Los Angeles — If you listened to those fans for whom the New York Yankees are a religion, the 1981 World Series, which also involves the Bos angeles Dodgers, is over--although there is the formailty of the Bronx Bombers having to win two more games!
The '81 Fall Classic got that way when New York won the first two encounters in Yankee Stadium, permittig Los Angeles a late-inning three-run rally in Game 1 and shutting them out 3-0 in Game 2. Except for Steve Garvey, L.A. is hitting . 185 as a team.
The ghostlike figures Dodger players keep seeing in their sleep are Yankee third baseman Graig Nettles and relief pitcher Goose Gossage. Nettles might be the only infielder in the majors with hands quick enough to stuff a squid in a suitcase, while Gossage brings a small cannon to the mound disguised as a right arm.
The best thing that can be said about Los Angeles at the moment is that it has been to the brin of elimination twice before recently and made escapes that would have brought tears of joy to the eyes of Barry Houdini.
Trailing two games to none to the Houston Astros in the National League's mini-playoffs, the Dodgers won three straight and the series. Behind the Montreal Expos 2-1, in the NL Championship Series, L.A. pulled it out with two more back-to-back victories, both on the road.
Tonight, at Dodger Stadium, L.A. will unwrap the jeweler's cotton from around hefty rookie pitcher Fereando Valenzuela, convinced that he has the stuff to dazzle the Yankees.
There are as many stories about the 20-year-old Valenzuela as there are jellybeans in the candy jar on Mr. Reagan's presidential desk. The best ones deal with a screwball thrown at two different speeds. It trails away from right-handed batters and creates problems for left-handed pull hitters.
He also has a fastball that appears quicker than it really is; a change, of pace that he uses mostly as a waste pitch; and control that often seems to wear out the corners of the plate. In going 13-7 with eight shutouts and 11 complete games in 1981, Valenzuela went through four periods when he was virtually untouchable. He is a leading candidate for the National League's Cy Young Award along with. Philadelphia's Steve Carlton.
At one point the Dodger rookie pitched 36 cosecutive innings without allowing a run; had two other strings of 18 shutout innings each and another stretch of 32.2 innings that was a carryover from the end of 1980 season.
Fernando still uses an interpreter to repeat questions directed to him in press conferences, because he is afraid that he might not comprehend everything that is being asked. Actually, though, he understands quite a bit of English from being around his teammates at the ballpark. He has also been learning English from listening to tapes and reords.
"The thing you have to remember about Valenzuela is that he is not really a power pitcher," explained Dodger Coach Monty Basgall, who is Manager Tommy Lasorda's right-hand man.
"Even though Fernnando doesn't hesitate to challenge hitters in certain situations and led the National League in strikeouts this season with 180, he is most effetive when he mixes up his pitches and keeps the ball down.
"Because Valenzuela's won-loss record after baseball's 50-day strike wasn't as spectcular as it had been during the first half of the season, I think a lot of people made the mistake of assuming that he didn't pitch as well," Baseball continued. "My feeling is that he pitched just as well, only he didn't get as many breaks as he did early in the year."
The thread that connects Valenzuela to greatness, of course, has been his ability to win the big ones, including the must game the Dodgers had to have to capture the National League pennant from Montreal. If Fernando can win Game 3, then L.A. could take off on another emotional trip and, with two more games in their own ballpark, get back into the Series.
The Yankee pitcher tonight is also an impressive young rookie left-hander named Dave Righetti, who was 8-4 during the regular season with a 2.06 earned-run average.