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The World Series : Minnesota Twins vs. St. Louis Cardinals : Lawless Night Leaves the Twins Tied Up : Before Homer, You Could Find Lawless in a Book of Trivia

October 22, 1987|ROSS NEWHAN | Times Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS — There it was, staring out at Tom Lawless from an assortment of newspapers Wednesday morning. An ABC analyst named Reggie Jackson was quoted as saying that the 84th World Series lacked marquee names, that, "You could say these are replacement players."

"When I make out my lineup card," Reggie said, "I have to put first names down to remember who these guys are.

"I'm still trying to find out who Tom Lawless is."

A student of baseball history, Reggie had forgotten his trivia or might have remembered that Tom Lawless was the only player for whom Pete Rose was ever traded, or that he was at the heart of the incident leading to John McNamara's firing as manager of the Cincinnati Reds, or that he was the last player on an opening-day major league roster in each of the last two years to get a hit.

A little more study and he might have also known that when Tom Lawless stepped in against Minnesota left-hander Frank Viola in the fourth inning of the fourth World Series game Wednesday night, he had hit only one home run in his previous 384 major league at-bats and had driven in just 17 runs, including three in the last two years.

So much for anonymity and baseball lore. Thomas Clayton Lawless, utility infielder, outfielder and catcher, gave Reggie and others a more noteworthy introduction by hammering a three-run homer that highlighted a six-run inning, propelling the St. Louis Cardinals to a 7-2 victory and a 2-2 Series tie.

"Now I know, now a lot of people know," Reggie whispered to Lawless in a corridor near the Cardinal clubhouse when the game was over.

Said Lawless later: "I don't worry what people say or think about me. They say I can't hit, I can't throw, I can't do this or that. I have to go about my job as best I can. I'm here to perform a role. I understand that."

His role in this Series:

Replacing injured third baseman Terry Pendleton against left-handed pitchers. Lawless understands that Pendleton, a switch hitter who can swing left-handed despite his pulled rib muscle, will start in Game 5 tonight against right-hander Bert Blyleven.

Lawless understands that he might never have an opportunity or moment like that in the fourth inning. He appeared in only 19 regular-season games this year. He was 0 for 15 when he got his first hit Aug. 12. He didn't get his second and last until the final week of the season. He finished 2 for 25.

Was it any wonder that Tom Lawless stood, watched and savored his decisive home run off Frank Viola, his first home run since April 25, 1984, when he got his only other homer in the major leagues against current teammate Ken Dayley, then with Atlanta?

The game was tied, 1-1. Tony Pena was on third, Jose Oquendo on first. Lawless' drive cleared the left-field fence. Lawless barely moved. He flipped his bat and began an unfamiliar tour.

"I can hit home runs, but this is a big park for a little guy," the 5-foot 11-inch, 165-pound, right-handed hitter said later. "I hit it on the nose but I've hit others like that here, and they haven't gone anywhere. I knew it was a sacrifice fly anyway and I didn't want to take the risk of passing Oquendo.

"I didn't know it was gone until I saw the umpire wave. I remember thinking, 'Holy cow.' I don't remember flipping the bat or anything else. Even now I don't think it will sink in until tomorrow and the guys start kidding me about being out of the lineup again."

Lawless was surrounded by media in the St. Louis clubhouse. He said that he seldom even hit home runs in batting practice because he understands the need to practice a line drive stroke.

This time, however, he had a little talk with Jack Clark, a legitimate home run hitter, before going to the plate.

"Viola has kept me in stitches," Lawless explained. "I look for a changeup and get the fastball. I look for the fastball and get the changeup. Jack said to forget all that and just look for the ball. He said, 'Look, you don't get many chances. Look for the ball and take a hack.' "

The drive would have done the Hac-Man (Jeffrey Leonard) proud. Minnesota Manager Tom Kelly said it was a "mediocre fastball" but that he wasn't taking anything away from Lawless, that, "He put a charge in it."

Lawless, 30, called it the highlight of an eight-year professional career in which there have been few, unless you call being traded for Rose a highlight.

"I don't think it was much of a highlight for me and I don't think it was a highlight for Pete either," he said.

It happened in 1984, Lawless moving from Cincinnati to Montreal. It may not have been a highlight, but Lawless said he was definitely happy about it because he no longer fit in the Reds' organization, was optioned to Wichita, couldn't get anyone to discuss his status and was on the verge of quitting until his wife talked him out of it.

At one point, two years earlier, he was regarded as the Reds' second baseman of the future--at least by then general manager Dick Wagner, who thought that his manager, McNamara, should bench Johnny Bench, who was playing third base, move Ron Oester to third and play Lawless at second. McNamara objected, finally relented and was soon fired for opposing Wagner's desire to name the lineup.

Traded to the Expos and ultimately to the Cardinals in 1985, Lawless accepts his role.

"He's my safety valve," Manager Whitey Herzog said. "His versatility allows me to make a lot of moves I wouldn't normally be able to make."

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