One o'clock came early for Bob Welch Saturday afternoon.
That's about the time here that Game 3 of the National League playoffs blew up for Welch, who once wrote an autobiography called, "Five O'Clock Comes Early," but who was done in even sooner this time by the St. Louis Cardinals.
While Welch was taking an unwanted walk on the wild side, the Cardinals jump-started their offense just in time, careening their way back into the National League playoffs with a 4-2 win over the Dodgers before a crowd of 53,708 at Busch Stadium.
The Cardinals, losers of the first two games in Los Angeles, came back from the Pacific to win in front of a red sea, with even the Dodgers' Pedro Guerrero arriving at the ballpark wearing a crimson sweater.
"The kind of games we played out there weren't the kind of games we'd played all season," said St. Louis second baseman Tommy Herr, whose home run off Welch accounted for the Cardinals' last run. "If they were, we wouldn't have gotten anywhere near the playoffs."
On the West Coast, it was just like any other Saturday morning--turn on the TV, and there were the road-runners. Only these wore scarlet feathers and had names--Vince Coleman and Willie McGee--and instead of Wile E. Coyote, the hapless victims were Dodger pitcher Welch and catcher Mike Scioscia.
With Welch and Scioscia both making throwing errors and Coleman and McGee scoring three times in the first two innings, the Cardinals ran up a 4-0 lead for pitcher Danny Cox, who showed he was as willing to fight for team honor as family honor. As Cox said after he'd decked his former brother-in-law 10 days ago in Georgia: "A man's got to do what a man's got to do."
The Dodgers didn't take any on the chin from the St. Louis right-hander. But they did let Cox climb off the ropes in the first inning when they loaded the bases with one out and failed to bring home a run. That only presaged later failure to score, when on three occasions they had a runner on third--twice with fewer than two out.
"We took our own momentum away," said Dodger third baseman Bill Madlock, who went hitless in four trips after collecting four hits in the first two games. "We kept the pressure on them the whole game but didn't come through."
Instead of coming to the mound with a lead, 14-game winner Welch came out with hardly a clue, walking four batters in the first inning--two intentionally--to tie a playoff record for walks in an inning.
Before finally being lifted with two out in the third, Welch had walked six batters--as many as he had walked in his previous five starts combined--and thrown 83 pitches, one more than Orel Hershiser had required in a complete game during the regular season. And that's not even taking into account the 20 throws Welch made to first base.
With Cox walking five and Dodger relievers Rick Honeycutt and Carlos Diaz walking a batter apiece, the teams combined for a playoff-record 13 bases on balls.
"I had good stuff, just no location," Welch said.
"I was basically (bleep), is what it comes down to."
Asked to explain, Welch looked at his questioner incredulously and said, "How much more can you explain than that?"
But as wild as Welch may have appeared to the plate umpire, John McSherry, he was downright dangerous to the second-base umpire, Paul Runge, who was nearly skulled by Welch on an attempted pickoff play.
With Coleman on second after a single and a stolen base--his first successful steal in three games--Dodger shortstop Dave Anderson sneaked in behind the Cardinal rookie and alerted Welch to his presence.
But when Welch wheeled and threw, he realized too late that it was umpire Runge--who was standing at least 10 feet to the first-base side of the bag--and not Anderson whom he had sighted between the cross-hairs.
If Runge hadn't ducked, Welch would have scored a direct hit. Instead, Welch's throw sailed into center field while Coleman motored home with the Cardinals' first run.
"I just wish Runge had a glove," Scioscia said.
Scioscia's turn to misfire came in the second, after Coleman's second single of the game. With a 1-and-1 count on McGee, Scioscia took a pitchout, which Coleman noted halfway to second and stopped, figuring he was caught.
Instead, Scioscia whistled an off-balance throw past first baseman Greg Brock, allowing Coleman to fly into third, from where he scored on McGee's hit past a lunging Brock.
"Stupid on my part," said Scioscia, who got little consolation from the fact that he nailed McGee trying to steal immediately afterward. "I had more time than I thought, and I just blew it."
After Welch recorded walk No. 6 by passing Cox to load the bases with two out in the third, Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda brought in Honeycutt, one of three Dodger relievers who shut down the Cardinals on three hits the rest of the way.
Despite having runners on base in all but one inning--the third--the Dodgers couldn't do more than halve the Cardinal lead. Consecutive doubles by Pedro Guerrero and Mike Marshall brought home a run in the fourth, and Ken Landreaux's single in the seventh brought home Enos Cabell to make it 4-2.
Cox, his elbow tightening, came out of the game after Landreaux's hit, but the Cardinal bullpen--and two superb defensive plays by St. Louis third baseman Terry Pendleton--prevented the Dodgers from getting any closer.
Pendleton, a star in three sports in high school at Oxnard, ran at least 30 yards down the left-field line to make an over-the-shoulder basket catch of Brock's foul pop fly with Marshall on third in the eighth.
Then, after Steve Sax had doubled to open the ninth, Pendleton made a diving stop of pinch-hitter Candy Maldonado's smash down the third-base line and threw him out.
"The play on Maldonado changed the game completely," Lasorda said. "Instead of trailing, 4-3, with a runner in scoring position, all we've got is another out and we're still down by two runs."
But still ahead by a game going into Game 4 of the best-of-seven series tonight.
"If we don't win this ballgame," Cardinal Manager Whitey Herzog said, "it's like what George Brett (of Kansas City) said: 'The hole is dug, and you might as well throw on the dirt.' "