He dressed quietly and left the clubhouse in a hurry. Few noticed; more cared.

"The biggest day of our lives," San Diego relief pitcher Craig Lefferts said, "and he can't be part of it."

"We all dream about the World Series," outfielder Tony Gwynn said, "and who knows? This might have been his only chance to play in one."

"He's one of the major reasons we're here," third baseman Graig Nettles added. "You can tell him it's all part of living, the breaks of the game. But that doesn't help him at all."

Surely, Kevin McReynolds imagined himself in every World Series scenario except the one actually taking place. You fantasize being the hero; you wake with a start before dawn at the pratfall possibilities.

But never does an ascending baseball star consider not twinkling for even the briefest of moments in his sport's showpiece spectacle. In the National League playoffs, McReynolds rediscovered that baseball also is a contact sport; a cast on his left wrist keeps him from even bit parts in the Series.

"I was trying to break up a double play (in Game 4 against the Cubs)," he said, "and I used the hand to break my fall. I either banged it on the ground or on the bag, I'm still not sure which.

"For an inning or so, it didn't hurt too much. Then the swelling really started, like no sprain I'd ever had. That's when I feared it was broken."

McReynolds will be 25 in five days. At 6 feet 1, 207 pounds, he is massive enough to have launched his tee ball over the green on a 300-yard-plus hole and into a hot dog stand.

("Titleist to go," a startled attendant may have barked. "Hold the mustard.")

Those shoulders also were meant to carry teams toward a pennant now and then, and for stretches this lovely Padres season McReynolds did exactly that.

In April, he hit .338, with 15 runs scored, five home runs and 17 RBI. He had six hitting streaks of at least five games; he was five for five Sept. 5, when the Padres rallied from a seven-run deficit in the second inning to beat the Reds, 15-11.

McReynolds had the third-highest batting average on the team (.278), was tied for the lead in homers (20), was third in RBI (75) and played center exceptionally at times.

He leaves the dugout during the Series only for pregame introductions or to join in celebratory moments he had hoped to generate. Once vital to the team, he still is around it now, but not totally involved.

"I don't want to put myself through the strain of imagining how I'd play a ball in center," he said. "Or what I'd do at the plate. All I can do is cheer. But I carried the burden this year, did my part. Why shouldn't I feel part of the team?"

If deeply disappointed, McReynolds is not bitter.

"Every time you step on the field," he said, "you run a risk." He glanced at the cast with autographs scattered like blackberry stains and said: "Bad timing."

There once had been more frightening agony, ligament damage suffered in a collision at home shortly before being drafted by the Padres in the summer of '81.

McReynolds missed that season while the knee was mending from surgery; the cast he lugged here today for Friday's third game with the Tigers will be on for perhaps six months in all.

"My biggest worry," he said, not entirely in jest, "is that it'll hinder my hunting this winter."

It has hindered the Padres so far. To get that popsicle stick Bobby Brown carries to the plate parked near McReynolds on the bench, Manager Dick Williams may move Gwynn from right to center.

That would force the usually harmless but recently romantic Kurt Bevacqua to play right and elevate Champ Summers to designated hitter.

"To tell you the truth," Gwynn admitted, "I ain't too high on the idea. "I'm feeling comfortable in right field. And the one game I played center field in (during the regular season) I lost a ball in the sun, dropped it.

"There's a real difference between playing center field and right, plus we're playing in a park we've never been in before."

To a man, the Padres empathize with McReynolds in addition to missing him. Nearly all of them have suffered similar sadness before some important time in baseball.

"This," said Steve Garvey, holding aloft the left thumb he dislocated July 29, 1983, ending his consecutive-game streak at 1,207, "was the toughest two months of my life. I was virtually nomadic, with nothing to do."

Nettles suffered a broken thumb that forced him to miss three of the final four games of the '81 Series; a fractured wrist kept Gwynn's rookie season a year ago on two-month hold.

"I had to miss the College World Series my freshman season (at Florida State)," catcher Terry Kennedy said. "I was supposed to DH, but they were afraid my spleen might explode if I made a bad twist."

There are worse-case situations, Eric Show thought. His own.

"I imagine what he is going through probably is easier than doing terrible," Show, the starter shelled in the playoffs, said. "Not doing what you're capable of doing."

Show's advice for himself and also McReynolds was novel, breaking low and away from the logic zone.

"If there's a solution to the problem," he said, "why worry? If there's no solution to the problem, why worry?"

You mean that's possible, that anyone feeling miserable or playing miserably can blot that out of his mind?

"I can almost do it," Show said. "Then I think of my playoff pitching -- and want to gag."

Show's locker also was uncrowded. Nearby after the Padres' victory Wednesday, Andy Hawkins was giving a treatise on middle relief; Bevacqua was a popcorn popper, shooting one-liners every which way.

"I was talking with (Ron) Roenicke the other day about how it felt for him in '81," Lefferts said. "That was the year the Dodgers won it all, but he hurt his ankle and couldn't take part in the Series either."

Strange game, baseball. Harsh yet tender if you linger long enough. For the player who took McReynolds' spot on the Padres' World Series roster was that once-lonesome Dodger, Ron Roenicke.