As Willie Hernandez jogged off the field, his day's work A done -- three batters up, three down, seven pitches -- his Detroit Tigers mate, Rusty Kuntz, yelled, "Hey, Willie, did you even break a sweat?"
Aurelio Lopez -- the other member of the Tigers' Z Squad -- sat in the bullpen, watching Hernandez. "I know how he feels. It's just like the last game of the World Series all over again. Every pitch right where you want it."
When it's right, it's all so easy.
Hernandez: 35-1 in save situations last season. American League MVP and Cy Young winner. Lopez: 12-1, counting postseason, plus 14 saves. Are these stats or whimsical misprints?
When you're going that well, the manager waves to you the way a wrecked sailor on a raft waves to a ship. In the midst of distress, you're safety.
Your name could be Tug McGraw or Kent Tekulve, Don Stanhouse or Tippy Martinez, Steve Howe or Terry Forster, Rollie Fingers or Al Holland. It doesn't matter if you throw right or left, over or under, hard or soft, if you're tall or short, thin or fat. It's all the same. You're invincible.
For a while.
Your skipper, your teammates, your whole town ride you while you're hot. You're the fireman, the stopper, the closer, the ace. You're taking them to the World Series. Everybody knows it.
Maybe, like Goose Gossage, Fingers and Lopez, you've done it before, or, like Stanhouse, Forster and Hernandez, your stardom basically is a shock. Either way, for a season, you're magic.
Every year it's somebody. But -- ah, here's the rub -- the next year, it's usually somebody else.
In recent years, the two safest bets of any spring have been that the defending Series champ couldn't possibly repeat and that a key reason would be the injury or failure of a star reliever coming off an unrepeatable season.
Think of the last dozen pennant winners, six in each league, and recall how many died with their bullpen kings.
Remember the injuries to Gossage and Forster in '79. Stanhouse's collapse and Tekulve's fizzle in '80. The fadeaway of McGraw in '81 and Howe in '82. Fingers' elbow in '83. Martinez's sore arm and Holland's fatigue in '84.
If any two relievers look suited to beat this jinx, they are the tall, slim, elegant, soft-spoken Hernandez, with his stiff-wristed screwball, and the fat, jolly, mischievous Lopez, who is Sen or Smoke to fans and Sen or Joke to teammates for his pranks.
Each is pitching almost flawlessly here. And each has tried to learn from the disasters of others.
"I can't believe how people chase you (once you're famous). Sometimes it's ridiculous," said Hernandez, 30, who'd never saved move than 10 games in a year before Sparky Anderson used him 86 times for 150 innings. "You want to share your time, but how can you share one day with 100 people? I feel bad to leave one person. I try to please . . . but I have to keep my head in baseball, too, or I gonna ruin my career."
A middle-inning set-up man with the Cubs and Phillies, Hernandez always believed he was just one break and one extra pitch away from greatness. The break was Anderson's passion for lefty relievers.
The extra pitch was a no-strain screwball that Hernandez learned in '83. "The big hands help me a lot," said Hernandez, smiling, showing how having the meathooks of a man 6 feet 8 on a 6-2 body can let you throw a scroogie that harms the elbow very little.
"We had fun last year. Tell me about it. Everybody was smiling all the time. Everything . . . was perfect," said Hernandez, dwelling on the mixed message in that last word.
"We can win again. But I can't do the same," he says. "Is impossible. I'm not going to try to do the same. If you try to do that, you screw up."
This surely is wise. Since no man ever went 32-0 before botching a save situation (Ron Davis messed up 15 last year and Dan Quisenberry failed nine times), it's safe to assume Hernandez won't duplicate his perfection.
What doesn't concern Hernandez is the state of his rubberish arm. "Pitching nine or 10 games in a row is all right with me. I like to throw every day, anyway," said Hernandez, a native of Aguada, Puerto Rico, who might have ruffled some feathers over the winter by demanding a renegotiated contract to make him the highest-paid Tiger.
He got more money, though not the most. Nonetheless, Hernandez now can afford a 42-foot boat named "Bullpen 21."
Lots of teams have aces. But, at the moment, perhaps only the Tigers have a second-banana reliever as valuable as Lopez. He can play the late-inning stopper when Hernandez is tired, do the middle-inning set-up job or even work in long relief.
As Lopez sits in the bullpen, rolling his eyes, cracking jokes and generally acting 16, not 36, he says, "Oh, I don't usually pitch very well in spring training. You see, I have some trouble with the daytime."
Like Hernandez, Lopez still lives in the afterglow of the Tigers' world title. "To come to the States after 11 years pitching in Mexico and see all my dreams come true . . . I feel it from the heart.
"I was waiting for one chance (in the Series). Maybe I'll never be there again. All the world was looking to me. My friends, my family. Everybody pulling for me. I got to be okay, right? With all that support, I can never lose my confidence," said Lopez, who won the last game, retiring seven straight.
If Hernandez must carry the burdens of celebrity, expectation and a fat new contract, then Lopez must overcome his weight (225 pounds), a history of gout and the wear and tear of 18 years of pro pitching.
"I never worry," he insisted. "My mind is strong. If I have pain, like when my hand was swollen twice its size (with gout), I say, 'Lopez, try. Forget everything.' I get them out. Afterward, 'Ohhhhhh.' The doctor said, 'I don't know how you throw at all.'
"Sure, sometimes, they hit me. That's okay. They get paid, too . . . I enjoy my life. I have to die someday."
Maybe that's the lesson you learn in the bullpen, where, no matter what you did last year, the next wave could always be goodbye.