Wally Joyner came to Tiger Stadium Friday night, looked it over for one pitch and promptly christened it on the second. He sent home run No. 14 rattling off the blue facade in the third deck, 10 feet or so below the storied right-field roof.
Another chapter had been duly added to the legend.
Only Joyner wasn't through, yet.
After three pedestrian at-bats that seemed to suggest mortality was setting in--two grounders to first, a bouncer to second--Joyner did it again. Home run No. 15 was a tad shorter, a tad less dramatic. It landed in the second deck of the right-field seats, accounting for the 10th run in an 11-1 Angel victory before a crowd of 23,184.
Can this story get any more incredible? Joyner, the kid who makes the clubhouse boy look like his older brother, the spray-hitter with no more than 12 home runs in any of his three minor league seasons, has hit 15 home runs in his first 36 major league games. He has six homers in his last five games. He has hit two home runs in a game twice since Sunday.
And he came close to hitting three home runs Friday night. Before grounding out in the second inning, Joyner drove a Dan Petry offering toward the right-field foul pole. At the last instant, the ball hooked foul.
Roy Hobbs? That was last week's point of reference. This has gone beyond The Natural, beyond fiction, beyond words.
"I don't know what to say, guys," said Joyner, holding a postgame press conference to bookend his pregame press conference. "This is new to me, too. We're all finding out about it first-hand together."
Angel Manager Gene Mauch attempted to describe Joyner's first tour through the American League, compounded now by the newly discovered demands of celebrity. He failed.
"He's handled it better than I thought," Mauch said, "although I'm not articulate enough to express it."
Mauch had been the one who suggested Joyner hold a press conference before Friday's game. The rookie has been on the national media's most-wanted list, averaging six interview requests a day. Mauch wanted to get all the interviews done at once. He wanted to minimize the distraction.
After receiving a 7:30 a.m. wake-up call from a Detroit reporter, after spending lunch with a Sports Illustrated reporter, after meeting the press for 30 minutes before batting practice, Joyner nearly sent the second pitch Petry showed him out of the park.
Six innings later, against Tiger reliever Bill Campbell, Joyner homered again. It was his 37th RBI, which leads the majors, sustaining his pace of an RBI a day.
And everywhere around Wally, home runs fell to earth. Gary Pettis, hitter of eight career home runs, put a Petry pitch into the second deck. Dick Schofield, the light-hitting shortstop, cleared the left-field fence.
This stuff can be contagious.
Mike Witt, presented just six runs in his last three starts, was all but bowled over by the onslaught. "This is a little more fun," he said as he pitched a five-hitter, at last evening his record at 3-3.
And watching Wally is fun.
"That's been the best thing about this season--seeing Wally do so well," Witt said. "Every night, he does it. I come to the park just to watch him hit, even on nights I'm not pitching."
More from around the Angel clubhouse:
Mauch: "I don't know if I've seen anything to compare it with. I haven't seen a rookie come in and contact the ball as solidly as Wally has."
Brian Downing: "It's not, 'What is he gonna do next?' He's doing it all the time. Bringing a name out of the past, Joe Charboneau had similar early success. But he didn't have the quality swing this guy has. He has a constant, smooth, rhythmic swing . . . not jerky like a lot of us."
Pettis: "I'm a believer. He's got an idea and he doesn't let anyone change that idea. He might have a bad swing, then he goes back into his (correct) stance. Except, he hasn't had too many bad swings."
Joyner can barely do more than shrug and shake his head.
Maybe Tiger Stadium had something to do with it. "It's nice and confined," he said.
Maybe his off-season weight program has had something to do with it. "I'm sold on it," he said.
Maybe his newness has had something to do with it. "I'm new to the surroundings," he said. "Nobody knows me yet. The next time around, I'm sure they'll throw to me differently."
Joyner thought about it for a moment.
"I feel I've matured," he said. "This is something new in my life. It's good news. That's why everybody's here. Nobody knows who Wally Joyner is.
"That's why I can't explain what's going on. The balls just seem to be going a little farther than everybody else's right now."
The lone discouraging word heard in the Angel locker room came from that quipster of renown, Terry Forster.
"He hit two solo home runs." Forster said, struggling to sustain a deadpan. "If he was any good, he'd hit 'em with guys on base. Let's see him hit a couple with five guys on base."
There's always tomorrow.
Angel Notes Upstaged At Last: Wally Joyner's Detroit press conference was held as scheduled, at 5 p.m. outside the visitor's dugout. At the same time, an impromptu rap session broke out 90 feet down the line with--who else?--Reggie Jackson. Dueling press conferences. Jackson turns 40 Sunday, and if that isn't a news event, the Detroit dailies are determined to make it one. At one point, Jackson was outdrawing Joyner, 13 reporters to 5. Reggie was asked what he wanted as a gift for No. 40. "A vintage automobile," he said. He was asked about receiving any birthday telegrams. "I don't expect one from Gorbachev, Kadafi or Reagan," he said. It was a probing interview. More out-takes: Reggie on Reggie: "I can be congenial, abrupt, short, mean, nice. Which means I'm very human. When I'm in a bad mood, I'm in a bad mood. I've been sensitive, I've been insensitive." Reggie on turning 40: "When I was 30, I thought I'd retire at 35. I thought I'd feel older than I do now. But I haven't wrung the rag out yet. I haven't made my total statement. The composition isn't finished, the thesis isn't done."
The Angels are planning to hold similar press conferences for Joyner on the first day of their upcoming series in Baltimore and New York. "It had started to get out of hand," Joyner said of interview requests. "I think we caught it at the right time. The last day in Anaheim, every time I turned around, there was somebody new." Someone suggested that a Wally Joyner Day might be next on the agenda. "No, there will be no Wally Joyner Day," Joyner shot back with a grin. "They had one for me this winter (in the Puerto Rican League). I went 0 for 5 with two strikeouts, and we lost, 7-2. The whole game, they threw shredded pictures of me at me." Other than that, he had a wonderful time. "At least," he added, "I got a VCR out of it."
Gary Pettis hit one home run in 1985. The pitcher who yielded it? Dan Petry. The home run so disturbed Petry that he tacked Pettis' bubble-gum card above his locker during spring training--just as a reminder. Pettis isn't exactly thrilled about the topic, either. "I can't explain why I hit home runs off (Petry)," he said. "It's just a coincidence. I don't want to talk about it. The way I've been going, I'm just happy to get a hit." . . . The timing of Mike Witt's complete game was fortunate for the Angels. Reliever Donnie Moore received a cortisone injection in his sore right shoulder Wednesday but still was unable to pitch Friday. "The shot helped it, but it's still a little sore," Moore said. "Maybe (today)."
THE WALLY OF SWAT
Angel rookie Wally Joyner has hit 7 home runs in his last 8 games. Here's a game-by-game account.
DATE OPPONENT AB R H BI HR PITCHER May 16 at Detriot 6 2 2 2 15 Bill Campbell (RH) May 1 at Detroit 14 Dan Petry (RH) May 1 Boston at Anaheim 4 0 0 0 May 1 Boston at Anaheim 4 1 3 2 13 Mike Brown (RH) May 1 Boston at Anaheim 4 2 3 4 12 Al Nipper (RH) May 1 Boston at Anaheim 11 Al Nipper (RH) May 1 Milwaukee at Anahei 4 1 2 1 10 Jaime Cocanower (RH May 1 Milwaukee at Anahei 3 1 0 0 May 9 Milwaukee at Anahei 4 0 1 2 May 8 Toronto at Anaheim 4 1 2 4 9 Jim Acker (RH) 8-GAME TOTALS 33 8 13 15 .399 AVG., 7HR