It was a home run in a phone booth. Straight up. A foul ball to the first base side of home plate, caught by the catcher. This happened to Gorman Thomas twice today. First time, he flipped his bat in disgust. Second time, the Milwaukee fans booed. "I wasn't disgusted--I was forlornly peeved off," he said, not in those exact words.
The second time he popped up was as the Brewers' leadoff man in the seventh inning. St. Louis led, 5-1. In a town venerated for its kindly behavior, the shower of boos showed how deeply the customers felt the impending doom of a defeat that would leave their heroes down three games to one.
"They want to win as much as we do," Thomas said later in a crush of scribblers taking down the words of a redeemed hero. Later in that same seventh inning, Thomas hit a line-drive single scoring the last two runs of a 7-5 victory that breathed life into this World Series at last.
"They've waited--what? Since 1958? -- they've waited a quarter of a century to win another World Series . . . My slumps are legendary. They're not upset at me, they're upset for me. They want to see me produce as much as I want to produce . . . They're in the batter's box with me, and they're just as disgusted as I am."
When he fouled out that second time, Gorman Thomas, who hit 39 home runs this season, was three for his last 43.
By the time he came to bat the second time in the miracle seventh, this World Series was worth taking a look at. All Series build on history, and now these strange combatants -- St. Louis hasn't been here since '68, the Brewers never -- are weaving a fabric of kaleidoscopic pattern.
The Cardinals came from 3-0 down to win Game 2. And today the Brewers moved from 5-1 down to a 5-5 tie, bringing to bat Gorman Thomas, the falling hero -- Stormin' Gorman, he of the forlorny peeved off countenance -- Gorman Thomas, whose unshaven face and unprintable vocabulary mark him the spittin' symbol of these motley Brewers.
Thomas jammed his knee 10 days ago. It's 60 percent of a good one, he said. Much worse, he'd trade it in on one like Harvey Kuenn's, he said. The knee buckled on him in center field in the second inning today. He slipped making a backpedaling catch and the Cardinals' Ozzie Smith scored from second base.
But Thomas is an old South Carolina pro, 32 two weeks before Christmas, who believes you shouldn't take a fella's money if you're not going to give him a day's work. He's the kind you want in the foxhole with you. A bad knee? Forget it. Gorman Thomas did when he got a second chance in that seventh inning today.
The Cardinals intentionally walked a man to load the bases for Thomas with two out.
"Oh, yeah," Thomas said when someone asked if he liked the second chance. "It's actually an easy situation to hit in. You can walk, you can get hit with a pitch, you can put a duck bloop out there or you can hit a rope."
A rope it was.
Cardinal reliefer Jeff Lahti ran the count to 1-2.
In the Brewers' dugout, the one-legged manager looked out at his tough-guy center fielder who did nothing but pop up the last two times. Harvey Kuenn has had surgeons everywhere in his body, fixing his heart, stomach and leg. So maybe Gorman Thomas' at bat was nothing to get worried up about. That's what he said later. Fact is, Harvey chewed his tobacco real fast as Lahti came to Thomas with the fourth pitch.
"A slider, away," Thomas called it later. "I wanted to make good contact with the ball and hit it hard somewhere."
Hit hard, the ball landed in left field.
Two runs scored. The Brewers led, 7-5.
And Gorman Thomas, who said last week his bad leg made him so slow he couldn't outrun some of his team's coaches, bad-wheeled himself all the way to second base. He stood there and clapped his hands together twice.
There is on the Brewers, he would say later, a "unique optimism." All winning teams say something like that, because, as the old Russky sportswriter Tolstoy once said, all winning teams are happy in the same way. There might be something different here, though.
Brewer pitcher Don Sutton, who helped win pennants for hug-a-Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda, says he never played on a team whose members cared so much for each other.
"That's something coming from him," Thomas said. "Don's -- what? -- 53, 54 years old? He's an oooold man."
Even down to the last out in the last of the ninth, with two strikes on a hitter and four runs down, the Brewers think they can win. So says Gorman Thomas, who lost no heart today in the early innings when the Brewers kicked the ball around like your beer company's softball team.
St. Louis scored four runs the first two innings on four hits, none struck very hard. The Cardinals also stole two bases, moved up men on a wild pitch and had the considerable help of Thomas falling down in center field and second baseman Jim Gantner botching a two-out ground ball.
So it was 5-1 when Thomas popped up to begin the seventh inning.
"Gantner might let one of 100,000 balls go through him like that," Thomas said. "Maybe everything was working against us early, but we also showed a lot of character late."
It was quiet on the bench when Thomas sat down the first time in the seventh inning. "I started off the rally with a nice popup to the catcher," he said wryly. "But then we started rolling."
He smiled. "And when we get going, it's just like an avalanche. The more space it takes up, the bigger it gets."
And when Gorman Thomas won the game, he stood at second base with his right leg lifted an inch or so off the ground, taking the weight off the knee. An avalanche of noise from Milwaukee's faithful reached him, and he slapped his hands together twice.