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Mike Downey

Giants Had 00, but Cardinals Threw a Double Zero at Them

October 15, 1987|Mike Downey

ST. LOUIS — The Giants don't win the pennant!

The Giants don't win the pennant!

The Giants don't win the pennant!

--With apologies to Russ Hodges.

Oh, how it could have been 1951 all over again. Oh, how these Giants could have been like those Giants. Those Giants had Leo Durocher escorting runners from his third-base coaching box all the way to home plate. These Giants had Don Zimmer doing it. Those Giants had Bobby Thomson. These Giants had Robby Thompson.

Robby even got a shipment of Bobby's bats once. He cracked open a crate, picked out a stick, inspected the barrel and noticed that the wood-burned signature read: "Bobby Thompson." He didn't know if somebody at the bat company misspelled his name, or if Bobby's supply had arrived 36 years late.

Back when baseball lovers were paying more attention to Hodges' radio play-by-play than to Ernie Harwell's broadcast on that odd little box they called television, Bobby Thomson's "shot heard 'round the world" off Ralph Branca gave the Giants the National League pennant instead of the Dodgers. Both teams represented New York back then, and the club closest to California was in St. Louis.

Oh, how history could have repeated itself. Oh, how the Giants could have waved that hunk of fabric the old-timers used to call a gonfalon.

Oh, for a ninth-inning miracle! Oh, for another Giant pennant!

Oh, oh.

As in 00.

As in double zero, Jeffrey Leonard, who, tough as he was, could not beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League playoffs by himself.

00.

As in double zeroes . . . back-to-back shutouts . . . a double order of goose eggs . . . the house number on the roulette wheel . . . the death numbers . . . nothing but nothings for Games 6 and 7.

00.

As in, "Oh, Ozzie!" As in shortstop. As in, look at Ozzie Smith turn those double plays, as in zoom, there he flies, high in the sky, to catch Leonard's line drive.

00.

As in oops. As in Maldonado. As in "Look out, Candy! Don't lose that pop fly in the lights!" Which he did in Game 6. Which might have cost the Giants the pennant.

And 00.

As in Oquendo.

The other outfielder. The guy they stick out there with Willie McGee and Vince Coleman. The guy who used to be a shortstop before he wound up on the same side as Ozzie Smith. The guy who will play anyplace now, as long as they let him play.

Jose Oquendo, man of a thousand positions, played just about everything there was to play at Busch Stadium this season, with the possible exception of the organ. He played 17 games in right field, 3 in center field, 4 in left field, 17 at second base, 9 at shortstop, 3 at third base, 1 at first base, and he pitched an inning. He was never the catcher, but what the heck. There's still the World Series.

The Cardinals are going to the World Series because Oquendo, who hits home runs about as often as Minnesota wins a pennant, hit one in the second inning Wednesday night, on a full-count pitch from Atlee Hammaker. Boom! He smacked it over the left-field fence. Boom! The crowd exploded. Boom! So did the scoreboard, in a symphony of fireworks and music, and a neon rainbow of flashing bulbs. The salute on the board as he rounded the bases read: "Oquendo! Secret weapon!" Jose shook his fist in the air as he circled second.

"I saw the booms," he said later.

That's booms, with two O's. You didn't just see the booms, Jose--you caused them. There were horns honked and cowbells clanged outside the park for hours after the game, and there was dancing in the street. It was all this 24-year-old Puerto Rican's doing. Leonard was the Most Valuable Player of this series, legitimately, but St. Louis Manager Whitey Herzog said, "You could make a case for Jose. He's been an MVP for us all year."

Well, a VP anyway. Versatility is what made Oquendo valuable, because he is not likely to play much shortstop with that other Big O here. Oquendo was a shortstop with the New York Mets, who ditched him in a trade that got them another shortstop, Argenis Salazar. Hmmm. Wonder what old Argenis was up to Wednesday night.

Herzog wanted Oquendo, he said when he got him, because he wanted "the second-best shortstop in the National League." That's a mouthful, seeing as how San Francisco happens to have Jose Uribe, whom Whitey traded to the Giants, and whom Whitey still sometimes calls "Gonzalez."

We know what Jose Uribe Gonzalez was doing Wednesday night. He was watching Jose Oquendo's line drive sail high over his head. Oquendo has hit three home runs in his major league life, and all three of them have come off San Francisco left-handers. If Roger Craig is as smart as we think he is, he will never let another lefty pitch to Oquendo again.

Maybe he shouldn't have let this one. Maybe Hammaker should have gotten the hook, after giving up three straight singles, or maybe he should have walked Oquendo, what with first base open and the pitcher up next.

What about it, Roger? Should you have walked Oquendo?

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