Spring is No Big Deal Anymore for Lefferts : Trade Has Paid Off for Pitcher and Padres

March 03, 1985|JIM McCURDIE | Times Staff Writer

YUMA, Ariz. — Craig Lindsay Lefferts used to spend his springs wondering where he would end up spending his summers. For Lefferts, spring training had been a time for making impressions and seeking more gainful employment than that found in baseball's minor league maze.

This spring Lefferts has other things to concern him, such as finding a foursome for an afternoon round of golf.

What a refreshing change of pace for Lefferts to feel more anxiety on the green at the 18th hole than on one of the pitchers' mounds in the shadows of the Yuma water tower at Ray A. Kroc Baseball Complex. March has arrived here with a burst of desert sunshine, and Lefferts' worries are few. Job security isn't one of them.

And to think that last year, he was trying to prove to the Padre powers-that-be that outfielder Carmelo Martinez was not all they got in a winter trade with the Chicago Cubs.

There were anxious moments, such as the day he talked Manager Dick Williams into letting him accompany the team on a jaunt to his hometown of Tucson, so that he could pitch in an exhibition game against the Cleveland Indians. Lefferts would have been better off missing the bus.

"He wasn't even supposed to throw that day, but he wanted to get in the game," Williams said. "We got him in, and he got lit up."

It was a rare opportunity for Lefferts to pitch in front of family and friends, and it was a disaster. Oh, the shame the fellow alums of the University of Arizona must have felt.

"I wasn't really nervous, I just had a bad day," Lefferts said. "In three innings, I walked five batters, I gave up seven hits and three runs. I was able to get out of one inning with the bases loaded.

"After that, I was really worried about whether or not I was going to make the club. But it all worked out for the best."

Few imagined then just how well it would work out. Anybody who would have suggested that, in October, the Padres' bullpen stopper would be Lefferts and not a big guy with a mustache who went by the name "Goose" would have been laughed at all the way to El Centro.

But when the Padres found themselves in the National League Championship Series, Lefferts was getting the ball in crucial situations. And the Chicago Cubs, his former teammates, weren't laughing. After the Cubs satisfied their starving fans with wins at Wrigley Field in Games 1 and 2, the Padres came back to San Diego and won three straight. Lefferts was the winning pitcher in the fourth and fifth games. He pitched four innings in the series, allowing only one hit. He did not give up a run.

Then came the Detroit Tigers and the World Series, when the performance of the Padres' starting pitchers was anything but a fall classic. The starting rotation of Mark Thurmond, Ed Whitson, Tim Lollar and Eric Show combined for a 14.26 earned run average in 10 innings.

Lefferts got the save in Game 2, the Padres' only win in the series. He appeared in three games, allowing no runs and two hits. He had seven strikeouts in six innings.

In six postseason appearences, Lefferts had not allowed a run--earned or otherwise--in 10 innings, he had allowed only three hits, and had two wins and a save by which to remember it all.

The guy who had endured what seemed like an eternity on a March afternoon in Tucson was 0.00hhh so impressive in the playoffs and World Series.

"It's the epitome of our profession . . . to get to that point," Lefferts said. "And in only my second year in the major leagues, it was like a dream world. It didn't sink in until about two weeks after it was all over. When we were involved in it, we were very intense, especially the bullpen, because we were called upon to pick up the slack.

"After it was all over, we were able to sit back and look at what we had done. And you thank God for giving you the ability to do something like that . . . to have the opportunity to do it."

Who would have thought that the other player in the deal that gave the Padres their starting left fielder would turn out to be one of the club's most effective relievers? Certainly not Dick Williams.

"Never in our wildest expectations would we have said he's going to do what he did," he said.

"My gosh, Lefferts himself would have been a tremendous maneuver. As it was, we had a regular left fielder and a left-handed stopper in the pen. We got two outstanding people."

Oh, that Jack McKeon. The five-year plan he devised when became the Padres' vice president of baseball operations in 1980 came in a year ahead of schedule, and it's largely because of to deals such as this one.

But even Trader Jack didn't expect Lefferts to emerge from semi-obscurity as quickly as he did.

"Let me put it this way," McKeon said. "I envisioned him being this good, I just didn't know when.

"We weren't surprised. We just didn't know when it would happen. And It happened at just the right time. He put everything together."

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