For the Milwaukee Brewers, the roller-coaster ride refuses to end. Every time they think the carnival man is going to throw the switch and let them stop, they go rocketing past the unloading dock and start all over again.
When the Brewers' chances seem best, that's when they fall on their faces and become Harvey's Headbangers. When you're ready to discount them, don't; they've consistently responded well to tough times.
For nearly a month, the Milwaukee pattern has been unvarying. When the Brewers have a chance to do something nice for themselves, they not only play badly, they look like buffoons.
The latest example was Wednesday night's second game of the World Series. The Brewers not only relinquished modest leads of 3-0 and 4-2 with their ace, Don Sutton, on the mound, but, with a tie game on the line in the eighth, the Milwaukee bullpen gave an arson clinic.
Walk the leadoff man on four pitches. Forget to cover first on what should have been a 3-6-1 double play. Walk a singles hitter to load the bases. Then, walk home the winning run on four pitches. Folks, it doesn't get any uglier than that.
Instead of having this Series in their hip pocket, leading in games, 2-0, with three in a row on tap at home, the Brewers have thrown this 79th classic back into the hat. Now, it's the Cardinals who need win only one of three at County Stadium to return the Series to Busch Stadium.
In Game 3 Friday at 8:30 p.m. (WRC-TV-4), it will be the Cardinals' Joaquin Andujar (15-10) against the Brewers' Pete Vuckovich (18-6).
It's typical of the paradoxical Brewers that in the opener, in which there was a basically even pitching matchup, Bob Forsch against their Mike Caldwell, they won in a walk, 10-0. Then, in Game 2, which gave them a huge edge, rookie Bruce Stuper against 258-game-winner Sutton, they managed to lose.
Now, comes the twist. For the past month, the Brewers have only been able to play well after they have embarrassed and thoroughly annoyed themselves. Once they've complicated their lives completely, they tend to reverse course and perform like Team Blood-an'-Guts.
When the Brewers had two chances in Milwaukee to cripple a Baltimore comeback, then had three more opportunities in Baltimore to eliminate the Orioles, the Brewers lost all five games; and by a preposterous total score of 38-11. Few teams in memory have seemed more paralyzed by pressure and on the verge of disgracing themselves than the Brewers did in Crabtown. "We were in a coma," said catcher Ted Simmons.
So, what did the Brew Crew do but win the last game of the season, 10-2.
After that mind-bending experience, Milwaukee promptly lost two games in Anaheim to California. So what? Harvey's Wallbangers became the first team in playoff history to get to the Series after digging themselves an 0-2 hole. Fittingly, the Brewers even trailed as late as the seventh inning of the fifth playoff game before rallying.
The Brewers, naturally, like to flatter themselves that these travails have made them a stronger, more resilient club.
"The last three weeks has to help our club," said Paul Molitor. "You can't go through anything more draining than that. We were ready to handle anything -- fan pressure, getting behind, injuries, bad luck."
"This club was very relaxed (entering the Series)," claimed Simmons, "because we've played killer games. We've played heavy, heavy ball games."
There's little doubt that Friday's matchup is heavily in the Cards' favor. It's only on the surface that Andujar against Vuckovich looks like your basic Series tussle between two good pitchers.
The Cardinals love to face right-handers who let lots of men on base, have trouble holding runners and throw lots of middling-quality pitches near the plate that they can slap to all fields and use as fodder for hits and runs. If the poor guy also happens to have an ailing arm, well, bring him on.
Meet Pete Vuckovich. He lets 14 men on base per nine innings. His delivery, plus catcher Ted Simmons' arm, should allow at least seven of the nine Cards in the batting order to steal second base on the pitch of their choice any time they reach first. "We'll run on him," said St. Louis Manager Whitey Herzog.
After six months of excellence, Vuckovich hasn't pitched in his usual bearish style in his last four hard-hit starts. Shoulder trouble?
If Vuckovich, one of the game's savviest and toughest competitors, can battle his way through Friday's war, he deserves garlands.
By contrast, Andujar, with his flashy 2.47 ERA and only 11 homers allowed in 266 innings, can't seem to wait to showcase himself against the Brewers. When lineups were being introduced along the foul lines before the opener, Andujar was prancing and preening near home plate, pointing at Milwaukee hitters and jabbering at them about what pitches he would show them.
Andujar has long been the National League's No. 1 extrovert. Or showboat, take your pick. He blows on his index finger after strikeouts as though it were a smoking pistol. He's showered in his uniform. He switch-hits, but often from the wrong side, if the mood strikes him. He's run the bases in a one-armed warm-up jacket with the sleeve on his left arm.
And, in the don't-step-on-Superman's-cape category, Andujar has challenged the Brewers to a duel of fast balls at 60 feet six inches. After beating Atlanta in the NL playoff clincher, he was widely quoted as saying, "I throw fast balls to everybody. Don't make no difference who they got up there. I'll do the same thing in the World Series. You tell Milwaukee that. They better be ready for it."
Hub Kittle, the Cardinals' pitching coach whom Andujar likes so much he calls him "Daddy," says, "He's one tough Dominican."
"These people, the Cardinals, they treat me like a human being," said Andujar. "They talk nice to me -- my manager and everybody else -- and when I go out there to pitch, I would die for them."
That shouldn't be necessary Friday. Just keep the fast ball on the knees for seven innings, then wave for Bruce Sutter.
For the Brewers, their World Series situation has suddenly deteriorated to the point where, pretty soon, they should feel right at home.
Injured center fielder Gorman Thomas (knee) can't run a lick and is in a two-for-34 slump; it's only a matter of time until cheap hits start falling all around him.
It must now be assumed that Rollie Fingers' proclaimed state of readiness has been, and presumably still is, a Brewer ruse. If his arm's so healthy, who are they saving him to pitch to -- Stan Musial?
Just as bad for Milwaukee, the Cardinals are now aroused. The Brewers had them half-dead and nearly buried by the third inning of Game 2, when they'd outscored the hosts, 13-0, and had 29 men on base to the Cards' four -- in St. Louis' park.
"We were all ticked off on the bench and started screaming at each other," said Keith Hernandez, explaining the sudden hubbub, led by Tommy Herr. "At a certain point, a club reaches rock bottom and that's where we were . . . We didn't want to get swept in four games and make it look like a mismatch."
Amidst all this mounting adversity, the Brewers will react as they always do; that's to say, they won't react at all. This is the shaggy, laid-back, suck-up-a-brew and swing-from-the-heels crew that, wise guys say, doesn't even have a set of signs. "We got the 'hit' sign, that's all I know," snapped scrappy second baseman Jimmy Gantner.
Milwaukee Manager Harvey Kuenn already has his master plan for how he'll have his team handle the agony of watching this World Series tilt away from them.
"Before the game," said Kuenn, "I'll let 'em play flip and cards."