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Getting Reardon Was a Relief to Viola : He Knew in Spring Twins Had Found Missing Piece of Puzzle

October 26, 1987|ROSS NEWHAN | Times Staff Writer

MINNEAPOLIS — No one represents the growth of the Minnesota Twins more than Frank Viola.

No one represents the success of the team that now reigns as the improbable World Series champions more than Jeff Reardon.

It seems appropriate that amid the madhouse that was the Metrodome Sunday night, amid the pressure that was Game 7, it was Viola and Reardon who combined on the six hit, 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Viola, working on only three days rest for the second straight time and continuing to control emotions that some felt he would never be able to control, converted his third start of this 84th Series into the Most Valuable Player Award.

He gave up the two runs on four hits in the second inning, then gave up only two more hits in an eight-inning stint that included seven strikeouts and no walks. He was 3-1 in the postseason, 2-1 in the Series and 20-11 for 1987, the best season ever for the 27-year-old left-hander who was drafted out of St. John's University in 1981, lived through the 102 losses of 1982 and said that his feelings Sunday night were indescribable.

Reardon, who appeared in 8-of-12 postseason games with a 1-1 record and 3 saves, pitched the ninth inning flawlessly, emulating the form that led to 31 regular-season saves for a team that totalled only 27 the year before. He was the desperately needed closer, the key acquisition of last winter.

Nevada didn't believe it. The oddsmakers still made the Twins 75-to-1 to win the American League West, but Viola knew what Reardon would mean.

"I told my wife when I left for spring training that we now had the guy who could make the difference. I told her we'd win the division," Viola said, having made a difference himself.

He won 18 games in 1984 and '85 and 16 last year, but the feeling was that his stuff was better than that.

The feeling was that he had to master a temper that often betrayed him.

"You get tired of losing," he said. "If the team didn't play well, as it often didn't, I took it personally. I'd get caught up in how everyone else was playing instead of taking care of my own house.

"It was a situation I had to live through. I had to learn to stay within myself, to relax, to take it nice and easy. I had to learn that when I blew up I hurt my teammates as much as I hurt myself.

"I proved people wrong this year and everyone contributed to it. The guys just wouldn't let me get down, wouldn't let me get bothered.

"Having Reardon in the bullpen helped. The starters always felt that they had to do more than they were capable of. This year we went about it with the attitude of going as hard as we could for as long as we could. We knew we had the stopper down there."

Viola didn't seem in need of the stopper, the closer, Sunday night, but Manager Tom Kelly put an arm around him after the eighth inning and said that he intended to summon Reardon.

"His exact words were 'that this is the way we've been doing it all year, so why change now?' " Viola said. "Was I disappointed? That's a dumb question. Why should I be disappointed? Reardon is one of the best there is. It's a team game."

Viola was drenched in champagne. He held the MVP trophy. The noise of the crowd still thundered down to the Twins' clubhouse.

"We've come so far that this is just the greatest feeling in the world," he said. "I mean, we never even dared dream about this. We lost 102 games. We survived Calvin (Griffith). We knew it was time to put up or shut up or they would start breaking up this nucleus. I said that in the spring, but there was no pressure. We were loose all year. No one expected anything from us. We only expect it of ourselves."

Viola expected more of himself than the 3 innings he pitched in Game 4. He worked eight innings of the 10-1 Game 1 victory, then came back on three days rest.

"I felt good in St. Louis and I felt good tonight," he said. "I just didn't have the tunnel vision in St. Louis that I had after the second inning tonight. All I saw was the catcher's glove. I was focused. That's all I was concentrating on. There was nothing else out there."

He was asked about the four hits of the two-run second and said, "They seemed to be sitting on my changeup. I don't have the world's best fastball, but I was able to spot it, to throw it by them. That's the way it worked for me after that inning. It didn't hurt that they had the changeup in the back of their mind."

Viola arrived at the Metrodome in mid-afternoon and said he was "hyper as hell. I found every nook and cranny in the clubhouse. I couldn't stop pacing, but once I had the ball in my hand, well, that's what I do best. I went out there and felt great."

That, too, is a measure of his growth. He was 12-3 in the Metrodome this year and said, "I used to hate this place. I couldn't get anyone out here, but I had to learn to adjust. I had to learn that I had better stuff than I was giving myself credit for."

The crowd of 55,293 couldn't stop giving the Twins credit Sunday night. They brought Viola and teammates back to the field for a thunderous curtain call long after the final out.

The customary banner in the right-field bleachers read: "Frankie Sweet Music Viola." The cheers were sweet music in their own way. For Viola. For Reardon, who had to make adjustments, too.

"It was hard for me here at first," he said. "People said I was all this team needed and I tried to be too perfect. Then I told myself to relax, to just go about it and pitch the way I had in the National League, that one man can't win it by himself. To be part of this, to get that chance to be out there in the ninth inning tonight means more to me than anything I've ever experienced. It's a dream come true."

A dream Viola and most Twins didn't dare dream.

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