MINNEAPOLIS — Never has the pitchout received as much attention as it did during the National League playoffs. Manager Roger Craig's insight and intuition helped the San Francisco Giants control and contain the vaunted speed of the St. Louis Cardinals, who stole a major league leading 248 bases during the regular season but were 5 for 11 against the Giants.
Now it's the Minnesota Twins' turn, and they may need some of Craig's ESP if they hope to have similar success. Hope seemed to be the Twins' only weapon during the regular season, when they threw out only 47 of 215 base stealers. Against the Twins, base stealers had a 78% success figure, compared to the league mark of 69%.
Tim Laudner threw out only 16 of 84 base stealers, and Sal Butera caught just 14 of 56.
So what are the Minnesota catchers up against in the 84th World Series that opens here tonight?
The Cardinals stole 72 more bases than the Milwaukee Brewers, who led the American League. Vince Coleman alone, with his total of 109, stole more than the Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles.
And given the absence of Jack Clark and the limited availability of Terry Pendleton, the Cardinals will be looking to run that much more.
"To win, we're going to have to do the things we do best," second baseman Tom Herr said. "If we get a chance to run, we're going to have to make things happen. We can still create a lot of problems if we do that."
The Twins know that. The question is: What do they do about it?
"We can call pitchouts and throws to first from the dugout," pitching coach Dick Such said. "But our basic approach will be the same as it was all season. We don't want to be so concerned with the runner that we give in to the hitter. Take 'em one at a time.
"I mean, they have to prevent our power guys from hitting home runs and we have to stop their rabbits from getting on base."
Said Bert Blyleven, who is scheduled to pitch Game 2 and features the big curve that tends to help a baserunner: "If they steal, they steal. If they've got a runner on first, I've already made one mistake. I don't want to be worried about the runner to the point that I make another. I'm not going to give in to the hitter."
The Twins obviously had a problem during the season. Was it all the catchers, or did the pitchers do a poor job of holding runners close? Laudner refused to point a finger.
"I'm only looking at the positive aspects," he said. "Our pitchers have been throwing well, our defense has been outstanding and we've been getting the key hits. If we continue to put those numbers on the board, we can negate a lot of the Cardinals' speed."
Said Butera, who formerly caught in the National League: "I played against Coleman and (Willie) McGee for quite a few years, and they can definitely put pressure on you. I've always felt that those guys were going to steal their bases, even against the best pitcher-catcher combination.
"The key, I think, is not letting the guys hitting behind them beat you. If you worry so much about the runner that you forget the hitter, you end up behind on the count to an Ozzie Smith or Tommy Herr, and that's when you're in trouble."
Twin Manager Tom Kelly cited the Cardinals' speed and said it is one reason he is starting his left-hander, Frank Viola, in Game 1. Viola is regarded as the Twins' best pitcher at holding runners close. He is their best pitcher, period.
"I won 17 games and another in the playoff," Viola said. "If I pitch my game, it doesn't matter who I face, so why should I change my style? I'm aware of their speed, but I'm not going to out-think myself because of it. I'm not going to throw Ozzie Smith all fastballs just because Vince Coleman might be running."
Does Coleman, who has boasted that he can steal on anyone at any time, go in expecting to exploit the apparent Twins' weakness?
"I've never seen Frank Viola, I don't have a book on him," he said. "We'll have to pick up something early to establish a running game. We'll be analyzing it day to day."
The Cardinals were 78-42 in games in which they stole at least one base this year and 21-28 when they didn't. Manager Whitey Herzog said he thought his team got too cautious against the Giants, playing Craig's game. He said that he expected more aggressiveness against the Twins, though Coleman and the others will basically remain on their own.
"It's kind of strange," he said. "We'll steal five bases in one game, then go five games without stealing another. I don't always understand it.
"My feeling is that we should run when we can run. But if they don't run, I can't stress it unless I go out there with a broom and hit 'em in the butt."
And even if Whitey gets in the act, should the Twins be apprehensive?
Bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek shook his head and said: "We didn't have a lot of success throwing runners out, but we won a pennant. So now we're going to start worrying about the other people's speed? Why?"