In his sweaty union suit, Bruce Sutter sat on a stool in front of his locker. Strands of wet hair were tangled where his cap had been. He held a cup of beer, half empty, and said there was no mystery to what happened. He threw bad pitches and the Brewers hit them hard. Extra, extra, read all about it: Bruce Sutter Is Human.
Of all the Cardinals' failings today when they lost Game 5 of the World Series to Milwaukee, 6-4, Sutter's is the most surprising. The Cardinals ran up 14 hits against another of Milwaukee's unshaven brutes, left-hander Mike Caldwell; but the 14 hits produced only four runs. And while Milwaukee made three wonderful defensive plays that win games, the Cardinals failed twice on plays that would have saved two runs.
Sutter came in to pitch the eighth inning today with the Cardinals behind, 4-2. Three singles and a walk later, the Cardinals trailed, 6-2. For most of the summer and fall, Sutter has been baseball's best relief pitcher. His earned run average the last four months was a sensational 1.47. With his split-finger fast ball diving under bats, Sutter came to seem invincible.
He sat on his locker stool tonight, very vincible.
"My ball didn't really break," Sutter said. "When I do that, I'm going to get into trouble."
Ben Oglivie lined a single to right with one out in the eighth. After Sutter struck out Gorman Thomas for the second out, he walked a man and gave up successive line-drive singles by Charlie Moore and Jim Gantner.
"I threw some bad pitches and they hit it hard," Sutter said. "That's what hitters are supposed to do. They're a good hitting ball club."
He was dispassionate about it, as cool-handed relief pitchers are supposed to be. You win some, you lose some. The man with the most saves in National League history doesn't wear a big red "S" under his union suit. It isn't Supersutter, as zealots shout.
"He's just a human being," said his manager, Whitey Herzog. "He's not going to get you out every time."
"I was just trying to hold the Brewers in there so we could get a couple runs and tie it," Sutter said. "We got the two runs, but I didn't do my job. When you make bad pitches, that club is going to hurt you."
Did he know, warming up there in the chill night air, that his split-finger fast ball wasn't working well?
"If I did," Sutter said, smiling, "I'd have told Whitey to leave me out there."
Even so, Sutter's appearance today was surprising. Herzog has said all along that he uses Sutter only when the Cardinals are ahead. Yet in Game 4, when the world was falling around the Cardinals' head in a six-run Milwaukee inning that produced a 7-5 victory, Herzog refused to bring Sutter in from the bullpen.
"I told you guys the day before that I wouldn't use Sutter in Game 4," Herzog said sharply to reporters second-guessing him before today's game. "I'd used him 2 1/3 innings of Game 3. If I use him again the following day, I might not be able to use him in Game 7. And that split-finger fast ball he throws, that puts a lot of strain on his arm. For him, 2 1/3 innings is a lot of work."
As it happens, Sutter says his freaky pitch puts small strain on his arm. Just like throwing a fast ball, he says. Besides which, not a second-guesser in the house thought Herzog needed to use Sutter for the seventh, eighth and ninth innings of Game 4. The Brewers were in "avalanche" mode, as Gorman Thomas said later, and the Cardinals needed Sutter -- or somebody -- to get just one little ol' out to save a victory.
Instead, Milwaukee scored six runs after two outs in that seventh with a rally so far-fetched it seemed ordained by the gods of ball. There was a broken-bat single, a checked-swing single, a wild pitch -- well, you know how it ended with Thomas' game-winning line drive.
Sutter watched it from the bullpen.
Did he expect to get an emergency call?
"Noooo," he said today. "In the eighth, maybe. But not the seventh."
If Milwaukee Manager Harvey Kuenn showed more sentiment than sense today in allowing tough-guy Caldwell to give up 14 hits and bring St. Louis within a swing of victory, Herzog's use of Sutter still is the most debatable topic here. Why, for instance, leave Sutter in the bullpen when your guys need help to escape an avalanche and yet bring him in the next day when you're down, 4-2, with only one at-bat left?
"I wanted to stay close and get a shot at it," Herzog said.
So now the Cardinals go back to St. Louis needing to win the Series last two games.
Keith Hernandez doesn't like it. "We should have won two of three here," said the Cardinals' first baseman, who today ended a zero-for-15 slump with three hits. "The frustrating one wasn't today's. It was the fourth game." That six-run inning, Hernandez said before today's game, was "the luckiest thing I've ever seen."
That game "put us in the hole we're in. Now we have to either pack up and go home for the winter or dig ourselves out of it."
Hernandez didn't like the Brewers' infield grass, either. Instead of holding a runner at third, Hernandez, by leaping to snare a third-inning bad hop, could only retire the hitter. One run in the World Series is a lot bigger than one run in April.
"That's the damnedest grass I've ever seen," Hernandez said. "But who knows? The next two games, we might get lucky."
As Bruce Sutter told more reporters how he failed tonight, and as Hernandez said he didn't mean the Brewers had been lucky, a clubhouse boy rolled a wagon out of the clubhouse.
On the wagon were nine cases of champagne.