Through September, the Milwaukee Brewers were baseball's lame and halt, a stumbling army led by a one-legged, tobacco-chewing captain whose troops saw the high ground slipping away. Their bodies were all aching and wracked with pain. They were held together with adhesive tape. When they lost three skirmishes in Baltimore, fainthearts might have called retreat.
What was the Milwaukee clubhouse like that last day in Baltimore? A fourth straight defeat would have made the Brewers the first team ever to lose a pennant so ignominiously. Into a clubhouse that might have been an embattled bunker, there came a figure so strange, so bizarre, so goofy that everyone forgot for a moment that war is heck.
There came Moose Haas, a pitcher, wearing bandages.
This is the Moose Haas who today flirted with the immortality of an October no-hitter. The Moose Haas who today twice struck out the Reggie Jackson for whom October was invented. The Moose Haas who, with today's 9-5 victory over the California Angels, has brought the Brewers within one game of an unprecedented miracle championship.
There came Moose Haas, practically mummified, dragging his body through the clubhouse, laughing at how goofy a grown-up guy can be when it's the absolute right thing to do at the absolute right moment.
"I had a bandage on my elbow for Rollie Fingers," he said, naming the relief pitcher with a bad elbow.
"I had one on my knee for Jamie Easterly. On my head, I taped down a bottle of aspirin for Bud Selig (the team's owner). I had one around my stomach for Don Money, whose back hurts. I put on a neck brace for Don Sutton. He's always got a stiff neck.
"Sutton was pitching that day, so somebody said, 'Is that because you hope he doesn't choke?' No, no."
Of Haas' moment of comic relief, catcher Ted Simmons said, "It loosened everybody up. We were in Baltimore's ballpark, with that crowd rooting like hell against us, and we'd lost three straight. To come in there that last day and see somebody acting normal, that was nice."
Even nicer in a tangible sense was Moose Haas' pitching performance today. He threw his first ball, warming up, at 12:20 this afternoon. Partly because of three rain delays, he threw his last pitch at 4:56. In between, he pitched 5 2/3 innings of no-hit baseball before leaving in the eighth. More than good, Haas' work was extraordinary considering the rain cost him 1 1/2 hours of sitting around.
"Each time he came back the same pitcher," Simmons said. "The same velocity, the same slider. And he continued to throw strikes . . . For seven innings today, he was as good as any pitcher you could throw out there. He consistently made the right pitches into the right areas."
Don Sutton's arrival in early September caused the one-legged, tobacco-chewing captain -- Manager Harvey Kuenn -- to send Haas to the bullpen. Haas had lost three of four decisions in August. With Fingers injured, Kuenn also needed another reliever.
"Moose's fast ball was short then," Simmons said. "Today, it was 87-89 miles per hour, but then it was 86-87. That's like a foot difference on when it arrives at the plate. When Moose's fast ball is a foot short, he's got a problem. The month off brought it back."
In the last 26 days, Haas pitched only eight innings in relief. The battlefield demotion didn't bother him, he said.
"When Don got here, I didn't think about it. I wasn't throwing well. A lot of things were going wrong, with me and everything. I was struggling, and it came about the time we needed somebody with Rollie hurt."
Only after the Brewers lost the first two games of this best-of-five series did Haas learn he would pitch today.
"It was a surprise," said the veteran of five full seasons here, a onetime Baltimore schoolboy sensation whose 11-8 record this year makes him a modest 61-57 lifetime. "But it showed the kind of confidence that Bud Selig, Harry Dalton (the general manager) and Harvey Kuenn had in me. I had been throwing well in the bullpen and they noticed it . . . Their confidence gave me confidence in myself."
For 98 pitches, Haas had a no-hitter against a lineup starring three men who have been MVP.
"I was conscious of it," he said, "but the most important thing was winning."
The crowd of 51,003 stood and chanted, "Moose . . . Moose," when Haas needed one more out in the fifth inning to make the game official should it be stopped by rain. He struck out Bob Boone on a slider low and away.
"The crowd's a big help," Haas said. "We saw that in Baltimore last week . . . That was the loudest crowd I've ever heard . . . When you hear that at home, it gets your juices to flowing."
What did he think when Fred Lynn doubled with two out in the sixth?
"I thought, 'There goes the no-hitter,' " Haas said dispassionately.
Kuenn should have replaced Haas after he yielded a single and double to begin California's eighth. He had thrown nearly 125 pitches by then, not including those in his two pregame warmups or those thrown against a concrete wall during a rain delay ("Sutton told me he did it before, so I went to the press room and threw off the wall to keep loose.")
With a 7-1 lead, Haas struck out Jackson, fooled into immobility by a fast ball on the low-away corner. But after walking Lynn, Haas, "out of gas," gave Don Baylor a slider belt high. The resulting grand slam brought the Angels within two runs, 7-5, and Kuenn replaced Haas.
Haas walked to the dugout, head down, until he heard the crowd again chanting, "Moose . . . Moose." He looked up in thanks.