BALTIMORE — It's amazing what a trip and a shove by Mike Stankovic of Baltimore did for Steve Zungul on Saturday.
After Stankovic committed both acts within the game's first five minutes, Zungul did more than get mad and even. He rewrote the Major Indoor Soccer League record book as the Sockers beat Baltimore, 14-2, in Game 4 of their championship series.
Zungul set MISL playoff records for assists in a half (5), game (7) and playoff series (24) while also setting the record for points in a playoff series (35). He additionally tied the record for points in a half (five) as he led the Sockers to the most lopsided win in MISL playoff history.
The five-time Most Valuable Player also had one goal in the game. But his eight points fell one shy of the league playoff record set in 1979 by a guy named Steve Zungul.
"He's had great games before," longtime teammate Branko Segota said. "Today, he was magic."
In retrospect, Zungul attributed his magic to Stankovic's overly aggressive play early in the game.
"He made me mad," Zungul said. "I didn't deserve to get kicked from beginning to end like I did from all of them, especially Stankovic. Their whole team was pushing and thought they controlled everything. They were too cocky at the beginning."
Stankovic, long considered too aggressive by the Sockers, drew Zungul's wrath with a tripping penalty at 4:47 of the first quarter. Zungul stayed on the ground for several seconds, then he pointed at Stankovic as he limped off the field.
According to both players, Zungul said unprintable words to Stankovic in English and their native Yugoslavian.
"He started cussing at me in Yugoslavian and called me bad words in English, too," Stankovic said. "I was playing my regular game. I wasn't trying to hurt him."
Kenny Cooper, Blast coach, thought Stankovic's act hurt his team dearly.
"I was very disappointed at Stankovic for what he did," Cooper said. "Zungul's the type of guy that when you do something like that to him, he takes the game into his hands. And, he took the game into his hands."
Zungul has a history of dominating postseason games. He holds MISL career playoff records for goals (75), assists (44) and total points (119).
"He's never played better than he did today," said Socker Coach Ron Newman after Saturday's game. "He was powerful, cunning and disciplined. He was the overall perfect player. This is the type of performance I have been encouraging from him."
The win was encouraging for the Sockers. Not only did it give them a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, it was also their first win in eight appearances at Baltimore.
San Diego was making its first-ever indoor appearance on national TV. And, to borrow a phrase from the Lakers, the Sockers turned it into their own version of Showtime.
The list of heroes went well beyond Zungul. Jean Willrich had four goals and one assist. Brian Quinn had three goals. Kaz Deyna had two goals and one assist and Segota had one goal and two assists. George Katakalidis assisted on the final two goals. And goalkeeper Jim Gorsek was a steadying influence with 10 saves.
Things were not so good for Gorsek's counterpart, Scott Manning, who set a playoff record for most goals allowed.
"I felt sorry for Scott," Cooper said. "When a team plays like San Diego did, there's not much that you can do."
The Sockers began pulling away early in the second quarter when goals by Cha Cha Namdar and Willrich gave San Diego a 5-1 lead. The Sockers led at halftime, 6-2.
The game turned into a rout when Kevin Crow scored seven seconds into the third quarter and Willrich scored 17 seconds later. People may have clicked their television sets to other channels, but the Sockers did not stop clicking.
Quinn has connected for two hat tricks in the series, the second and third hat tricks of his career. Willrich, the team's third-leading scorer in regular-season play, had just one goal and three assists in the first three games against Baltimore.
"This game was for my wife and baby," Willrich said. "When we lost here Thursday night, I got mad at my wife on the phone because we had lost. I shouldn't do that."
The Sockers are one win away from their fourth straight indoor championship. They could earn the title in Game 5 at 7:35 p.m. Tuesday in San Diego.
After Saturday's game, Baltimore reporters were trying to get the Sockers to say the series was over. However, nobody fell for the trap.
"I think the rule is that you have to win four games," Newman said. "Just because we won by an overwhelming score today, you can't say the series is over. If we were going to win a game here eventually, we had to do it in the right manner. I couldn't imagine one team beating us like Baltimore always had here."
AT A GLANCE
SOCKERS VS. BLAST
Game 1 Sockers 5, Blast 4 Game 2 Sockers 7, Blast 3 Game 3 Blast 10, Sockers 6 Game 4 Sockers 14, Blast 2 Game 5 Tuesday Sports Arena 7:35 p.m. Game 6 May 30 Baltimore 4:35 p.m. Game 7 June 1 Sports Arena 7:35 p.m. NOTE: Games 5, 6 and 7 if necessary. All times PST.