Most of his statistics were eye-catching: 235.2 innings pitched; three shutouts; 183 strikeouts; 18 of his 33 starts decided by one run. But when the world looked at pitcher Bob Welch's 7-13 record last year with the Los Angeles Dodgers, it must have wondered where fantasy ended and reality began. ``It was one of those things, something you can't put into words,'' said Dodger pitching coach Ron Perranoski. ``With the right breaks, I thought Bob could have won 14 or 15 games for us in '86. But we never seemed to hit much or play well in the field on days when he worked. In fact, I can remember three games when we never got him a run. Now 12 months later he's on a pace [8-3] where he has a shot at winning 20 games.''
Los Angeles catcher Mike Scioscia says that at least part of it is a sharper curveball that Welch uses like a paintbrush to touch up the corners of home plate. But subtraction may also be part of it.
Let Sciosia explain.
``Ever since I've known Bob, he has occasionally thrown a very effective split-fingered fastball,'' he said. ``In '85, he was really getting a lot of good hitters out with it.
``Well, maybe I called for that split-fingered delivery too much last year, instead of relying more on his curve and fastball. Maybe the hitters began to look for it. Anyway, this year Bob has mostly ignored that pitch while going primarily with his curve, fastball, and changeup.''
Welch, who helped a lot of people in and out of baseball understand the problems of alcohol dependency when he wrote a book about his own experiences, made an indelible impression as a rookie relief pitcher against Reggie Jackson in the 1978 World Series.
To set the scene, Bob was 21, a kid trying to make it in a man's game. This was a little different from throwing baseballs for Eastern Michigan, where hitters often swung at pitches that weren't in the strike zone.
Here was the situation for Welch and the Dodgers - top of the ninth inning, two out and one on, a one-run lead for L.A. in the second game of the series, with Jackson coming up. Even a veteran pitcher would have had a certain amount of apprehension in a situation like that.
Remember, Reggie is the kind of athlete who reacts well to pressure situations, to sellout crowds, and to the battery of TV cameras that would carry this moment to millions around the world.
For refreshers, Mr. October and his 34-ounce bat had already hit a home run, a double, and two singles in that series. It wasn't as though Jackson was in a slump or anything.
Recalls ex-Dodger Steve Yeager, who was catching Welch at the time: ``At that point, I knew that [manager] Tommy Lasorda wanted a pitcher who could challenge a hitter of Reggie's ability, power for power. Welch knew his job was to come in and throw fastballs, and he threw nine of the best I've ever seen, several of which Jackson fouled off.''
With the count 3-and-2, jelly-knee time for most rookies, Welch busted a fastball through Jackson's power zone that Reggie swung at and missed.
When reporters asked Lasorda after the game how he could have thrown a rookie up against one of the game's most dangerous post-season sluggers, Tommy replied, ``My yardstick with Welch was ability, not age. To me, that took the gamble out of it.'' Schoendienst on winners and losers
``If I were still managing, there are a lot of talented ballplayers I wouldn't want on my club because they aren't what you call winners,'' said current St. Louis Cardinals coach Red Schoendienst. ``This has nothing to do with working hard, staying in shape, or always giving 100 percent. These people, for some reason, just never get the job done for you.
``I remember two pitchers who were on the Cardinals roster when I managed them,'' Schoendienst continued. ``One was very talented. But he was always losing games 2-1 or 3-2, usually on a fluke hit that was just out of somebody's reach. You were always feeling sorry for him.
``Well, this other pitcher didn't have anywhere near this first man's ability. In fact, if you brought him in from the bullpen to protect a lead, often he'd let the other team back in the game. Yet when it was all over, he'd be the winning pitcher on scores like 9-7 or 11-10.
``We had a front office in St. Louis then that was very much into statistics. Evidently they had been looking at this guy's high earned-run average, because they called me one winter and said they were going to trade him. I fought it, but they made the deal anyway. And you know what? This guy continued to pitch the same way and win the same way!'' Elsewhere in the majors
A lot of baseball people think that Bob Boone of the California Angels is the best handler of pitchers in the game. John Candelaria of the Angels tells why: ``When I came over to the American League after so many years in the National, I didn't know the hitters. But Boone did, and I simply relied on his judgment, which was flawless. Bob never has any mental lapses. You develop the feeling after working with him that no matter where you throw the ball, he's going to catch it. He's also great with young pitchers, because he never lets them get down on themselves.''
From Keith Moreland of the Chicago Cubs on his shift this year from the outfield to third base: ``To play the outfield properly, you really need good foot speed, which is something I've never had. But I do have quickness and pretty good anticipation, and at third base I've been able to use both to my advantage. Mentally, I'm a lot happier in the infield than I ever was in the outfield. I just wish I were hitting better.''
What Dodger scout Jerry Stephenson told reporters about the St. Louis Cardinals may be the best explanation for the Redbirds' pennant-pace consistency. Said Stephenson: ``Pitching aside, the Cardinals have the best all-around team in the National League. The key to St. Louis is the timely hitting of first baseman Jack Clark. He's a franchise player who has this wonderful ability to adjust to all kinds of pitching.''
Retired National League president Chub Feeney, recently named president of the San Diego Padres by owner Joan Kroc, may be quietly putting together a group that will buy the club after the World Series. There's also speculation that one of Feeney's money men is Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss.
The California Angels have banned alcohol from their clubhouse and all of their team flights because of a court ruling that makes the provider of such beverages liable for accidents. Part of this decision also stemmed from a protest letter from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, after Angel pitcher John Candelaria was arrested twice within four weeks for allegedly driving while intoxicated.