ATLANTA — Before I talk about the game Wednesday night — which had a hell of a finish, but don’t they all? — and before I talk about my newfound appreciation for country music, which they play all the time down here — including my personal favorite, “She Called Herself a Georgia Peach, But All I Got Was the Pits” — I guess I should tell you about my reunion with Jack Morris, our old Detroit pitching pal, whose very presence makes reporters break out in hives.
Personally, I always got along with Jack, mostly because, when he called me a jackass, I called him one back. But I hadn’t seen him since he’d left Detroit. I’d missed his return to Tiger Stadium last May, when he gave up seven runs in the first inning and, naturally, screamed at the media. “You wouldn’t talk to me if I won! You’re only here because I lost!”
It was this sort of cheery attitude — along with his constant money complaints — that made Tigers fans, when they learned Morris was jumping ship to Minnesota after all those years in Detroit, respond this way: “Big deal. What’s for dinner?”
Morris was sitting by his locker. I approached.
“I had enough of people blaming me.”
Sneer. “What do you think?” Moon over Osaka
OK. Maybe it was a stupid question, since Morris already has three postseason victories this month and is hailed as the olive in the Twins’ martini. I will say this: I hope, with the national spotlight, Jack has learned to dress better than he did in Detroit. His wardrobe, which included a mink coat, leather pants, green sports coat, and cowboy boots, made him look like a cross between Buffalo Bob and Shaft. “Man makes all that money, still dresses like that?” a teammate said with a sigh. “Damn shame.”
But I did not ask Jack about his clothes, since he had a big game to pitch — although it would not have been the dumbest question of the day. Believe it or not, I saw Greg Olson being interviewed by a Japanese TV guy, who asked, through a translator, for Greg to show Japan how limber he was.
“OK,” Olson said. And he bent over, pulled his head through his legs, and, from under his butt, looked up at the camera and said: “How’s this?”
I’m sure they loved it in Osaka.
But OK. Let’s talk about the game. Which brings us back to Morris. Actually, it brings us back to the man who had to catch Morris’s pitches Wednesday, Brian Harper. What a night this poor guy had!
There was the fifth inning. Lonnie Smith on second base. Terry Pendleton at the plate. Pendleton hits a Morris pitch to centerfield, and here comes Smith, rounding third, heading for home. . Poor Harper. The throw comes in, he’s got it, and he looks up to see Smith about to plow right into him.
“I remember having that feeling when I played quarterback in high school,” Harper would say. “You know? When a lineman comes right in to make a sack? But I’ve never been hit as hard as this.”
Smith went into Harper the way a bazooka round goes into a tank. Both players crashed into the dirt, but Harper, miraculously, came up holding the ball, although I imagine he wanted to be holding his head.
“OUT!” screamed the umpire.
But the fun was just beginning. Harper blocks two out of three
A few pitches later, Morris threw a forkball in the dirt. Harper ripped off his mask, watched the ball flop into the air, and picked it out of the basepath — just in time to look up and see Pendleton chugging towards home. Poor Harper, with a sense of deja vu, braced himself, held onto the ball, and made the tag.
“OUT!” screamed the umpire.
Harper was doing pretty well. Two runners tried him. Two runners died. Never mind that his stomach was knotted and his body was throbbing. “I like being where the action is,” he would say.
He got his wish one more time, with the game in the balance. Bottom of the ninth. Tie score. The suddenly unbelievable Mark Lemke on third base with a triple; one man out; Jerry Willard at the plate.
Hold your breath. Willard hits a ball to rightfield, a potential sacrifice fly. Lemke waits, waits, then, the moment the ball is caught, springs down the basepath, legs pumping. And once again, here’s Harper, waiting for the throw, his nerves tingling. The ball arrives the same time as the runner. Harper catches, squeezes, wheels to his left, makes contact shoulder high, but Lemke slides into home, touches the plate.
“SAFE!” screams the umpire, and Harper leaps to his feet, going berserk.
“I thought I tagged him,” Harper said later.
“I don’t think he did,” Lemke said. “I wasn’t going to stick around and ask questions.”
That was it. Game over. Braves win! And now that the series is tied, 2-2, it is our turn to ask questions. Here is the big one: Who the heck is Mark Lemke, and how come he’s winning the World Series by himself?
The answer, I am sure, can be found by bending over, looking up from between your legs, and asking the Japanese translator.
Which is where I am headed right now. NEXT: GAME 5, OR BRAVES NEW WORLD.