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THE WORLD SERIES : OAKLAND ATHLETICS vs. LOS ANGELES DODGERS : For Davis, His Time Had Come : Summer of Frustration Doesn't Keep High-Paid Dodger Reserve Caged In

October 21, 1988|BILL PLASCHKE | Times Staff Writer

OAKLAND — You may not have thought Mike Davis played much this season, but he did.

Played nearly every game. Played underneath Dodger Stadium. Played by himself.

"It became the running joke on the team," Davis revealed late Thursday night, his eyes so red with champagne it looked as if he had been crying, not entirely inconceivable. "I'd get up in the dugout in the third inning and go back up the tunnel and get into the batting cage. I'd set up the pitching machine and start swinging, at least for a couple of innings, then I'd come back out. My own little games. A summer in a cage."

He would bunt, he would hit-and-run, he would swing for the fences. Sometimes he would swing so long and hard, the pitching machine would break down--"Then the game would be called by forfeit," he explained.

But never did Mike Davis break down. And so it came to pass that, while leaving the dugout to bat in the fourth inning inning Thursday night with his Dodgers leading the Oakland Athletics, 2-1, in Game 5 of the World Series, teammate Steve Sax approached him.

"I told him, 'Mike, it's been a tough year, but I got a feeling you are going to go deep one more time and finish it off right," Sax said.

With Mickey Hatcher on first base and two out and A's pitcher Storm Davis coming of 2 straight strikeouts, Davis took Ball 1, then Ball 2, then Ball 3.

Then Sax was right. Davis powered a 3-and-0 fastball so deep into the right-field seats, he knew it was gone the moment he hit it. And he couldn't get around the bases slow enough.

"No," he admitted of his 2-run home run trot, "I wanted it to last forever."

Thanks in part to that homer, the Dodgers won the game, 5-2, and the Series, 4 games to 1, and today are world champions.

Champions in every sense of the word. In the Orel Hershiser sense of the word. In the Kirk Gibson sense of the word. And in the Mike Davis sense of the word.

Davis, who signed as a $987,500-a-year free agent last winter amid talk from the league's general managers that he wasn't worth it, spent the 6 months being humbled as no other Dodger, which is saying something.

Hurt by a spring ankle injury and a terrible swing, He didn't bat but 108 times all season. He rarely started a game after Mike Marshall took his spot in right field last June. In virtually every statistical category, he had the worst summer of his 6-year career, hitting only .196 with 2 homers and 17 RBIs.

By the time the World Series rolled around, after just three plate appearances in the playoffs, if was as if nobody saw him or remembered him.

That is, nobody but the people who needed to see him.

"We saw him back there in the cage, working and sweating," Jeff Hamilton said. "We knew what he was doing. And he wasn't alone back there either. Lots of guys like him who didn't have their best years didn't use that as an excuse to quit."

"I wondered," Davis admitted. "I wondered if I would ever get a chance."

He wondered so much, he once held up a sign in the dugout in Chicago that read, "Mike Davis is alive and well and living in Los Angeles."

Another time he told reporters, "I'm going to play this year even if I have to go to Egypt."

More than anything, though, he kept saying those things to himself.

"I just kept telling myself, I must keep working, I must keep working for chances like this," he said Thursday. "It never looked like I would. But I kept hoping I would."

That time became the World Series, where he received a chance only because of injuries and the designated hitter, where the unknown man became the trivia question answer man.

In Game 1, who drew the pinch walk off Dennis Eckersley that brought up Kirk Gibson and his game-winning homer? Davis.

In Game 4, who ran out a routine grounder in the first inning and was rewarded with first base because Glenn Hubbard tried to hurry and botched that grounder? Then, who stole second base and took away the possibility of a double play and allowed the Dodgers to score a run on an ensuing ground-out to second by John Shelby? Davis, both times.

Then there was Thursday. When he came to the plate in the fourth, he had not homered since July 1 in Chicago. He had only homered four times since the 1987 All-Star break.

Storm Davis fell behind him, 3 and 0, and you would think that maybe he would not be swinging. But as it turns out, the Dodgers did not become world champions by doing the proper thing.

Explained hitting coach Ben Hines: "We figured, Storm wouldn't want to put him on in that situation, so he would be throwing something right there. We figured, Mike has been working hard, swinging the bat well in batting practice, so what the heck."

Just before the 3-and-0 pitch, Manager Tom Lasorda was seen screaming at Davis from the bench.

"I'm not sure," Davis said, "but I think he was screaming something about the book in the Bible where it reads, 'For times such as this we are made ready . . . '

In came the fastball, and out went the summer of despair.

"I tried not to let my eyes get too big," Davis said. "I didn't want to overswing. But the pitch was, well, what I wanted."

Just as the ending of 1988 was as he wanted.

"I don't want to talk about 1988 anymore, because it's officially over with," he said. "My last at-bat of that year was a homer. Hopefully, I can carry that into next year."

Where, hopes Davis, he will no longer have to play alone in the batting cage, an occupation which he figures had only one benefit.

"At least I always won," he said. "I always won."

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