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Jim Murray

It's Enough to Make You Fall Asleep

October 20, 1985|JIM MURRAY

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Z-z-z-z-z-z-z.

Wake me when it's over. Better yet, wake me when it starts.

The World Series, to the surprise of practically nobody, got off to a wall-to-wall snore Saturday night, a nine-inning sleepwalk. It had all the thrills of infield practice.

It was like a club fight between two guys whose styles nullify each other. The Cardinals won a split decision.

It'll never play Broadway, this country-and-western World Series. It was like a silent movie.

The barefoot boys from Kansas City got runs the way hoboes get dances--not very often and never in bunches.

Kansas City was so desperate for runs, it tried to score on foul flies and bunts. When it couldn't even do that Saturday night, it didn't have any cards left.

St. Louis is not exactly Murderers' Row, either. Two junk pitchers who threw just hard enough to keep the ball in the air all the way to the plate stifled the game's hitters. Kansas City got the picture so early that it tried to get a run out of a .188 hitter ordered to bunt with a runner on third. When he missed that ball, too, the Royals had shot their wad, although a guy named Lynn Jones got a surprise triple later in the game. I don't know who he is, either.

The key play of the game, to give you an example, was a foul ball. The hero of the game, if that isn't too grandiose a term for a game, and a play, like this, was the guy who caught it.

No one ever mixed up Terry Pendleton with Brooks Robinson or even Pie Traynor before, but he has perfected a play a Cliff Branch or Lynn Swann made famous--the over-the-shoulder, back-to-the-play reception. It was the second time Pendleton has performed this trick in postseason action.

The circumstances were these: The Cardinals led, 2-1, in the bottom of the fourth inning. There was one out. The base-runner, Jim Sundberg, was on third for the Royals. The batter was the first baseman, Steve Balboni. Balboni, as usual, got bad wood on the ball and looped it over the left-field foul line. Pendleton raced under it and made a lunging catch.

It was not entirely advisable. In fact, it looked to the Kansas City third-base coach like his team's best opportunity to score, to give you an idea how things were going for the home team. He sent the base-runner desperately plateward.

Pendleton turned in midair, spun and flung the ball to the catcher. Sundberg, who has streetcar-conductor speed, was out by several feet. The inning was through, and so was Kansas City.

The catch is not to be confused with Willie Mays' off-the-shoulder catch of Vic Wertz's 450-foot drive in the 1954 World Series, but it was absolutely as pivotal. It also resulted in a double play. Also, it was the second time Pendleton has done it in a week. In Game 3 of the National League playoffs, in the eighth inning against the Dodgers with Mike Marshall on third and Greg Brock at bat, Pendleton performed exactly the same feat, except he had to catch that ball by climbing a bullpen pitching mound to get to it. There were two out then; so no throw was necessary.

"The point was, Greg Brock was dangerous, a threat to hit the home run. And with the score 4-2, you had to catch that ball, too," Pendleton reminded the media in the St. Louis locker room after the game Saturday night.

Of his most recent catch, his interviewers wondered whether a back-to-the-plate reception might have been unnecessarily risky with a runner tagged up and one out. Didn't he give any thought to dropping it? Pendleton shook his head. "You have to catch the ball in that situation," he said. "You can't give Balboni another chance, either."

Did he think his throw would get the runner? Pendleton shook his head. "I thought it might bounce on the way to the plate. You don't have a chance to make a picture throw when your feet leave the ground."

The throw didn't bounce. Sundberg did a moment later when catcher Darrell Porter dug the ball in his ribs as he rumbled homeward.

Terry Pendleton, a short (5-9), alert member of what is probably the best infield in baseball, has been cast in history and has the part of the guy who played third in the Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance combination of story and song. Playing next to Ozzie Smith is like playing a scene with Spencer Tracy or a talking dog. It's hard to get noticed.

But Pendleton got the media blitz Saturday. A cheerful ex-Fresno State and Channel Islands High of Oxnard athlete, Pendleton even shrugged off a charged error in the second inning on a throw he said actually hit the bag and skipped erratically away from his glove.

Pendleton, a media favorite and a good-natured interview, doesn't expect his October exploits to get him out of the shadow of the all-world Ozzie Smith. But he has saved Game 1 of the World Series for the St. Louis track team that could not seem to get out of the blocks one more time in these fall unclassics.

A game in which the catch of a foul fly is the most exciting thing of the evening is not exactly all-time stuff. The ball is not apt to go to Cooperstown. But it got to where it had to go--Darrell Porter's mitt. The way these teams hit, if he had muffed it--or the throw--we might be playing Game 1 yet.

If you're having trouble sleeping, tune in. This is the Valium World Series. Easy on the blood pressure. Maybe even prescribed for it.

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