Clearly, John Tudor has no idea what's happened to him and is wise enough to not to question it. The World Series is no time for "Why?"
The St. Louis left-hander, who pitched his Cardinals within one game of a world title tonight, parries probes with rude platitudes. The 31-year-old who shut out the Kansas City Royals, 3-0, on five hits in Game 4 treats the recesses of his competitive psyche like a mine field he dares not traverse.
What man, in the midst of a magical and mysterious season of Faustian tint, would wake himself from the dream of a 23-2 streak? Having endured long, Tudor enjoys, although with a sardonic twist.
If the Cardinals, who lead, three-games-to-one, should clinch their 10th world title and their second World Series in four years in Thursday's 8:25 p.m. game, then someone should keep an eye on Tudor in the celebration. If he bolts for an outfield exit like Joe Hardy, somebody tackle him.
At this juncture, Tudor seems to need no earthly help. True, he accepted one-run home runs from Tito Landrum and Willie McGee in the second and third innings off luckless loser Bud Black.
What must Black's nightmares be. To Landrum, he threw a perfect full-count fast ball low and away; to McGee, a lovely 1-2 slider down and in. Pitcher's pitches. One streaks over the right field wall, the other disappears to left.
No doubt Tudor also was grateful when Terry Pendleton tripled and Tom Nieto suicide-squeeze bunted him home in the fifth. Certainly the Cardinals were happy the Royals forgot to issue Nieto an intentional walk.
Still, it seemed this game revolved around Tudor. His first time through the order, he threw 26 strikes, three balls. Almost untouched for six innings as he permitted just two singles, Tudor escaped his only jam -- a bases-loaded beaut -- in the seventh when he retired pinch-hitter-deluxe Hal McRae on one pitch -- an ankle-high sinker that was grounded to third.
In the eighth, with a Royal on third and George Brett at bat, Tudor gave an illustration of what it means for an athlete to reach a celestial level of concentration and confidence. Strike one called. Strike two on a letter-high fast ball past the major league's leading slugger. Then, strike three on a pathetic swing at a sweeping curve ball low and away.
Tudor gave a little leap of joy, then composed himself.
As for this performance -- his 11th shutout since June 1 -- Tudor said, "That is as well as I am capable of throwing it. I did just about everything right."
To sense how Tudor can be so tart, so implacable, so apparently joyless, we must go backward. Less than 150 days ago, his career record was 52-50, his season mark 1-7. Folks here were ready to chuck him in the muddy Mississipi; we traded George Hendrick for this? Now, he's King Tudor. But he hasn't forgotten all those -- from Boston to Pittsburgh to St. Louis -- of little faith. This hour belongs to him alone. No sharing. The world can buzz off.
If Tudor's magical and mysterious season has beaten its wings against the window of possibility, then Landrum has leaped through a window of opportunity.
While Vince Coleman watches this Series from crutches, wondering how a sprinter can get rolled by a tarp, the Royals watch Landrum, a career sub, as he slashes his way toward the Most Valuable Player trophy. In both of Tudor's Series wins, Landrum has gotten the game-winning hit. Landrum's two-out-in-the-ninth double also set up a Game 2 win.
"I'd like to play every day, but I'm comfortable in my role," said Landrum, who's 12 for 29 in postseason. "I'll make no waves. I'm just that kind of person, I guess."
Said Royals Manager Dick Howser, "It's too late for conversation . . . I'd like to say the situation is the same as it was against Toronto (when the Royals trailed, 3-1, in the playoffs). But it's not. This is another level -- the whole ball of wax."
It hardly can please the Royals to think that even if Danny Jackson beats Bob Forsch here in Busch Stadium Thursday, even if Charlie Leibrandt gets the better of Danny Cox in Kansas City Saturday, the toughest part of their job won't be done.
Even if their superb 21-year-old Bret Saberhagen is on the mound in a seventh game, it will be Tudor that they must unthrone.
History has a clear opinion. Of the 35 teams that had 3-1 leads, only four lost. Chirpy Dan Quisenberry gave the minority opinion from West Missouri: "We've become friends with our backs to the wall. We know all the crevices."
This game, nonetheless, had a conclusive feeling about it. McGee, who had been on base two fewer times than Kansas City's Buddy Biancalana, finally contributed with his vapor-trail homer. He's seen so many hard hooks down and in from left-handers this month -- Los Angeles' Fernando Valenzuela rang him up five times on that pitch in the NL playoffs -- that the batting champion knew he'd turn one around soon. "I'd been getting myself out on sliders at my feet," he said. "This was a strike."
The Cardinals still may be hitting only .207 and their running game is in reverse -- two steals in four attempts. But, as Whitey Herzog says, "Hey, what about my pitching staff?"
No one really understands how veteran pro athletes sometimes find these comic-book holes into a parallel dimension and temporarily seem invincible. And very lucky.
In this evening's one crisis, Tudor's mind was on coffee break. With two on and two outs in the seventh, Tudor said he was deliberately pitching around slugger Steve Balboni to load the bases to get to Biancalana.
As Balboni trotted to first, Tudor looked into the Royals' dugout and -- ooops. Here comes the best RBI man in Missouri, after Brett. Forgot about McRae, didn't we? "The first thing that went through my mind," said Tudor, "was, 'I'm in a lot of trouble.' "
Against a normal pitcher, McRae might have been patient. And lethal. But Tudor's reputation preceded him. McRae figured he'd be lucky to get one hittable pitch and the first one might be it. He left the on-deck circle swinging. Tudor probably threw only one fast ball near the dirt all night. But this was it. McRae got himself out on a pitch that was barely airborne.
Next year, Tudor will have to weave his cloak of invincibility all over, starting from the first slender thread. Like Willie Hernandez (who was a perfect Tiger last October, a mortal this season) Tudor will have to recreate a perfection he never imagined for himself in the first place.
"Personally, I am not going to think about what I have accomplished," said Tudor this evening as his postseason ERA sank to 1.59. "I might have to go out there and pitch again."
Wisely said. There'll be a whole winter for the joyful tearing down of defenses. And then the long hard building of them again in the spring.