KANSAS CITY — His face is clean-shaven, his eyes young and bright, he lives in Kansas, goes to church, and had to drive his parents to the airport Sunday night. And all that would have been fine and dandy, had he not just pitched the biggest game of the year for the Kansas City Royals and won it by shredding the Toronto Blue Jays to nothing, a shutout, forcing this pennant series back to Canada for a sixth game.
But now he was a hero. Now they wanted Danny Jackson to be . . . colorful.
Might as well ask Clint Eastwood to sing disco. Ask Joan Collins to join a convent. Ask MTV to air “The Guy Lombardo Hour.”
Five minutes after Sunday’s masterful 2-0 victory, Jackson — all of 23 years old — was sitting alone at his locker, getting dressed, as usual. A mob of reporters was down the hall in the special interview area, so sure Jackson would be there they didn’t even bother to check the clubhouse. But there he was, No. 29, towel around his neck, hair wet, looking like Riverdale High had just finished practice and he was waiting for Jughead and Reggie to give him a lift home.
“Danny?” I said, not sure for a minute if I had the right guy.
“Yeah?” he said, looking up.
“Uh . . . nice game.”
“Thanks.” Jays were grass; Jackson mowed
OK, so it wasn’t a brilliant opening. You don’t usually find these guys alone.
“Didn’t you feel any special pressure for this?” I asked. “I mean, you were carrying the weight of the whole team today.”
“Oh, no,” he said. “I didn’t really feel any special pressure.”
“No nerves before the first pitch?”
“Uh-uh. Just wanted to get them out.”
“Any trouble sleeping last night?”
“No. As a matter of fact, I overslept for church this morning. So I guess I didn’t have any trouble.”
You get the picture. Here was a kid sent out to stick his finger in the dike, to hold back the flood that is the Toronto Blue Jays from spewing all over middle America. His team was on the brink of elimination, down 3-1 and desert dry when it came to luck. The night before, the Royals had surrendered a 1-0 lead in the ninth inning and lost, 3-1. People were talking about a quick and merciful death.
But Sunday, Toronto was grass and Jackson was the mower. His slider was wicked. There was an inning where he struck out the side. There was an inning where Toronto had men on second and third with no outs and he shut them down. There was an inning where the bases were loaded and he got Ernie Whitt to ground out feebly.
He finished the game on his own. Someone had asked Royals’ manager Dick Howser if he was glad about his team’s hitting and Howser had said: “I’m just glad we had Danny Jackson pitching today. That’s what I’m glad about.”
So you’d figure, a little excitement, a little celebration, a little Tarzan
“You seem so calm, Danny,” someone had asked. “Are you always this calm?”
“I’m not really that calm,” he said, calmly. Wake him when it’s over
It’s a peculiarly American trait that we want our heroes served with the zest of a Robin Hood, the wit of a Will Rogers, the bark of a Patton. We want charisma, charm, we want color, which is not always one of Danny Jackson’s strong points.
“Sometimes,” admits his catcher, Jim Sundberg, “Danny gets a little pale out there. I have to go out and slap him, put some blood back into his face. I guess all his blood is in his arm.”
Which was fine by Kansas City. So what if the biggest thing on Jackson’s mind Sunday was “going to bed.” As far as KC is concerned, he can sleep for days. The Royals had done what they set out to do this day. They had delivered their message off the skilled fingertips of Jackson’s left hand: If you are going to win this pennant, Toronto, you’ll not do it on American soil. Let’s go back to your frosty stadium under the maple leaf flag, and play sudden death.
And that’s where they head next. Jackson will almost certainly not pitch again unless the Royals get into the World Series. No matter. The Texas-born starter, in only his first year with the team, had done a pretty fair share.
“For a long time, you’ve been touted as the pitcher of the Royals’ future,” someone asked him. “Do you think now you’ve finally arrived?”
“I hope I’ve arrived,” Jackson said. “I’ve been here all year.”
Hey. He made a joke.