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Cardinals Take the Yellow Brick Road to L.A. : A Bible Student from Biola Proves Savior for Cards

October 15, 1985|RICHARD HOFFER | Times Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS — The Book on Todd Worrell is Good, any way you look at it. A five-year Bible student, fully qualified for the youth ministry, Worrell, as it turns out, can pitch as well as preach. He has saves, and then he has saves.

The Dodgers were witness to that and, if it wasn't a revelation, it was at least new testament to the Cardinals' theory of relief pitching. That theory, as much St. Louis scripture as anything these days, is that quantity makes up for quality and that Worrell can make up for almost anything.

The Cardinals, you may recall, had abandoned hopes of the National League pennant when they let Bruce Sutter get away before the season. It was a shock to the Cardinals. "We thought we had him signed," Manager Whitey Herzog said. "But anytime you let a player of that stature get to free agency, something bad can happen."

Instead, something good happened. Herzog amassed a quartet of no-names who, if individually didn't make up for the loss of Sutter, did so collectively. Consider that Sutter had a league-leading 45 saves last year. Consider that Jeff Lahti, Ken Dayley, Worrell and Bill Campbell combined for 39. And this, even though the 1985 Cardinals finished twice as many games as 1984's starters.

Although Lahti led the so-called bullpen by committee with 19 saves, this season could very well be remembered as the year Todd Worrell, a 26-year-old graduate of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles--Biola--became the savior.

Certainly he saved more than a game Monday when the Cardinals beat the Dodgers, 3-2. He saved the playoffs for them. As Herzog said, after his team had gone up in the playoff series, 3-2, "If we hadn't won today's game, we wouldn't have had a chance."

Here's what happened. The score was 2-2 in the seventh, the Dodgers had men on first and second. And here came rookie Worrell, a man called up from Louisville Aug. 29, making him eligible for post-season play by just one day.

Steve Sax was at the plate, poised to bunt. The count went to 3-0 and suddenly neither Worrell nor the Cardinals seemed to have a prayer. Would Sax, now swinging away, single through the infield off the Christian Education major--a holy roller?--or would he drive one to the outfield--a Bible belt?

He would do neither. In an at-bat that was just as significant as Ozzie Smith's now famous left-handed home run, Worrell proceeded to strike Sax out. He got two more Dodgers, and that was the last chance for Los Angeles.

Not everyone had faith, of course. Herzog, though admitting that the bullpen won this one, admitted to some doubt when he said, "I have to say, when he was 3-0 on Sax, I wasn't too happy. But he battled him all the way."

Of course Herzog must have had some faith to put so important a game into the hands of a pitcher whose big league experience before Aug. 29 was zero. What was Worrell doing this time last year, anyway? He was pitching Class A ball after bombing at the Triple-A level. He was 3-10 at Louisville. Think about it.

But that was as a starter. Ever since Jim Fregosi, his manager at Louisville where he returned to Triple-A ball this season, advised him to use his control and fastball to convert, to become a reliever, things have been different. After making the switch in mid-July, he recorded 11 saves for the Redbirds. Then he was called by the Cardinals to help them out in this little pennant race of theirs.

And right from the start, too. His first job was to come in after Joaquin Andujar, at a time when the Cardinals were one game behind the Mets and going down the stretch, and put the Reds away. He did.

Not bad for somebody who couldn't get them out at Louisville. But the switch to relief work made all the difference. "Fregosi said I had the quality to be a reliever," Worrell said. "I had that ability to throw strikes. I felt better in the mold of reliever and the whole thing blossomed for me."

Worrell's confidence is what blossomed. He said he was used carefully at first but that, "within 10 relief appearances I was able to get out of bases-loaded jams."

Worrell's success at Louisville was such that nothing much worried him. "Fregosi told me I could get them out at this level and I could get them out in the big leagues. He said, don't change anything I'm doing."

Worrell believed Fregosi and hasn't changed anything. He still gets them out, bases loaded or not.

He looks as if he's been up forever. In the eighth inning, he worked through the meat of the Dodgers' order--Ken Landreaux, Pedro Guerrero and Bill Madlock--as if they were Matthew, Mark and Luke. One, two, three.

This, Worrell readily admitted, was a first for a Biola grad. "I'm not just the only Biola grad to play major league baseball," he said. "I'm the only one to be drafted. I sure didn't go to Biola to play baseball. I went there for an education."

And not just any education, either. His goal all along was to become a youth minister and his 30 units in Bible class were part of that preparation. That it turned out that he could play baseball has been a plus to his ministry and by no means an alternative career. "Baseball is a great vehicle when I talk to youth groups," he said.

Certainly he was persuasive Monday, giving the Cardinals something to believe in once more.

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