Leaving the glitz of Hollywood behind, the World Series has moved 440 miles up the California coast to Oakland. This change of venue is expected to do wonders for the Oakland A's, who trail the Los Angeles Dodgers 2-0 in this best-of-seven Series. Thus far Oakland's power has been shortcircuited by the crafty Dodger pitching staff. The A's, however, were 56-27 at home during the regular season, a record bettered only by the New York Mets.
This is the Series, of course, that the experts said should be mailed in. They said the Dodgers (except when Orel Hershiser is pitching) did not have a chance against Oakland's power. Part of that stemmed from the fact that Kirk Gibson, L.A.'s best hitter, was hobbled by leg injuries.
So what does Gibson do in the Series opener? With the Dodgers trailing 4-3 in the last of the ninth inning, he pinch-hits for the pitcher with two out and a runner on second base, and hits a dramatic game-winning home run! His slugging wasn't needed in Game 2, when he remained on the bench as Hershiser tossed a masterly three-hit, 6-0 shutout.
By now there is no shortage of second-guessers who think Oakland manager Tony La Russa should have taken the bat out of Gibson's hands in Game 1 by walking him, since Mike Davis had vacated first base with a steal of second.
But La Russa defends his move on the theory that he would rather pitch to a subpar Gibson than the next batter, Steve Sax, whose power is limited.
Tony also points out that he had a superb relief pitcher going for him in Dennis Eckersley, who had just saved four consecutive American League playoff games against the Boston Red Sox.
La Russa has also been criticized for sticking with starter Storm Davis during a rocky second inning in Game 2, when the Dodgers scored five big runs.
Since Games 3, 4, and, if necessary, 5 will be played under American League rules in the Oakland Coliseum, La Russa will be able to add another stick of dynamite to his batting order with a designated hitter. But L.A. could match that power, or even surpass it, if Gibson could swing a bat four or five times in the same game!
Barring any last-minute changes, tonight's Game 3 pitchers will be John Tudor for the Dodgers and Bob Welch for the A's.
The fact that Welch spent his first 10 years in the majors in a Dodger uniform (winning 115 games), and is a personal favorite of Los Angeles manager Tommy Lasorda, only adds drama to a Series that doesn't need any more.
As a rookie, Welch was used by Lasorda as a relief pitcher in the 1978 World Series against the New York Yankees. Wearing a cap that didn't fit, he struck out Reggie Jackson to end Game 2 and earn his first post-season save.
Last winter, in a three-way trade that also involved the Mets, Los Angeles sent Welch to Oakland for shortstop Alfredo Griffin. The deal helped both teams.
Griffin couldn't have tightened up the Dodger infield more if he had used a giant screwdriver. Welch, meanwhile, posted a career-high 17 wins with the A's. He did nothing, however, to erase his reputation as a streak pitcher.
Tudor came to the Dodgers in mid-August from the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Pedro Guerrero. The crafty southpaw, picked up when Fernando Valenzuela was out of the rotation with an injury, was 4-3 in nine regular-season starts for Los Angeles.