“I still got it.”– Ralph Malph Yes, he does. Still have it. The old one-two.
Back-to-back homers. Back-to-back RBI singles. A month shy of 39 years old. Darrell Evans.
Designated hitter against right-handers. That’s his new role, remember? His first base job was taken away the last week of spring training. He wasn’t happy. His fans weren’t happy. Designated hitter against right-handers.
“Well, OK,” he seemed to say, “designated hitter, right?” Smack, smack. He went four-for-five Wednesday, knocked in four of the Tigers’ six runs, and carved a hole in the old saying, “Time waits for no first baseman.”
And it was sweet. Something anyone who has ever spotted a gray hair could relish. Opening Day may have been warm and magical, a Kirk Gibson showcase, a young man’s afternoon.
But Wednesday, on a day when fans’ breath came out in smoke and they dressed in ski hats, when you could see a hand appear from under a blanket, grab a beer, then disappear again, on a day like this, with almost nobody in the stadium, Darrell Evans blew on the embers of an old affair and it caught fire.
The old one-two. He still has it.
In case you had any doubts. He didn’t sulk, he contributed Of course, Evans faces doubts every spring now. It’s an occupational hazard of aging. So every April, he waits for that first big game to shut everybody up. It came early this year.
Four-for-five, two home runs, four RBIs.
Evans was the difference. Evans was the force. And afterward, after the Tigers won, 6-5, over Boston in the 10th inning, Evans sat by his locker, chewing on a chicken wing. He has never been less than polite, never been less than gracious. So it’s no surprise that he referred to the Opening Day game as
“a great day for Gibson” and this second game as “a day when we all pitched in.”
The fact is, Evans hit as many homers Wednesday (a solo shot in the fourth, another in the sixth) as Gibson did Monday, and kept the Tigers alive the same way Gibson did in the opener. But take credit? Remember whom we’re talking about here.
Whom are we talking about here?
Well, consider this: The hardest stone the devil can throw at an athlete is age. Evans, 38, deflected it beautifully last year. He led the major leagues in home runs, right? Led the major leagues. How much better can you do?
But this is a team game, the team could have done better, and manager Sparky Anderson decided one way it could do better was with Evans batting only against right-handers. Leave first base to someone else. Someone younger.
“Where else would this happen?” Evans had asked. Many felt he didn’t deserve the demotion. But this is not about deserving. It’s about winning.
Sparky did not budge.
Other guys might have sulked. Asked for a trade. Figured 17 years in the major leagues entitled them. Evans came out swinging. At the ball.
His home runs Wednesday were cannon shots. His single in the eighth inning tied the score, 4-4. His single in the 10th inning tied it, 5-5.
And afterward? “I didn’t take any special satisfaction in it,” he said.
“We’re all on the same side, you know. I said my piece about what’s happened. That’s all. Now all I care about is contributing.” Better at 38 than at 21 OK. It’s a tribute to Evans that you believe those kinds of sentences when he says them. But if there was no special tingle for him, there was for many of those watching.
On Wednesday, Evans was the biggest crunch in the candy bar. And when his second home run went into the right field upper deck, it was more than another dinger. It was a shot for everyone with a growing beer belly, for everyone who tries jogging and rips his suit. For everyone who has been told a younger man can do it better, faster and more efficiently.
The old one-two. Darrell Evans.
If he can, we can, right?
It doesn’t dictate the future. It doesn’t mean Evans is the first baseman again, or that he will hit 40 more home runs, or that never a cross word will pass between player and manager again.
It simply means that on a cold spring afternoon, a man in the autumn of his career lighted up like a summer firecracker. And it was terrific.
“How old do you feel today?” he was asked.
“No older than I did yesterday,” he said.
“Well, you played like you were 21.”
“No,” he said, thinking it over for a second. “I wasn’t this good at 21.”
He still has it. It may be getting better.