KANSAS CITY — When the Kansas City Royals summon their ace relief pitcher to come in and save one for the home team, the Royals Stadium scoreboard notes his entrance with an electronic flash: "Quisenberry--One of a Kind."
A little hometown hype? Certainly. But around the American League, that opinion doesn't generate much argument.
Dan Quisenberry comes equipped with accessories that don't conform to the major league norm. First, there's the delivery--that submarine motion that Quisenberry cracks like a bullwhip. And then there are the actual pitches--strange creatures that zig when the laws of science dictate they zag, often tying a batter's concentration in knots.
"He throws a changeup that rises ," Toronto's Al Oliver said in half-amazement and half-admiration. "I've never seen anything like it."
The results have been well established. Quisenberry is one of five pitchers to have saved 200 games in their careers, the last 37 helping Kansas City win the American League West in 1985.
But so far in these American League playoffs, Quisenberry has been rendered pedestrian, almost mundane. Twice he has entered tight games and twice he has yielded the game-winning hit.
Both times to Oliver.
It happened again Saturday night. With the Royals and the Blue Jays tied in the top of the ninth inning--and two Toronto runners on base--Oliver waited on one of Quisenberry's rising change-ups and lashed it into the right-field corner for a double. Lloyd Moseby and George Bell scored on the hit, giving Toronto the margin it needed for a 3-1 victory and a 3-1 advantage in this best-of-seven series.
The scenario was a virtual replay of Wednesday in Toronto. Oliver produced a two-run single against Quisenberry in the bottom of the 10th inning, providing the difference in a 6-5 Blue Jay win.
So what does Oliver know about Quisenberry that the rest of the league has, through all these years, failed to grasp?
"There's no secret to it," Oliver said. "I feel I hit all pitches, and all pitchers, hard. My approach is that I can hit anybody.
"The situation tonight was ideal for me. The infield was in, and I'm a line-drive hitter. I don't strike out much. I'm a contact hitter and I just had to get the ball out of the infield."
Oliver didn't just get this one out of the infield. He drilled it down the right-field line, deep enough to score Bell from first base.
Oliver is now 2 for 2 in his duels with the Quiz. Quisenberry has to be glad this is baseball and not pistols at dawn.
"We bring out the best in each other," Oliver said. "We're the best in our fields. He's an outstanding pitcher, and I'm an outstanding hitter. It comes down to who makes the mistake."
Spoken as only Al Oliver can. The zero Oliver wears on the back of his uniform must represent his level of modesty.
Oliver will tell you, in a hurry, that he's "a lifetime .300 hitter," that "I've always been an 'A' competitor," that "I have nothing to prove," that "if I play, I'm gonna perform."
"Nobody in the world can doubt my ability," Oliver said. "It's impossible. I've never let up."
Someone wondered how Oliver was able to hang in there against Quisenberry's bizarre rising change-up, how he was able to get around so quickly on an offering Oliver himself described as "one of the funniest-looking pitches I've ever seen."
Oliver responded to the question like a university English professor being told he had misspelled his grocery list.
"After all these years," Oliver said, bristling at such audacity, "you ask me that ?"
Oliver perceives himself as a Hall of Fame hitter who has always been misunderstood. "I'm not a highly publicized player," he said, "but I'm highly productive."
He says he can't understand why teams don't recognize his ability, why he has played for seven teams during his career--including five in the last three years.
"Even my 10-year-old son, Aaron, asks me, 'Daddy, how come they always trade you?' " Oliver said. "I tell him, 'Son, they simply don't know your daddy.' "
Oliver began the 1985 season with the Dodgers. The Dodgers knew this much about Aaron Oliver's daddy: He had trouble catching baseballs hit in his general vicinity.
Since the Dodgers play in the National League, which has no designated-hitter rule, they had trouble getting Oliver into the starting lineup.