ST. LOUIS — Something like this might happen, oh, maybe twice in a guy's career, so St. Louis third baseman Tom Lawless tried to prolong the moment for as long as possible Wednesday night.
As soon as he connected on a fastball by Minnesota pitcher Frank Viola in the fourth inning of Game 4 of the World Series, Lawless took one step in the direction of first base and then stopped. He took another step before stopping again. Then, he repeated the cadence once more until he was certain this was not merely another fly ball to left field.
At the precise moment that the ball caromed off a concrete slab beyond the left-field wall, Lawless flipped his bat in the air and embarked on a home run trot he had practiced only once before in his nondescript major league career.
Lawless' improbable three-run home run, which broke a 1-1 tie, highlighted an even more surprising six-run rally in the fourth inning that lifted the Cardinals to a 7-2 victory over the Twins before a crowd of 55,347 at Busch Stadium.
St. Louis' win, made possible by a seldom-seen offensive bonanza against Minnesota's best pitcher and preserved by several defensive plays and Ken Dayley's solid relief pitching, evened the best-of-seven Series at two games apiece.
There have been many more important and impressive home runs hit in World Series history, and everyone from Reggie Jackson to Carlton Fisk has been remembered for his admiring gaze as the shot sailed into the seats.
But this was light-hitting Tom Lawless, who had hit only one home run in 384 major league at-bats, not some noted slugger. That home run, incidentally, came while Lawless played for Cincinnati, in a 1984 game against Atlanta. The pitcher then was Dayley, who added symmetry to Wednesday night by earning the save in relief of Bob Forsch.
Though the ball cleared the left-field fence by only a foot, Lawless reacted as if he knew the ball would be a home run from the moment it was hit. It was the kind of reaction that will be preserved in the mind and on videotape.
Reggie Jackson. Carlton Fisk. Tom Lawless?
"I stood there and wondered whether it was going out or going to be a sacrifice fly," Lawless said. "There was a guy on first, so I couldn't go anywhere. When it went out, I said, 'Holy Cow,' then I don't know what happened. I guess I flipped the bat."
Asked to put Lawless' routine in historical perspective, Cardinal Manager Whitey Herzog joked: "It's right up there with Reggie's."
The gesture certainly did not go unnoticed in the appreciative Cardinal dugout or on the mound, where Viola stood motionless with slumped shoulders.
"When he hit it and stood there, I thought it was in the upper deck," Herzog said. "It only cleared the fence by a little bit. I told him later, he ought to run when he hits the ball."
Viola would not comment on Lawless' post-home run reaction. He had trouble enough dealing with the reality of the blast.
"I've given up a lot of home runs to guys who you don't expect it from," Viola said. "Considering the magnitude of this, that one's got to be right up there."
Since the Cardinals found an offense Wednesday night, albeit from the most unlikely of subjects, they also find themselves tied with the Twins going into Game 5 tonight. Danny Cox will pitch for the Cardinals against the Twins' Bert Blyleven.
St. Louis' seven-run output Wednesday night almost equaled its combined run total for the first three games. The unexpected offensive display was reminiscent of the Twins' assault in the first two games of the Series at the Metrodome.
Like the Twins' two big innings, this one came in the fourth and it was highlighted by a home run. But while the Twins' lineup is capable of such explosions, the Cardinals have been fortunate to make it this far without sluggers Jack Clark and Terry Pendleton, the club's two biggest producers.
They needed a three-run home run from little-known Jose Oquendo, which landed nearly in the same spot as Lawless', to beat the San Francisco Giants in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.
And Wednesday night, needing a win to even the Series heading into Game 5, The Cardinals turned to a cast that included the familiar--Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee and Dayley--and the obscure--Lawless and first baseman Jim Lindeman.
The Cardinals' fourth-inning rally against the usually steady Viola began when Tony Pena walked on four pitches. Oquendo's single to right field then moved Pena to third base.
At that moment, the Twins frantically tried to prevent a big inning by the Cardinals, whose previous offensive outburst had been a three-run seventh Tuesday night in Game 3. Moments after Oquendo's single, two Twin relief pitchers and two bullpen catchers raced out of the dugout and headed toward the bullpen. They hardly had time to shed their parkas before Lawless deposited Viola's fastball--"a mediocre fastball," Twin Manager Tom Kelly corrected--over the left-field fence.