If Only . . .

Baseball is as much a game of “if onlys” as of inches, if not more so. Baseball is also a continuum in which the if-onlys run together as though time did not exist. Thus for Los Angeles Dodgers fans on this opening day there is not only one germane if-only, there are two. If only Manager Tommy Lasorda had walked Jack Clark on what turned out to be the last day of the Blues’ 1985 season, the Dodgers would have a pennant instead of a Clark home run; if only Pedro Guerrero had come down with the flu early last week he would be in left field instead of on crutches.

The California Angels don’t open until Tuesday--and in Seattle, not Anaheim. But if-onlys work as well at long distance as from the bleachers--maybe better. If only, fans still say, the Angels, with their one-game lead, had beaten Texas, nobody would know about Bret Saberhagen and there would be a pennant waving in the Big A.

As for true baseball fans, they will say that if only inventors had not fooled around with the size and shape of balls years ago, football and basketball would not cause those dry spells between October and April. Perhaps. But suspense counts for something, too, and now it is over.