The pitch was so good, said pitcher Peter Ladd, it got every part of the plate. Not the inside part of the outside corner, or however you want to say it. All of it.
Ladd believed that, his catcher believed it and his manager said even the batter believed it. But umpire Bill Haller called Ladd's 3-2 pitch to Lonnie Smith in the eighth inning of a tied second game of the World Series a ball and sent Smith to first.
Thus Ladd, the reliever who had saved the last game of the league championship series for the Milwaukee Brewers, found himself in an unexpected pickle. Instead of two outs and Cardinals on first and second with the score tied, he had one out and the bases loaded.
And he was rattled. He walked the next batter, pinch-hitter Steve Braun, on four straight pitches. "I was trying to spot the ball. I figured the strike zone was so small I had to aim it. That's the worst thing I can do," said rookie Ladd.
The second walk forced in the go-ahead run and the Cardinals, behind the shutout relief pitching of Bruce Sutter, held on to the lead and won, 5-4, evening the series at one game apiece as the teams head to Milwaukee.
Did Ladd say anything to Haller about the call? "No," said the 230-pound right-hander, "I leave that to my manager and my catcher. But I could see Teddy's (catcher Ted Simmons') lips moving."
Manager Harvey Kuenn said he raised a protest from the bench, "but what can you do? He's not going to change his mind."
Kuenn said Smith later conceded "it was a good pitch, and I respect his judgment."
Thus ended a frustrating day for the Brewers, who had the Cardinals on the ropes early but couldn't finish them off.
The Brewers picked up an early 3-0 lead but gave back two runs on a two-out, two-run Cardinal rally in the third inning. Milwaukee upped the lead to 4-2, but with two outs in the sixth inning starting pitcher Don Sutton gave up a walk and a two-run double to Darrell Porter that tied the game.
Sutton was ahead in the count to George Hendrick, 0-2, before walking him and he put a slider "up and away, a little too high to Porter," said Simmons.
That put the game in anybody's hands, which is not a happy place to be when the opponents have a reliever like Sutter.
"He's got a pitch (the split-finger fastball) that nobody else throws," said Simmons. "So if a guy hasn't faced Sutter before, he's not at a disadvantage. He's at a gross disadvantage."
The Brewers have a Sutter-type pitcher themselves, and the presence of Ladd in the late innings of a close and crucial game again raised the question of where Rollie Fingers has been hiding.
During the heat of combat Fingers was cooling his heels tonight in the Brewer dugout. He has been injured since Sept. 2, when he tore a muscle in his forearm.
Fingers said he wasn't actually fit to pitch in this game because he threw Tuesday on the sidelines and was still sore. But he said he hopes to be fit to throw by Friday.
The problem is that the Fingers who will throw for the Brewers when he decides to throw in a game will not be the same one they lost Sept. 2.
"I know in a game like tonight," said Ladd, "it'd be tough for him to come in after five or six weeks off."
The problem is the Brewers need Fingers in a jam, not a jelly roll. They showed that tonight.
Ladd admitted if he'd been a veteran instead of a rookie in his first Series, he might not have been flustered by the call in the eighth inning. Fingers, when he's right, is just the kind of unflappable veteran who might have endured.