It was the best 0-for-4 night Steve Garvey has ever had.
First baseman Garvey was the only nonpitcher in the San Diego lineup who did not get a hit Friday night as Fernando Valenzuela pitched Los Angeles to a 6-2 victory over the Padres. But Garvey, in his first game as a visiting player at Dodger Stadium, received a standing ovation that he said was as wonderful as anything in his career. He also tied Billy Williams' National League record of 1,117 consecutive games played.
Tonight, he broke the record, got a single and double, but the Padres lost again, 8-5.
Combining homecoming and record-tying was "poetic justice," said Garvey.
Garvey was the Dodgers' star first baseman for 10 years before he and the club finished about $1 million apart in their attempts to negotiate a new contract after last season. Garvey, the free agent, then signed a five-year, $6.6 million contract with the Padres.
He left a substantial legacy. In the words of former Dodger Terry Forster, Garvey is "the most popular guy ever to play sports in Los Angeles."
The fans are one reason Garvey strives to maintain his consecutive-game streak. "I've been blessed by God to have maintained a strong enough body to go out and every game fulfill an obligation to perform," he said. "My contract says 162 championship games, and that's my obligation to the fans, for without them there would be no professional sports."
For 1,107 straight games, those fans were the Los Angeles fans. They were again for Nos. 1,117 and 1,118.
When Garvey was announced as the hitter in the first inning Friday night, the sellout crowd of 52,390 rose and began applauding. Garvey took a few steps from the on-deck circle toward the plate, stopped, tipped his brown helmet, waved, blew kisses and, finally, got everyone to sit down by taking a sweeping bow.
The ovation lasted 1 minute 22 seconds. Then Garvey popped to his rookie successor, first baseman Greg Brock. Later, he grounded out, hit into a double play and flied out. Brock, adding another layer of irony to the occasion, homered for the third straight game.
Garvey said, "From beginning to end, it was as emotional a game as I've been in. I'm the opposition, but it's still coming home."
Of the standing ovation, he said, "There is no other feeling like it in the world. The only greater thing that I've experienced was seeing the births of my two daughters."
Garvey first played before the Dodger Stadium fans in 1969, the year the Cubs' Billy Williams broke Stan Musial's National League record of 895 consecutive games. Shortly after that, Williams said his record would never be broken.
"It will stand because of the travel, and because of the game we play, with all the platooning. I don't think any guy will play in that many (successive) games again," said Williams, who stopped his streak in September 1970 because he felt it was too much of a burden.
On Sept. 2, 1975, Steve Garvey missed a game with the flu. He has not been absent from his team's box score since.
San Francisco Giants Manager Frank Robinson, assessing Garvey's record streak, said, "It certainly shows how consistent and durable Garvey has been, because today it is just very difficult to think that an individual would play that many games in a row--especially when you come to the clubhouse most of the time and have to wait to make out a lineup to see if anybody's hangnails are hurting."
There are now two American Leaguers ahead of Garvey on the all-time consecutive-games list. L. Everett Scott, an infielder, played in 1,307 straight with the Red Sox and Yankees, beginning in 1916. Scott was slumping when New York Manager Miller Huggins benched him and stopped his streak on May 6, 1925.
Less than a month later, Scott's young teammate, first baseman Lou Gehrig, played the first of 2,130 games in a row, a streak ended in 1939 by the onset of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the rare muscular disease that killed Gehrig two years later.
San Diego Manager Dick Williams says he will continue to play Garvey in every game, using him as a pinch hitter when he does not start.
So Garvey is on course to pass Scott next year. But he would need until the 52nd game of the 1989 season--when he would be 40 years old--to overtake Gehrig.
"I've always said that Gehrig's record will never be approached," said Garvey, now 34.
"I think maybe on this earth certain people should have certain things totally to themselves, and I think Lou Gehrig is one of those people. He accomplished what God put him on this earth to do, and that's to play the game as well as anybody has ever played it, and to play it consistently."
But Garvey will always have this weekend--the tying and breaking of Williams' record, the ceremony the Dodgers honored him with tonight and the fans' ovation before his first-ever at-bat against the Dogers.
Without a hit and without a complaint, Garvey said late Friday night, "I think everyone will remember what happened this evening. It's called a memory, and it's something that will last for all of us for a long time."