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THE WORLD SERIES : STEP BY STEP : Lawless Will Be Remembered for Homer--and Trot

October 25, 1987|THOMAS BOSWELL | The Washington Post

ST. LOUIS — One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight tiny casual loving little steps is how many Tom Lawless took toward first base before he fired his bat in the air like a whirling baton and began the cockiest and most amazingly improbable Show Me home run trot in World Series history.

Next to Tom Lawless, Bucky Dent was Jimmie Foxx and Brian Doyle was Babe Ruth. Line them all up -- Sandy Amoros, Al Gionfrido, Don Larsen, Howard Ehmke and Bernie Carbo -- the unknowns who made this Classic their moment, their mirror, their whole athletic life in a split second, and Moxie Lawless has them lapped and beaten badly.

All of them did amazing and unexpected deeds at perfect and vital moments. But none of them had done so little as Lawless, who spent every day of this year with the St. Louis Cardinals and batted .080 with no runs batted in. Actually, he wasn't even in a slump. The previous year, he had three RBI in an entire season of utility chores.

Even more wonderful, Lawless used his split-second of immortality Wednesday night with a presence of mind and an audacity that never had occurred to a baseball player before. How does a 30-year-old veteran -- who has hit one home run in his entire major league career of 384 at-bats -- have the quick wit to play to the camera like Reggie Jackson and hot dog like Rickey Henderson rolled into one? Come on, folks, how do you discover style on the second home run of your life?

When stars show up their foes, it's bush. If Willie McGee had done what Lawless did -- the grandstand waltz, the bat flip, the bounding, high-stepping trip around the bases, the high-fives to the entire state of Missouri -- the Minnesota Twins would have spent the rest of this Series trying to break his leg with a slide or dent his skull with a fastball.

But when the 24th man has his glory day, when the guy who ought to be scared to death just to step on the field drives a three-run stake in your heart in the fourth game of a Series that is now tied, you just shake your head and wonder whether destiny hasn't gotten a midtown transfer and jumped on the other guys' team bus.

If Jack Clark gets hurt, then Jose Oquendo (two career homers) hits the key home run in the seventh game of the playoffs to beat the 205-homer San Francisco Giants. If Terry Pendleton gets gimped out of the lineup, then Lawless replaces him and breaks up a 1-1 game off Frankie (Sweet Music) Viola and ignites a six-run fourth inning.

Is there an echo in here or did somebody say fourth inning? Isn't that the Twins' inning? Or is it now Every Man's Inning? Don't go to the hot chocolate line after three innings.

"Gionfriddo goes back, back, back. One-handed catch at the bullpen. Oh, doctor." That's how Red Barber called the great grab that actually made Joe DiMaggio show his temper for the only time on record -- a tiny kick at the dirt near second base in disbelief.

Back, back, back -- that's where the Minnesota Twins are now, thanks to Lawless. Backs to the wall. The Twins have seen the true St. Louis Cardinals, and it has not been a pretty sight. They have also seen their own manager, Tom Kelly, and that's not pretty, either. A rookie manager in October who repeatedly says, "I'm not very smart," then proceeds to look for planks to walk off, isn't a settling antidote for the collective tummy.

Everything the Cardinals know how to do, they did this raw night. In the top of the fifth, as the Twins tried to storm back against inept, old Bob Forsch, the Cardinals threw the kind of leather at 'em that makes people here by the Mississippi wonder if any team has every pursued baseballs this adroitly.

With two on and one out, Lawless -- no, we're not talking about his brother or his grandmother -- dove over the third base bag for a spectacular smother of a smash, turning a double into a single. That saved a run because on the next play, Ozzie Smith showed why he is Ozzie Smith by diving with his face to the turf, digging in the hole and flipping to second for the force play that Lawless had kept in order. Finally, Vince Coleman made a shoestring catch that a slower man -- that's to say, any other player in history except about three -- couldn't have reached. Instead of the score being 7-4 with two on and one out, St. Louis led, 7-2, and the inning was over.

As if that were not disheartening enough, the Twins kept bombing Forsch, loading the bases in the seventh. On came Ken Dayley, only the Cardinals' second-best reliever, but perhaps the most underrated left-handed fireman in the game, to face Gary Gaetti and Tom Brunansky. Both right-handed 30-homer men. One swing and it would be 7-6. Lawless' homer would shrink and, maybe, the Twins eventually put the Cardinals on ice here in the Busch igloo. Instead, Dayley went after the heart of the Minnesota order like a hungry dog spotting a pound of steak. A strike out. A pop up. Something to think about.

The Twins also will think about why manager Kelly pitched to McGee, he of the 105 RBI this season and .500 batting average in this series, with men on second and third and two out in the fourth. Tony Pena, he of the 44 RBI, was next. The score was 5-1, the runs on base vital. Kelly was flat wrong to throw McGee a strike. And it only took one to produce a two-run double.

The Twins may not sleep well with their fantasies of Bert Blyleven against Danny Cox here on Thursday night. However, Dusty Rhodes and Johnny Podres, Rick Dempsey and Bill Mazeroski, can continue their sweet dreams. They have more company. Stylish company. Little guy. Weighs about 160 pounds. Bristly mustache. A law unto himself. But that's what the World Series always has been -- a Lawless place with rules and caprices of its own.

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