A pair of unsung bullpen pitchers and a bit player who batted only 80 times all season are the big reasons San Diego stands all even today as the World Series scene shifts to Detroit for the three weekend games.
When the favored Tigers won the opener in San Diego 3-2 and then knocked out Padre starter Ed Whitson with three first-inning runs in Game 2, the Padres clearly were on the ropes. But from the moment Andy Hawkins got out of a two-on, two-out jam to end that inning until southpaw Craig Lefferts completed the job some 21/2 hours later, the two unheralded middle relievers with a combined lifetime record of 21-29 turned in a truly phenomenal job to stop the Tigers cold.
Hawkins, a hard-throwing right-hander completing his first full big league season, turned in a courageous one-hit, 51/3-inning stint to get credit for the win when the Padres rallied for a 5-3 decision. Lefferts, a second-year man acquired last winter from the Chicago Cubs, allowed just one more hit in the last three frames to pick up the save. The celebrated Rich Gossage was up and ready in the bullpen over the last few innings, of course, but the lesser lights were so effective on this night that they gave manager Dick Williams the luxury of saving the Goose for another occasion.
This is the sort of job a team needs from its bullpen when it falls behind early - but it's still a question of whether the offense can claw its way back into the game. And that's where Kurt Bevacqua came in.
Bevacqua, a much-traveled 37-year-old journeyman who has gone back and forth among six different major league teams and seven minor league clubs during a baseball odyssey that began in 1967, was a little-used bit player for the Padres this past season. Serving primarily as a pinch-hitter and occasional utilityman, he hit .200 with just one home run all year, and he was 0-for-2 in a pair of pinch-hitting appearances in the playoffs.
Kurt didn't figure to see much action in the Series either, but an injury to centerfielder Kevin McReynolds gave him his chance - and he has made the most of it. He doubled leading off the seventh inning of Game 1, and although his first World Series hit had a sour ending when he was thrown out trying to stretch it, Manager Dick Williams liked the way he was swinging the bat enough to move him up to the No. 6 spot for Game 2 - which proved to be a judicious decision indeed.
After the Padres got one run back in the bottom of the first, Bevacqua singled and scored to make it 3-2 in the fourth, then blasted what turned out to be the game-winning three-run homer in the fifth.
All this is really ''stranger than fiction'' stuff - especially when you think of the various twists involved.
First came the loss of McReynolds (the team co-leader in homers and No. 2 RBI man) via an injury in the playoffs - a deja vu moment if ever there was one for Williams, who had a similar experience at Oakland in 1972 when Reggie Jackson got hurt in the playoffs and had to miss that Series. In a further irony, those A's played a Cincinnati team managed by current Detroit pilot Sparky Anderson - and despite the loss of Jackson they went on to win in seven games.
Precedent or not, though, the loss of McReynolds was a big blow, putting No. 1 outfield reserve Bobby Brown (who would have been the designated hitter) into the regular lineup, and forcing Williams to scramble for a DH. Most observers thought he'd opt for a left-handed batter against Detroit's array of right-handed starting pitchers, but in one of those hunch moves that can make a manager look like a genius or the opposite, he went for Bevacqua - and nobody is about to second-guess him now!
So it's 1-1 as the best-of-seven series moves to Detroit, with San Diego left-hander Tim Lollar (11-13) slated go go against right-hander Milt Wilcox (17 -8) tonight. Williams once talked of possibly eschewing the DH option and letting Lollar, who is a good hitter, bat for himself - but in view of the way Bevacqua is going, that doesn't seem quite as likely now.
On the mound, of course, San Diego still has the problem it faced at the beginning of this series - starting pitching. For whereas the Tigers have an awesome 1-2-3 punch of Jack Morris, Dan Petry, and Wilcox, the Padres have to scramble with a much less impressive group of starters (Whitson, Lollar, Mark Thurmond, and Eric Show), and just hope they can get a few good innings from one of this group each night before turning things over to the bullpen.
That's a tough way to win, but anyone who has watched Williams operate in previous World Series knows it is right up his alley. In '72, Dick used Rollie Fingers in six of the seven games, Vida Blue in four, and even had starters Catfish Hunter and Ken Holtzman in there in relief once each. And the next year when the A's defeated the New York Mets he again brought Fingers in six times, and used Darold Knowles in all seven games.
It's safe to say no Padre pitcher will appear in all of this year's games (Hawkins is the only one who could, and it's inconceivable he'd be used again tonight after his strenuous effort Wednesday night), but don't be surprised to see Gossage in all or most of the remaining contests along with frequent appearances by Dave Dravecky, Lefferts, and eventually Hawkins again.
Anderson, of course, is a firm believer in using his bullpen too - so the complete game Morris threw in the opener may well be the only one we see in this entire series.