Two portraits of steadiness in the Series
Kansas City, Mo. — A World Series often alters the personalities of its performers. Some fight the pressure by going into a shell; others, with bravado; some with an intensity that almost makes them seem unapproachable.
But probably no two players have ever had a more no-nonsense Series so far than first baseman Willie Aikens of the Kansas City Royals and pitcher Tug McGraw of the Philadelphia Phillies. Outwardly, anyway, nothing seems to bother them.
First let's take a look at Aikens.
Philadelphia's pre-Series scouting report apparently called for starting Aikens off with breaking balls in the hope of short-circuiting his power. But after two homers in Game 1 and two more in in Game 4, plus a triple and a game-winning single in Game 3, the Phillies obvisouly are still looking for answers on how to pitch to him.
"The way we happened to get Aikens in a trade is typical of the way things sometimes happen in baseball," explained Kansas City Manager Jim Frey. "We went into last year's winter meetings hoping to deal outfielder Al Cowens for a pitcher, only none of the men we wanted was available.
"Then when we heard that the California Angels were willing to trade Willie, our priorities suddenly changed," Frey continued. "For the moment we forgot all about pitching and went for Aikens on the theory that anytime you can get a left-handed, power-hitting first baseman who has just driven in 90 runs, you've got to do it."
Aikens, who actually had a fine year with California in 1979 but missed the Angels' championship playoff series with the Baltimore Orioles because of leg surgery, was not surprised at the trade.
"It wasn't hard to figure," Willie said. "The Angels wanted to play Rod Carew at first base every day and they also wanted to use Don Baylor as thie permanent designated hitter. Obviously that didn't leave much in the way of options for me. In fact, I wanted to be traded to a team where I'd have a chance to play regularly. The way things turned out, of course, I couldn't have been sent to a better place than Kansas City."
How would Aikens, who tied a World Series record held by seven other players when he hit a total of four home runs in four games, describe himself as a hitter?
"Well, a lot of American League pitchers who got me out consistently last year in clutch situations weren't always able to do it this season," he said. "Over the winter I replayed plenty of game situations in my mind, and I also think I matured a lot mentally."
"Sometimes, when I try too hard instead of waiting for a pitch I know I can hit, I'll overswing," he added. "But Frey only pulled me once this year against left-handers with men on base. I have to think that Jim now has as much confidence in me as I have in myself."
Frey illustrated that confidence in the 10th inning of Game 3. With two out, a man on second, and the left-handed McGraw on the mound, the Phillies elected to walk George Brett and pitch to Aikens. it was a spot where playing the percentages and using a right-handed pinch hitter was a possibility, but the manager left Willie in there and he came through with the game-winning hit.
McGraw, who pitched so well all year for