouble."
Jackson added, "We're quite loose. You look around this clubhouse and see MVPs, batting champions, guys that you know are going to play well in games like this."
When asked about his nickname, Mr. October, Jackson said, "I'm starting to believe it myself. I think it helps me."
The last piece of the puzzle for the Angels has been putting together a respectable pitching rotation -- or, at least, the three-man pitching staff that a club can get away with in the postseason, which is littered with restful travel days, like tomorrow. The Angels had Zahn all year, then Tommy John arrived Aug. 31. Two weeks later, Kison returned to the rotation after recovering from being hit in the shin by a line drive.
"For the last month, Kison's been our best pitcher," said DeCinces.
Kison, whose career record at 32 is a modest 95-75, has always been a bit of a mystery. Five weeks ago, the Angels tried to trade him to the Yankees for John, but New York owner George Steinbrenner turned it down, saying Kison didn't amount to enough in return.
"Maybe George would like to reconsider that trade," said Kison, who is best known for being thin, grumpy and good in the cool weather of September and October.
"Everybody asks why Kison hasn't won more games in his career," said Grich. "Well, he might be the starting right-hander on the bad-body team. He gets hurt 'cause he's got a bad body. It's not his fault. But when he's not hurt, he's a helluva pitcher."
When the weather gets cool, the offdays help the aches heal and the games are for the big money and the bigger fame, the Angels seem suddenly to have become a helluva team.