One day after the most celebrated meltdown of a Dodger closer in 18 years, you'll never guess who showed up at Dodger Stadium.
Tom Niedenfuer sighed.
"I drove into the parking lot and the guard said, 'Every time I see Jack Clark drive past, I think of you,' " he said.
The juxtaposition was eerie, the symbolism startling.
Eric Gagne blowing the All-Star game in Chicago on Tuesday night.
Tom Niedenfuer standing behind the batting cage at Chavez Ravine on Wednesday afternoon.
Gagne wasn't there for the optional off-day workout, as he was still returning from a closer's nightmare.
But perhaps he could learn something from Niedenfuer, who, on a much larger scale, has been there and back.
"Look at those batting-practice pitches, right down the middle," said Niedenfuer, a Florida resident who made a surprise visit after spending a week hiking in the nearby mountains. "Some of those pitches are hit into the seats. Some are hit into the ground. Same pitches, same batters, different results.
"I think sometimes, something is just meant to be, don't you think?"
If that is the case, then Gagne's name was meant to be etched into the first chapter of a dark little history after he gave up three runs in the eighth inning Tuesday, turning a 6-4 National League lead into a 7-6 American League victory.
"I'll take the blame for the NL not having the home-field advantage in the World Series," he said afterward.
It was the first time in baseball history a player has uttered those words. Yet he was exactly right. And who knows what happens now?
Maybe this fall, the National League champions will not think once of Gagne when they play in a Series where the team with home-field advantage has won 15 of the last 17 championships.
Or maybe his name will be crumpled and blown around stadiums in October like a used hot-dog wrapper.
The Dodgers cannot afford for Gagne to waste even one pitch thinking about that.
They cannot afford to have him show up tonight with his glasses still fogged by the steam of mortality.
They cannot bear to have him swing into his ninth-inning jungle shivering from his stripped invincibility.
He cannot be thinking about how, in the most publicized moment of his brief closing career, he threw like a confused former starter, falling behind, pitching silly, getting beat.
This time it counts?
The game reflected that hype, yet the man in the middle cannot believe it.
Niedenfuer will tell you what happens when you believe it.
He threw 653 innings in a decent 10-year career, striking out twice as many batters as he walked, recording a career 3.29 earned-run average that would make him millions today.
But people around here remember only one pitch.
It was 1985, Game 6 of the National League championship series against the St. Louis Cardinals and ... well, you know.
Ninth inning. First base open. Jack Clark up. Fastball up. Home run crushed.
Precisely like Gagne, Niedenfuer's pitch turned a lead into a loss.
"But mine was a lot worse," Niedenfuer reminded. "Mine was on the last day of the season."
Clark's blow sent the Cardinals into the World Series and Niedenfuer into a funk.
He spent four hours afterward in the clubhouse, drinking beer, so distraught that he forgot his mother and stepfather were waiting outside. They eventually left and caught a plane for their Washington home before he even knew they were gone.
He spent the rest of the winter wondering, wishing, replaying scenarios that still cross his mind today.
Such as, did you know that Niedenfuer, used early and often by a desperate Tom Lasorda, was pitching his third inning of the game, facing Clark for a second time?
"Mike Scioscia came out to talk about what to throw him, and I just didn't know," Niedenfuer said. "Even though I had struck him out the first time, I had never faced somebody twice in a game before."
And did you know that Niedenfuer saw the creeping shadows and tried to lengthen his conversation with Scioscia until the mound was darkened?
"I thought it might help," he said.
And who would have thought that Niedenfuer is one of the only people alive who will not second-guess Lasorda on his decision to pitch to Clark.
"Like I said, I struck him out the first time, so why not?" he said. "And Andy Van Slyke on deck, he was no slouch."
Of course, Clark was batting .381 in the playoffs at the time, while Van Slyke was batting .091 and potential pinch-hitter Brian Harper was hitless, but Niedenfuer didn't care.
"I would do anything to win, whatever they wanted," Niedenfuer said. "I thought I could get Clark out."
But when Scioscia called for a slider, which Niedenfuer had used to fool Clark on the first pitch in his last at-bat, Niedenfuer disagreed.
"I didn't want to throw it again on the first pitch, so I threw a fastball," he said. "He hit it so hard, I thought the ball was going to leave the stadium. It was incredible."
A regular rainmaker, it was, causing Niedenfuer to be showered with boos and animosity until he was finally traded two seasons later.