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October 15, 1988|MIKE PENNER | Times Staff Writer

Jay Canfield Howell, this is your postseason:

You pitch in relief in Game 1 of the National League championship series, lose it and awake the next morning to read that a 25-year-old pitcher, David Cone, with all of 2 big league seasons under his belt, is writing his own playoff-special column and calling you "a high school pitcher" in it.

You pitch again in Game 3 of the playoffs, it's cold and you smear a little grip-enhancing pine tar inside the heel of your glove. The New York Mets notice this, you're suddenly frisked on the mound and soon you're bounced from the series, serving a 2-game suspension for using "a foreign substance" on the baseball.

You return just in time to watch your Dodger teammates conclude an upset of staggering proportions, beating the heavily favored Mets in 7 games. You're in the World Series and, you suppose, the hassle has all been worth it.

Then, on the day before the World Series opener, you pick up another newspaper and there's another opposing player talking about you know who.

"What's he ever done?" Oakland designated hitter Don Baylor is saying to the San Jose Mercury News. "He couldn't save games over here (in Oakland), so they got rid of him. We want him in the game, all right."

You played with Baylor several years back with the New York Yankees and you shake your head. You read on.

"He was right where he wanted to be in Games 4 and 5 at New York," Baylor said, alluding to the suspension. "He didn't want to be pitching with all the people screaming at him. He can't handle that. He couldn't handle it when he was in New York with the Yankees. I know, I played with him."

Come October, Jay Howell can't seem to catch a break.

Flak, yes. Breaks, no.

Friday afternoon during the final pre-Series workout at Dodger Stadium, Howell found himself back in an old position--having to defend himself in front of the media.

Immediately, he went on the offensive.

"It sounds like, while doing the forearm bash, one of the A's caught Baylor in the head one too many times," Howell said.

The forearm bash, of course, is what's replaced the high-five at home plate after Oakland home runs and victories.

Seriously, Howell continued, he couldn't believe Baylor was serious about the things he said.

"As far as I'm concerned, we were friends in New York," Howell said. " . . . I'll have to talk to Baylor. Maybe he was messing around."

That didn't seem likely Friday. In the Oakland clubhouse, Baylor refused to apologize for his comments, did not deny them and said he had no interest in hashing things out with Howell.

"He's not interested in talking to me," Baylor said, a bit ominously. "Not now. Maybe next week. I'm not in the mood now."

Oakland Manager Tony La Russa tried to defuse the controversy by acting as mediator to Howell. "I spoke with him briefly and assured him that those comments were total B.S.," La Russa said.

Oh yeah?

Baylor seemed intent on escalating the barrage when, referring to Howell, he said, "If he wants to take another shot at me, I'll take one at him. Let's keep it going."

Howell declined--"I'm tired of seeing my name in the paper," he said--but there were more than enough Dodger teammates to pick up the slack.

"I think it's really ridiculous," said Rick Dempsey, the Dodgers' backup catcher. "(Baylor) ain't gonna play any more than I am. He's gonna have to sit there and watch as many games as I do.

"If he wants, I'll make a bet that I'll do better in my at-bat than he'll do in his at-bat."

Baylor, 39, appeared in just 92 games during the regular season, batting .220 with 7 home runs and 34 RBIs entirely as a designated hitter and pinch-hitter. During the World Series, the designated hitter will not be allowed during games at Dodger Stadium.

"Don has done just about as much as I have this year," cracked Mike Davis, the Dodgers' little-used reserve outfielder.

Mickey Hatcher saw the Baylor-Howell feud serving as an emotional catalyst for the Dodgers, much like Cone's incendiary words. "Cone started talking and it lit a fire," Hatcher said. "If he wants to light a fire, fine."

Cone, of course, is just a kid. Baylor is finishing his 17th big-league and preparing for his third straight World Series. He knows how loose lips on Thursday can become an underlined news clip on the other team's bulletin board on Friday.

So what was it that got under Baylor's skin?

It goes back to something Howell apparently said during the Dodgers' pennant-clinching celebration--something that definitely got lost in the translation.

With Baylor already on the record saying he'd rather face the Mets in the World Series, Howell was quoted saying, amid champagne bursts: "Do we have to apologize to Don Baylor for being here?"

Friday, Howell denied making such a statement. "I have no idea why I would be even thinking about Don Baylor 2 days ago," he said. "That's absolutely not true."

Baylor, however, read the quote and took it to mean that he should apologize to the Dodgers.

And that, supposedly, got Baylor's goat.

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