A World Series that began with a distinct sense of anticlimax is finding its legs fast.
If the San Diego Padres and Detroit Tigers keep it up, they'll make a lot of folks apologize for sulking when the Chicago Cubs left this October party.
Two days ago, this was the Show Me Classic. The Padres had to show they weren't a fluke. The Tigers wanted to prove they were a historic team.
So far, as Game 3 approaches tonight in Detroit, one has and the other hasn't.
The Padres may lack talent. They may have to endure Bobby Brown, Carmelo Martinez and the immortal Kurt Bevacqua in their lineup. They may have a bench so thin that they think about letting a pitcher bat in a Series in which the designated hitter is allowed. They may have a garage sale rotation.
But they've got sand in their craw. And they've got a crowd too new to the game to know you're not supposed to make that much noise all the time. Every stadium is equally loud when fans get excited, but the Murph never shuts up.
The Padres also have a stony infield that has the Tigers terrified, plus a bullpen that sends shivers down Detroit spines every time its gate swings open.
"That baked-clay infield is the same type adobe they fire and make houses out of in Mexico," snorted Detroit Manager Sparky Anderson, perhaps making the same mistake as the 1977-78 Dodgers, who moaned and groaned about series conditions in Yankee Stadium until they couldn't play at all there.
"It hit me right in the heart and broke it," said Detroit's Lou Whitaker of a potential inning-ending double play ball that richocheted off his chest one batter before Wednesday's game-winning homer by Bevacqua. "It's terrible. I didn't have a fair chance. I was lucky to come out of it in one piece without my face being fractured.
"I can see why Tony Gwynn hit .350," he added.
The Tigers are also wising up to the depth of the Padres' bullpen, which has survived despite starting pitchers who should be restricted to throwing out the ceremonial first ball.
"They've shown us great relief pitching and we haven't even seen the Goose yet," said Lance Parrish, refering to relievers Andy Hawkins, Craig Lefferts and Dave Dravecky, whose postseason ERA in 21 innings is easy to remember: 0.00.
While the Padres have shown hidden assets, such as picking off two runners and doubling off another on the old phantom-grounder sucker play, the Tigers have revealed cracks that don't show in stats. Does an alert team let a reliever who's warming up (Doug Bair), get his feet tangled up with a fielder just as he muffs a foul fly?
Detroit may have a world of talent but there's something missing in its temperament. Not much, but something. Perhaps the Tigers lack a vocal leader, a spotlight lover.
Almost every World Series winner has such characters: Rick Dempsey, Tug McGraw, Pete Rose, Reggie Jackson, Steve Garvey, Joe Morgan, Willie Stargell.
They have to love the stage. Not so much seek it as enjoy it.
The Tigers fall over each other to get to the mikes and tell the world how good they are, how underrated and underpraised they've been. But once the game starts, or once it gets tight, nobody's stepped forward quite so fast.
Anderson keeps insisting his team has "character," by which he means his players are milk-drinking '50s-style nice guys -- which is true.
"Somewhere along the line we've gotten confused," he said this week. "Sometimes you find people in this game who think that having money and success don't mean you have to be a nice person.
"That's the thing I like about our players . . . It's like Flip Wilson once told me. You've got to know when to be on stage and when to get off stage."
With the exception of Kirk Gibson and Dave Rozema, who own a boat called "Bad Boys II" and love Animal House antics, the Tigers indeed are a team to take home to Grandma.
That, however, may not be the kind of character needed in a series. The Padres have a different type of character in particular fellows named Nettles, Gossage, Bevacqua and Summers who are, shall we say, extremely loose.
At the division clinching party at Gossage's house, the Goose picked up the team owner -- Joan Kroc -- and threw her into his swimming pool in her $1,000 gown and diamonds.
Bevacqua is a former major-league bubble-gum blowing champion. "I've played in so many towns," he says, "I've got my own zip code."
Nettles' wit is quick and leather-tough as his glove. Summers was a paratrooper in Vietnam and, in his calmer moments, exudes an incredible intensity.
This is a team with a comeback style that is playing a Tigers team that defines the front-running mode. In a very real sense, the Tigers have only been behind for two hours all season -- for three innings in Game 1 when the Padres led, 2-1, and after Bevacqua's game-winning homer in the fifth of Game 2.
Detroit is only the third team, and the first in 57 years, to be in first place for every split second of the season; a 17-1 start will do that. The Tigers also led Kansas City from the first inning of the first playoff game.
In the postseason, the Tigers have batted .519 in the first innings, then .207 thereafter. Whitaker is one for 17 after leading off. "We've played that way all year," says Trammell. "We can't explain it, but it's not new." Detroit intimidates like a football team, but sometimes backs down some if its bluff is called.
The Padres, who lost their first two playoff games to Chicago, then trailed in all three of their comeback victories at home, play just the opposite. Start pathetic, hang tough, rally late.
All this would seem to indicate that, if the Padres can just win one of the three games here when the Series resumed Friday at 8:35 p.m., that all heck might break loose back in San Diego next week. The Padres have proved how tough they are to close out at home and mightn't the Tigers come unglued in a seventh game?
Such daydreams of high drama are still premature. Tiger Stadium is a very unhealthy place to visit if your starting pitchers can't find their way to the fifth inning. Or the second.
If this series, already flavorful, has designs on becoming truly exciting, then Tim Lollar, Eric Show and Mark Thurmond better straighten up.
These three Padres gentlemen -- slated to start here (in that order) against Milt Wilcox, Jack Morris and Dan Petry -- have opened five postseason games and been atrocious.
They couldn't have done worse if they'd followed 19th Century rules and asked each hitter what pitch he wanted and where.
In 18 innings, they've allowed 18 runs. Their foes have batted .375, slugged .750 and gotten on base 46 percent of the time. That means everybody who's faced them has hit hitter than Ty Cobb, slugged better than Babe Ruth and gotten on base more than Ted Williams.
They have to do better. And they probably will.Why? Because a batting practice pitcher couldn't generate such stats on a bet.
After Game 2, a pair of Tigers seemed to see this series particularly clearly. "It will be interesting to see how the Padres play in our park," said Rupert Jones, aware of how lethargic San Diego looked in Wrigley Field. If the Padres play like that here, this Series will never see another palm tree.
"They definitely beat us (in Game 2)," said Parrish, "but why worry? I think we have the better club . . .
"I thought after losing the first game and being down, 3-0, in the first inning of the second, the Padres might let up. I think everyone on this club should take note of what happened."
If a classic front-running bully-boy team such as the Tigers lets its cockiness lead it astray against a prototypical junkyard-dog club such as the Padres, this Series could turn into visceral theater.
But don't bet on it.