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Mike Downey

All Kidding Aside, Jocular Krukow Pulls Giants Even

October 11, 1987|Mike Downey

SAN FRANCISCO — Mike Krukow is slightly cuckoo. Taped to the top of his locker--one might say over the Krukow nest--are a series of before-and-after Polaroids of teammate Joel Youngblood's miracle hair-growth development. Every snapshot is exactly the same. There also is a photo of a fairly famous actress, initials M.F., and the inscription: "Whom I've seen naked." Well, guess it beats bubblegum cards.

Krukow is always kidding around. For the San Francisco Giants' pitching staff, he has been both ace and joker. Saturday, he was every bit the ace, trumping the Cards of St. Louis on eight hits, 4-2, in Game 4 of the National League playoffs. He was really humming, baby.

"I'm walking on clouds," Krukow said at his locker.

He was holding his young son's hand. He was gesturing animatedly with the free hand. At one point, while carrying on about catcher Bob Brenly's having controlled the tempo of the game, Krukow started snapping his fingers, keeping the beat. He was more than just a happy man. He was a 35-year-old kid again.

He spoke of how the San Francisco pitchers often get together before a game, whereupon a coach shouts: "OK, who wants the ball today?" And all the pitchers, imitating schoolboys, shout back: "I do! I do!"

He spoke of what he did in the dugout Saturday, after St. Louis came up with a couple of runs off him, how he got everybody's attention by saying: "That's it! They don't get any more!"

He spoke of how Manager Roger Craig approached him around the sixth inning, after the Giants scrapped back to grab a 3-2 lead. The manager asked: "How are you feeling?"

The pitcher answered: "Great!"

Krukow yelled it so loud, guys standing at other lockers looked over to see what he was yelling about.

The pitcher was excited, more excited than he even had seemed out there on the mound. Someone asked Krukow if he had been scared before this game, afraid to possibly cost San Francisco a trip to the World Series if he lost, but he boomed even louder: "No way! No, not at all! The way I look at it is: Dare to do something great! Dare to go out there and do something important!"

Maybe he seemed emotional, but Krukow said he actually was quite calm, quite relaxed, very much in control.

There have been times, though, when the joker has been wild. The same man who won 20 games last season won 5 this season. In 1985, he won 8. For five years Krukow has toiled for San Francisco, and he has been up and down like a cable car. Mr. Consistency has never been his nickname.

Brenly remembers how his partnership with Krukow got off to a bad start, how the pitcher and catcher bickered about as often as Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd. Brenly wanted to do things his way. Krukow wanted to do things his way. The catcher got so sick of the pitcher shaking him off, he was tempted to flash a one-fingered sign that did not indicate fastball.

"We had a lot of rocky times," Brenly said. "There was this game in San Diego. I think the first eight hitters reached base, and six of them scored. I went out to the mound and said: 'Let's see if we can get the . . . pitcher out!' He just smacked the ball in the pocket of his glove and stared daggers at me.

"It was a constant struggle. He wanted to shake off everything I called. Consequently, we had some very long ballgames, because he wouldn't throw the pitch I wanted, and I wouldn't allow him to throw the pitch he wanted. It almost got ugly, let me tell you."

Finally, there came an experience two years ago that brought all of the Giants together, particularly the veterans. The team lost 100 games. It takes a pretty terrible team to get beat a hundred times in one season, and it takes some good fellowship and encouragement to overcome such a thing.

Krukow put it behind him, went out and had the season of a lifetime. He was 20-9, the first 20-game winner for the Giants since Ron Bryant in 1973. He placed third in the Cy Young vote. He finally fulfilled the potential he showed so long ago in Chicago, where Manager Preston Gomez, who kept calling him "Koo-krow," once was certain that this kid would become one of the great right-handers of the era.

Didn't happen. Instead came the crash of 1985, which Krukow put behind him but can't forget.

"We don't forget. We won't forget," he said Saturday. "We were the doormat of the league. We were probably the doormat of baseball. You don't easily forget something like that."

Two years later, the Giants are two wins from a World Series. Krukow calls it "resurrected from the dead." He credits the infield plugging-up provided by shortstop Jose Uribe and second baseman Robby Thompson, who already have helped turn a playoff-record nine double plays. He credits Craig, with supplying knowledge and having faith. He credits homer-happy Jeffrey Leonard, for "letting us climb on his shoulders."

And, he credits Brenly, his buddy now.

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