Importance of bullpens spotlighted in early World Series games
Practically every year it is written, and practically every year it is true that pitching is what decides most World Series games. And in recent years the role of the bullpen clearly has become every bit as important as that of the starting ro-tation. It was no mistake when St. Louis reliever Todd Worrell saved Game 1 for starter John Tudor. Worrell had also been a big factor in the National League playoff win over Los Angeles.
Nor should it have surprised anyone when Cardinal firemen Ken Dayley and Jeff Lahti shut out Kansas City in the eighth and ninth innings of Game 2. In that one, which the Redbirds came from behind to win 4-2, Dayley got credit for the victory and Lahti the save.
There's irony, though, in the fact that relief pitching turned out to be the key difference in the Cardinals' favor in those early games. That's because it was Kansas City which had the big name in the bullpen (Dan Quisenberry), while St. Louis had begun the season with a giant-sized question mark there due to the departure of free agent Bruce Sutter.
``I just became 45 games dumber,'' was the way Manager Whitey Herzog put it when Sutter took his split-fingered fastball to Atlanta for a megabucks contract -- 45 being the number of saves the star right-hander had recorded last year.
The loss of Sutter was a key reason so many people saw this year's Redbirds as also-rans. But Herzog devised what has come to be known as his ``bullpen by committee.'' Instead of one man shouldering most of the late-inning load, it has been divided up largely among right-handers Lahti and Worrell and the left-handed Dayley, with Bill Campbell and Rick Horton handling middle-inning chores.
The system worked during both the regular season and the playoffs, and has been effective once again in the Series.
While there were concerns about Kansas City's balance coming out of spring training, nobody questioned the credentials of Quisenberry. The big right-hander, whose rubber arm is like something out of a zoo's snake house,and whose submarine delivery has sunk many a hitter's ego along with his batting average, had 37 saves this season, bringing his total to 126 over the last four years.
Like Herzog, however, Howser had to experiment with the rest of his bullpen, trying to find at least two pitchers who could keep things close in the middle innings. Joe Beckwith filled part of the bill, making 49 regular season appearances. And rookie Steve Farr came along with some important late-season contributions.
The main man was Quisenberry, of course, but when Dan had problems in the playoffs, Howser showed he could play the ``committee'' game too. Dick used five different starters against Toronto, and had all of them except young Bret Saberhagen doubling in relief roles as well. Since he also still used Quisenberry in four games and Farr in two, he wound up with six different hurlers coming out of the 'pen in a total of 11 appearances.
Quisenberry served up winning hits to the Blue Jays in two of the first four games, pitched well in Games 6 and 7, but then was hit fairly hard by the Cardinals in Game 1 of the World Series -- leaving his effectiveness at this time open to some question. In fact, when a natural ninth-inning spot for ``The Quiz'' arose in Game 2, with K.C. leading 2-0, left-hander Charlie Liebrandt apparently tiring, and a succession of right-handed hitters coming up, Howser opted to stick with his starter -- only to b e roundly second-guesed when the Cardinals bombed him for four runs to win the game.
Howser insisted he hadn't lost faith in Quisenberry, but felt Liebrandt still had good stuff. Whatever, he didn't have to make any such decisions in Game 3 as Saberhagen showed that starters do sometimes still do the entire job, checking the Cards 6-1 on a masterful six-hitter to lift his team back into the Series.
One thing that makes relievers different from starters is that they sometimes get to work four or five times a week. And while the late-inning specialists are usually limited to two innings at a stretch (occasionally three), they frequently do a lot of throwing in the bullpen even in games in which they never appear.
Because they spend countless hours together in confined quarters, a foxhole camaraderie often develops among relief pitchers. Sometimes, when time hangs heavy, relievers invent new ways to make the day or night go faster. Quisenberry, whose keen imagination never sleeps, has given names to all the spiders in the Royals' bullpen, his favorite being a rugged specimen he calls Butch.
Due to the nature of their work, relievers are always looking for ways to intimidate hitters and to psyche themsleves up.
For example, Ryne Duren, who saved 20 games for the 1958 Yankees, sometimes tossed his first warmup pitch so far over the head of his catcher that the ball usually hit halfway up the backstop. Hitters naturally thought twice before digging in against a man who semed to have misplaced his control that day.
Trademarks of the bullpen pitcher include keeping the ball down, seldom walking anyone, and throwing the doubleplay ball. Most of the top ones have the ability to strike out the other team's big hitters, and of course they would rather lend one of their luxury automobiles to a Manhattan cab driver for a week than give up a home run in a clutch situation.