"They can't hit," Whitey Herzog was saying about the Milwaukee team his Cardinals will face in the World Series. "Hell, they only hit 230-some homers, had four guys drive in 100 runs each and four or five .300 hitters. So I'm not worried about their hitting; I'm worried about the other parts of their game."
The architect was relaxed. Or at least not whoop-de-do giddy when the Cardinals finished their sweep of the Atlanta Braves tonight. He even tried to avoid getting mussed with champagne -- and might have save for a bullpen catcher, Glenn Brummer, squirting him during a live interview with one of his St. Louis television pets.
To be as honest as he nearly always is, this is exactly what Herzog expected when he gained on-the-field control of the Cardinals three seasons ago. And, hell, in Herzog's mind he should have been in the World Series twice already. Not being there once with those fine mid-'70s Kansas City Royals got him fired. Or as he might put it, gave him the chance for even grander glory with the Cardinals.
"Failing there makes me appreciate this all the more," he admitted. "To do this tonight takes a lot off my mind."
He compared each of his Missouri marvels:
"This one is younger," he said, "but not as intelligent. The Royals played smarter day in and day out. But we never had Bruce Sutter in Kansas City."
If he had, Herzog might still be there, World Series rings weighing down his hands. He seems to think so.
"Lost twice to the Yankees in the ninth inning (of the American League playoffs)," he said, "because they always had a big man in the bullpen."
Tonight, most of Whitey's wizardry was on display. He rebuilt the Cardinals more quickly and dramatically than few teams ever, getting 10 players and giving 13 his first year and maneuvering for two important Smiths, Lonnie and Ozzie, just before this season. And a rookie, Willie McGee, was spectacular. Awful at times, but wondrous more often.
There many of them were tonight: Joaquin Andujar pitching strongly for 6 2/3 innings; McGee hitting a triple and home run; Darrell Porter completing an MVP series by reaching base three more times; Ozzie Smith with three hits and an RBI.
And Sutter facing seven Braves and retiring seven Braves, throwing 15 strikes on his first 17 pitches.
Braves bombers were defused the entire series, mustering only one extra-base hit, a double. Only two of them got as far as second off Andujar the first six innings. And they knew exactly what was coming.
"Fast balls," Andujar said. "All game they see fast balls. I just throw strikes and they swing the bat. If they don't hit it, thank you. If they hit it, bye."
They hit it in the seventh. But Andujar had gotten within the seven outs Herzog wants from Sutter. Bye Joaquin; bye-bye Braves.
"It wasn't a question of Andujar losing it," Herzog said. "I just had Sutter."
Confidence oozes from Herzog's every pore.
Did he think a sweep of the Braves possible?
"I thought we could have lost the first two," he said, "and swept 'em here."
Astonishingly, the Cardinals outhomered the Braves, 1-0.
"Kinda hated to see Willie hit that one (in the ninth inning tonight)," said Herzog, smiling. "I wanted to get through the series without one."
Although the Cardinals scored four times in the second, Herzog was worried.
"Lotta times when you score big early, something bad happens," he said. "And when we failed to break it open (leaving the bases loaded in the seventh and eighth innings) I was concerned."
The sweep eliminated another concern.
"If we had lost tonight," he said, "I would have been faced with the choice of pitching Bob Forsch on less than his usual five days rest or going with someone else. I was going to pitch Dave LaPoint tomorrow, if I had to, and save Forsch for a possible fifth game. Now we're in good shape, with Forsch ready to open the Series (Tuesday night) with plenty of rest."
Without thinking, somebody wondered about the Brewers having more rest than Herzog's team.
"Milwaukee won this afternoon," he snapped. "I'm sure they're all drunk by now."
He got serious again:
"All these playoffs are like opening day."
On why the Braves sluggers were so tame against the Cardinals, Herzog said: "They're mistake hitters and our guys didn't make many mistakes. Good pitches'll get 'em out. I thought we'd be okay in our park. I wasn't so sure in this launching pad. A fly ball's a thrill here.
"But their big hitters were cold coming in here."
Which Brewer does he fear most?
Wheeler-dealer Herzog had Rollie Fingers, briefly. Only a Sutter would make a Fingers expendable.
"Had mixed emotions (about the Brewers and Angels in the AL series)," Herzog said. "I'm good friends with (Angels owner) Gene Autry; I'm good friends with Harry Dalton (the Milwaukee general manager)."
The Cardinals will be off Monday, he said. Gotta keep those legs fresh.
"We don't hit much," Herzog said, winking again, "but we can run some."