OAKLAND — Just when it appeared that forearm bashing, the Oakland Athletics' rite of celebration, had become a lost art in this World Series, along came Mark McGwire to reintroduce a long-awaited revival.
Tuesday night, in Game 3 of the World Series, 49,316 fans at the Oakland Coliseum heard the thunderous crack of McGwire's bat with 1 out and the bases empty in the ninth inning of a tie game.
His line-drive home run off Dodger reliever Jay Howell, making his first appearance since the infamous pine-tar episode, lifted the A's to a 2-1 victory over the Dodgers, who had won the first 2 games and were threatening to put Oakland on the brink of elimination.
Instead, McGwire's blast, his first hit of the Series, injected some life into the A's after another night of limited offense. It also touched off a flurry of pent-up forearm bashing by McGwire's teammates, waiting for him at the plate.
If the Dodgers ever tried such an act of celebration, somebody probably would get hurt. Already without Kirk Gibson, whose right knee and left hamstring are injured, the Dodgers lost starting pitcher John Tudor in the second inning with soreness in his left elbow and right fielder Mike Marshall in the fourth inning with a back injury.
Marshall's injury appears the most serious. He said he "threw out" his back late in Game 2 but tried to play Tuesday night. He left after 3 innings and received a cortisone injection from Dr. Frank Jobe that might keep him out of the lineup tonight.
Like Tudor's elbow and Marshall's back, the Dodgers felt an ache over this loss. It wasn't so much that they felt they could not lose to the A's, it was the manner in which they faltered that was irking.
Not only did the Dodgers squander a bases-loaded situation with none out in the sixth inning, failing to hit a ball out of the infield, but Howell, their ace relief pitcher, delivered a fastball down the middle against McGwire with 1 out in the ninth.
The result was a line drive that left the Coliseum post haste. Howell watched in disbelief as only the second home run he has allowed this season settled into the seats. It shattered the A's slump, McGwire's 0-for-9 drought in particular, and maybe slapped the Dodgers back into reality after two emotion-charged victories in Los Angeles.
On the World Series thrill-meter, this one probably ranked below Gibson's 2-run home run that gave the Dodgers a victory in Game 1. After all, McGwire didn't have to limp around the bases after hitting it. The only thing hurting on McGwire before the home run was his batting average.
But, given the circumstances, the A's thought McGwire's home run could turn their Series fortunes around.
"People have been talking that we're all in slumps because we didn't get any hits the first 2 games," McGwire said. "Well, during the year, some of our guys did go a game or two without a hit. But we've always managed to come back. We have too many good hitters on this team to stay in a prolonged slump.
"As far as the team goes, I'm sure the home run will pick us up."
You would think such a loss would have had the Dodgers as low as the A's were high. But they reacted as if this was the 85th game of the season, not the third game of the 85th World Series.
"I made a bad pitch, and he hit it," Howell said. "Give him credit."
Howell, who hadn't pitched since Oct. 8 in Game 3 of the National League championship series when he was ejected for putting pine tar in his glove, was brought in to replace Alejandro Pena at the start of the ninth inning.
A former Athletic who fell out of favor with Oakland fans last season, even being booed by them at the All-Star game, Howell found things had not changed. Only this time, the booing was augmented by chants of "Pine Tar."
Howell managed to silence the fans temporarily when he got Jose Canseco out on the first pitch with a broken-bat pop fly to second baseman Steve Sax.
Then came the Howell-McGwire showdown. Throwing exclusively fastballs, Howell got ahead in the count, 1-and-2. His next pitch was a ball, and then McGwire fouled off 3 straight fastballs.
Instead of mixing in a curveball, catcher Mike Scioscia called for another fastball, though, assuredly, he did not call for the pitch to be out over the plate and in McGwire's comfort zone. McGwire pounced on it, and the A's had gone from the brink of being down 0-3 to 1-2 heading into Game 4 tonight.
"He's a good breaking ball hitter," Howell said. "I tried to throw another fastball away, but I made a bad pitch."
McGwire said he was looking for nothing but fastballs against Howell, whose best pitch is the curveball.
"No, I thought he would stay with a fastball," McGwire said. "It was what I was looking for in that situation. I had some pretty good cuts during the game. It was just a matter of me catching one."
Scioscia said Howell went exclusively with fastballs because Dodger pitchers had used them to get McGwire to chase pitches and pop up.