SAN FRANCISCO — An ice bag was strapped to Robby Thompson's lower back as he stood at his locker in the San Francisco Giants' clubhouse Saturday night.
"Sometimes," the Giant second baseman said, "I feel like a trout lying in a supermarket tub of ice."
And sometimes he feels worse than that.
"At the point in time when I flew home from Chicago and went on the disabled list (April 28 to May 13), I was real worried if I would be able to finish the season or even go on with my career," he said.
There is still some question about the future.
Thompson, 25, a University of Florida product who was the runner-up to St. Louis relief pitcher Todd Worrell in the National League's Rookie of the Year voting last season, has a bulging disk and stress fracture in his lower back.
He reports to the park and undergoes whirlpool, rubdown and electronic muscle stimulation. He dons that bag of ice as soon as the game ends.
The daily ordeal permitted Thompson to appear in 132 games during the regular season. He shrugged off the stiffness and concern to bat .262, improve his rookie totals for home runs (from 7 to 10) and stolen bases (from 12 to 16) and join with shortstop Jose Uribe in helping the Giants lead the major leagues in double plays with 183.
The condition that developed late last season and forced Thompson to undergo a winter devoid of physical activity will be reevaluated when he is finally finished playing this year.
Surgery may be in order or he could simply undertake muscle rehabilitation, building up the lower back area to take the strain off his spine. Dr. Arthur White, who operated on San Francisco 49er quarterback, Joe Montana last year, will make the decision.
"I have complete confidence in him," Thompson said. "He's told me that I have a chance for 100% recovery no matter which way we go.
"Right now I'm trying not to think about it. The mornings are tough because of the stiffness, but once the games start and the adrenalin gets going, well that's the best medicine of all. I really can't use the back as an excuse for anything."
Thompson was feeling better in a lot of ways as he stood at his locker after Game 4 of the National League playoffs.
The Giants had defeated the Cardinals, 4-2, to even the best-of-seven series at two games apiece. Four more double plays had raised the Giants' total to nine, a playoff record after just four games. And Thompson, one of the architects of that record, finally contributed in another way as well, hammering a fourth inning homer.
While teammate Jeffrey Leonard, the Hac-Man, was stealing the spotlight, Thompson had been more of a hack, man. He was 0 for 11 with five strikeouts when he connected off Danny Cox to cut a 2-0 St. Louis lead in half and set the stage for Leonard's decisive homer in the fifth.
"I've had 0 for 11s and 0 for 20s before, but I sure as heck didn't want to do it in a championship series," Thompson said. "When you're not even hitting the ball hard you start to get concerned if you ever will.
"My job is to just get on base, but I was swinging at bad pitches and trying to hit everything out of the park. I wasn't down, but I was disappointed with myself. I knew we were doing the job on defense, but I didn't really feel like I was contributing."
Thompson reviewed some of his better moments in the film room before Saturday's game and received encouragement from teammates and Manager Roger Craig, who assured him he would remain in the lineup. Candy Maldonado took him aside prior to that fourth inning at bat and reminded him to shorten his swing and "just play pepper with the pitch."
But the most important talk Thompson had was one he conducted with himself after booting an easy ground ball in the second inning.
"I went up the tunnel and told myself that it was time to get in gear, that enough was enough," he said. "I was really upset about that error, but maybe it got me started. I'm a line-drive hitter and that's all I was trying to do, swing at a good pitch and hit a line drive to center. I don't know if it was my biggest hit ever, but it was definitely the biggest in my last 11 at bats."
Now 1 for 14, Thompson didn't feel that he had yet done enough to accept the crowd's plea for a curtain call, though he would have been justified on the basis of defense alone.
As would Uribe, who's only 3 for 16.
"I don't know of a better double play combination anywhere," third base coach Don Zimmer, a former shortstop, said. "Uribe gets the ball to second base as quickly and accurately as any shortstop I've ever seen. He's acrobatic. I don't know that a guy can play better than he has. They're just two great kids who complement each other so well."
Said Thompson, who speared Ozzie Smith's low line drive in the second inning and doubled Vince Coleman off first to end the Cardinals' biggest threat against Mike Krukow, who elicited double plays in each of the last three innings as well:
"We've been turning 'em all year. Jose and I take a lot of pride in it. Everyone talks about Ozzie Smith and they should, he's still the Gold Glove shortstop, but Jose Uribe is right behind him. I can't say enough about him."
And people were finally saying more about Robby Thompson Saturday night than wondering when he would get his first hit and how his back is.