The memories weren't there Sunday night, Bert Blyleven said, but they
could have been.
In fact, they probably should have been.
Blyleven's focus was on the here and now of beating the Cardinals
8-4 in Game 2 of the 1987 World Series at the Metrodome. "I really
didn't think about too much else," he said. "Just that my job was to
get one hitter at a time."
Still, Blyleven's thoughts easily could have drifted to the there
and then, of all that had come before in his 18-year big league career,
all that had brought him to this moment: pitching and winning a Series
game for the Twins.
Blyleven could have flashed back to 1970, when a skinny 19-year-old
righthander broke into the majors and wound up pitching for the Twins
in the playoffs while old enough to spray the champagne, not drink it.
Or to all those seasons as a .500 pitcher on Twins teams that would
have been glad to finish that well.
To the World Series that he pitched in for the Pittsburgh Pirates
in 1979. To the 10 days in 1980 when he walked away from the game in a
huff and then, in search of fun again, walked back. Or even to the game
more than a decade ago when he flipped off a Met Stadium crowd on his
way via trade to the Texas Rangers and heard a different chant from the
"Bert, Bert, Bert" he heard last night.
Blyleven could have thought about any of those poignant moments and
meaningful memories that could have lent great context to his
performance last night. But he didn't. He stayed locked in on the
Cardinals and the eight lefthanded batters they threw at him.
And then he beat them.
"Eight lefthanded hitters," pitching coach Dick Such said, shaking
his head. "That's pretty nifty. That's pretty tough. Eight strikeouts
against eight lefthanded hitters - that tells you something right
Blyleven struck out eight Cardinals, best-ever for him in a Series
game and second-best in the postseason only to his nine-strikeout
performance against Cincinnati in the 1979 playoffs. Last night,
Blyleven lasted seven innings, gave up six hits, two runs and one walk.
Blyleven did, mostly, what he always tries to do - give his defense
and hitters time to win the game. And he did, exactly, what he had done
on 244 previous occasions over those 18 seasons and three particular
times in the past three weeks. He won.
"He's been coming through in so many big games lately that you just
have good vibes right from the start," said Frank Viola, Blyleven's
teammate and big-time fan.
Added Tom Brunansky: "He's got the nickname of being `The Captain'
- that tells you right there what we think of him."
It was Blyleven, remember, who started and won, on three days rest,
the Twins' final regular-season home game last month, the game that
virtually clinched the division for them. It was Blyleven who pitched
and won Game 2 of the AL playoffs against Detroit, giving the Twins
control of that series, and it was Blyleven who pitched and won, again
on three days rest, Game 5 to end it.
"He held them to two runs - we'll take that out of Bert," said
manager Tom Kelly. "He kept the ball down. When he uses his changeup
like that, he has a tendency to get the ball up and they hit more line
drives. He didn't do that tonight.
"He was fighting a cold, you could see he was blowing his nose
quite a lot out there. I think he had had enough (after seven
Said Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog: "We know he's got a good
curveball. I've seen him pitch for years. I saw him pitch when he was
18 years old in the instructional league when he first signed. He's
always been a good pitcher."
Blyleven was much better than that through the first half of last
night's game. In fact, he was even better than Viola had been in Game
Blyleven allowed three hits and one scratch run through the first
five innings, as St. Louis scored in the fifth on a single, a walk, a
ground ball that appeared to be a double play until second baseman
Steve Lombardozzi bobbled it and another grounder that would have
gotten the Twins out of the inning.
Even more impressive, Blyleven got all of his outs in those five
innings in the infield: six strikeouts and nine ground balls. That's
amazing, for someone who usually coaxes fly balls and had 46 of them
coaxed out of various parks in 1987.
"The thing about Bert is, so many teams that haven't seen him are
so leery of his curveball that that's when his fastball gets the outs
for him," Viola said.
The Cardinals, thanks to Herzog and their scouting reports, knew
all about Blyleven's reputation, but neither that nor their
lefthandedness did much good. He breezed through a perfect sixth
inning, although he did give up a couple of fly balls. Then, finally,
he slowed in the seventh. He struck out Willie McGee, got a
warning-track fly ball from Terry Pendleton, then departed after three
straight singles brought home St. Louis' second run.
The thing was, his guys already had eight by then.
"All I wanted to do was go as hard as I could for as long as I
could," Blyleven said. "Our offense did the job tonight."
Blocking out the memories and emotions of pitching in a Series game
here was vital, Blyleven said. "It was more of a mental drain then it
was a physical drain," he said. "I had to pace myself a little
mentally. I didn't want to get carried away."
Even when it was over, Blyleven didn't spend much time on the old
times. When Willie (Pops) Stargell, the spiritual leader of Blyleven's
previous Series team, visited him in the Twins' clubhouse after the
game, the conversation centered on new times. Early times.
"He wants me to be awake at 5:30 tomorrow morning," Blyleven said
of Stargell, who now does TV work. "So I'm going to be awake at 5:30
tomorrow morning to go on `Good Morning America.' "