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The World Series : Minnesota Twins vs. St. Louis Cardinals : UNLIKELY IS LIKELY : Viola Has Somewhat of a History of Giving Up Homers to the Most Surprising of Sources

October 22, 1987|MIKE PENNER | Times Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS — It's a Lawless town here today, thanks in large part to a Minnesota pitcher named Frank Viola, who took a reserve infielder who had been homerless since 1984 and transplanted him into the World Series pantheon of home-run hitters from nowhere.

St. Louis Cardinal Tom Lawless is the latest inductee into the Gene Tenace wing of this exclusive gallery, a man who had an .080 batting average during the regular season, yet took Viola deep Wednesday night for a three-run home run in the Cardinals' 7-2 victory at Busch Stadium to even the Series at two games apiece.

Before his ground-breaking homer in the fourth inning, Lawless had homered precisely once in 384 major league plate appearances. That was in 1984, when Lawless was a Cincinnati Red--before he was a Montreal Expo, before he was a Louisville Redbird, before he drove in a total of 11 runs in three seasons with St. Louis.

In other words, he was the perfect candidate to hit a home run off Viola . . . that is, if you really know Viola.

"It seems like I give up so many home runs to unlikely guys," Viola said. "Pesky hitters. The No. 8 and 9 guys in the lineup."

For instance?

"Oh, you want some of my favorites?" offered Viola, who then accommodated a group of reporters by reciting the names like some obscure phone list.

"I gave up a home run this year to that Gallego guy (Mike Gallego) from Oakland," he said. "A few year ago, Tim Foli. A few years ago, Garth Iorg. And he hadn't hit one in five years.

"There's a whole number of guys like that. . . . I seem to take certain hitters for granted, but anybody in this game is capable of hurting you. We showed that tonight."

Viola, who pitched the Twins to a 10-1 win in Game 1, was working on a 1-1 tie in Game 4 when he gave up the three-run home run to Lawless. The shot triggered a six-run outburst for the Cardinals in the inning, normally a week's worth for this group.

When it comes to getting hurt by the nameless, Lawless may be peerless, as far as Viola is concerned.

"Considering the magnitude of the game, (Lawless) has got to rank right up there," Viola said. "I got a fastball up, and he hit the heck out of the ball. One of these days, it's going to sink into my head."

Of course, St. Louis has more hitters worth taking for granted than you can shake a bat at. Jim Lindeman, known best as Jack Clark's .208-hitting caddy, had an RBI single against Viola in the third inning. And to set the stage for Lawless in the fourth, Tony Pena, the .214-hitting catcher, walked. Then Jose Oquendo, the mighty utilityman, hit a single to right field.

Viola lasted just 3 innings against this lineup, equaling his shortest stint of the season. He gave up 6 hits, 3 walks and 5 earned runs.

"Frankie just didn't have it tonight," Minnesota Manager Tom Kelly said.

That much was easy to ascertain. Finding a reason why was a greater challenge.

The Three-Days'-Rest Factor was broached. Viola was pitching for the second time during the postseason on three days' rest, which has proven to make him a less effective pitcher. On four days' rest during 1987, Viola managed a 2.70 ERA. On three days' rest, that mark was well above 4.00.

Yet, Viola continually denied any fatigue or loss of velocity because of a short layoff.

"No, I don't think it had any effect," he said. "I felt good. In fact, I felt really good. I just kept getting behind in the count. When you keep getting behind hitters, you set yourself up for mistakes."

Kelly, meanwhile, suggested the Second-Time-Around Syndrome.

"Frankie has a history of beating a team once and then pitching not that well when he has to face them right again. It seems like he throws a lot more balls the second time around. You start walking some of the people on this team and you're going to create a lot of problems for yourself."

When asked to comment on this trend, Viola shook his head.

"The bottom line is that I have to establish myself early and I didn't," he said. "For me, the biggest difference was not getting strike one and being able to pitch my game. I got some pitches in the strike zone, but they were in the wrong area of the strike zone. Right where the bats were.

"Tonight, I was just in the same situation the St. Louis pitchers were in during the games in Minnesota. They got behind on the count, and that's when hitters thrive."

Even .080 hitters such as Lawless. Or Gallego. Or Foli. Or Iorg.

"All those names came back pretty quick tonight," Viola said with a thin smile. "I don't like reminiscing about them."

His preference is to look ahead, to his next start, which will be Game 7 in the Metrodome if the World Series is extended to its limit.

"I'd like to see us close it out in six," Viola said. "But, in another way, I'd like it to go seven. I'd like another chance. I sure don't want to end my season on a note like this."

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