Mathews Just Perfect for St. Louis Lefty--He’s a Real Card
“What’s your favorite Greg Mathews story?” Ken Dayley was asked, after saving Tuesday night’s 5-3 St. Louis victory for Mathews in the National League playoff opener against San Francisco.
“Oh, man. There’s a million of them,” Dayley replied. “I don’t have time to get into them now.”
All right, we’ll tell our own favorite.
It’s a fun one. It’s the Greg Breaks Down on the L.A. Freeway story.
Once upon a time, Gregory Inman Mathews, goofy left-hander of the St. Louis Cardinals, rented a car in Los Angeles. On the freeway one afternoon, the rental car coughed twice and died.
Greg pulled over to the shoulder of the freeway, parked the car and left it there. He got a ride to the team’s hotel, then called the rent-a-car company and told them what happened. The rental agent said he gladly would have the car picked up.
“What freeway is it on?” the agent asked.
“I don’t remember,” Greg said.
“Uh, OK. We’ll find it somehow. What kind of car was it?” the agent asked.
“Mid-size,” Greg said.
Well, at least he knew it had a steering wheel and four tires. That much he remembered. And somehow, Mathews even managed to make it to Dodger Stadium that night for the game.
Asked how he got there, fellow Cardinal pitcher Danny Cox offered an opinion.
“He probably took the subway,” Cox said, “even though L.A. doesn’t have one.”
There are a million Greg Mathews stories here in the Gateway City, but perhaps this one story sufficiently illustrates how the Cardinals feel about him. They are fond of the guy, and they are amused by him.
They love it when he does stuff like send out his laundry at a Chicago hotel--on the day the team is leaving town and flying to Montreal. I mean, the kid cracks these guys up.
Yet, he isn’t just here to do stand-up comedy. Mathews impresses the Cardinals, too, and never more so than he did Tuesday, when on short notice he stopped the Giants on four hits into the eighth inning, and delivered a two-run single that turned out to be the difference in the game.
Dayley, who nailed down the last four outs, said: “The lefty’s a dandy, there’s no doubt about that. He’s got his own way. Sometimes he does things without thinking. All of us left-handers are labeled oddballs, and maybe Greg’s got a bit of oddball in him. But he’s an outstanding pitcher, too, and that’s what counts.”
Mathews found out four hours before the game’s first pitch that he was going to throw it.
“Maybe it’s good,” he said. “Maybe it didn’t give me any time to think.”
Or not to think, that is the question.
“I know, I know. I’ve been called a little flaky, haven’t I? Well, they say a pitcher shouldn’t over-think, don’t they?
“I don’t believe I’m a flake, to tell you the truth,” Mathews said. “I laugh a lot. I have a good time.”
It is when he knows he is going to pitch that Mathews attempts to get serious. He watches what he eats the night before. He stays home and rests.
But, since Cox was going to work Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, and since John Tudor would work Game 2, and since Day 3 was a day off, Mathews didn’t think he had anything to think about. He didn’t think he had anything to think about until it was time to get to San Francisco and rent one of those flashy new 1988 Mid-Sizes.
So, he forgot to think.
Instead of eating right, he went to one of those drive-up food joints where you yell your order into a clown’s mouth. He wolfed down a couple of burgers. And earlier in the day, he played some golf.
Some incredibly strenuous golf.
“I went out and played 18 rounds of golf yesterday,” Mathews explained.
Let’s see: If he’s a scratch golfer, and par for the course was 72, I guess that means he shot a 1,296.
Well, what the heck. Greg Mathews merely is part of a great tradition of colorful St. Louis Cardinal pitchers.
There was the boozy Grover Cleveland Alexander and that doozy Dizzy Dean, a couple of World Series heroes whose life stories became movies that starred Ronald Reagan and Dan Dailey. There was Harry (the Cat) Brecheen, who won three times in the 1946 Series, and Bob Gibson, who won seven Series games between 1964-68.
There was John Stuper, who kept the 1982 Series alive by winning Game 6, then entertained his teammates by interviewing them on another of his impromptu “John Cosell Radio Shows,” during which he used a beer bottle as a microphone.
There were Joaquin Andujar and John Tudor, who bumped an umpire and punched a fan, an electric one, during the not very classic Fall Classic of 1985.
And today, not only is there Mathews, but there is another lefty, Joe Magrane, who--some say--makes Greg Mathews look like the most normal person on earth. Magrane is the guy, for instance, who is scheduled to start one of this weekend’s games at San Francisco, and says he is working on “survivalist techniques” to prepare him for the cold.
“I’ll be prepared. Our seventh-grade field trip was to Antarctica,” Magrane said. “Maybe I’ll take a Bunsen burner out there. Maybe I’ll take some powdered food.”
Mathews and Magrane: what a pair of Cards. They both are into T’ai-chi , the training regimen Steve Carlton recommends. They both throw fastballs clocked in the 80s, and have never been confused with Carlton on or off the field. They both were demoted to Triple-A Louisville at one point this season to get themselves straightened out.
And, they both got straightened out. Never was that more evident than on Sept. 29, when Magrane and Mathews threw shutouts back-to-back in a doubleheader that knocked Montreal right out of the pennant race.
Mathews had an encore in him.
He had the Giants eating out of his hand. And, he got the game’s big hit, even though for the last few months he hasn’t even figured out if he is supposed to bat lefty, righty or switch-hit. (He batted right-handed against Rick Reuschel, a righty.)
Of the entire experience, Mathews said: “I just tried to have a good time. This could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I might get traded. I might get anything.
“It’s a miracle, basically. In my second year of pro ball, I’m playing in the biggest games there are. Some players like Ernie Banks never pitched in a World Series game in his life. I mean, never been in a World Series game in his life.”
We were about to remind Greg Mathews that he, too, has never been in a World Series game in his life, but we didn’t want to confuse the poor kid again.
Just let the lefty be happy that everything went so right.
“Wow, 55,000 people watching the game. I thought I was gonna fall off the mound,” Mathews said.
That would have been all right, so long as no one asked him later to point out where he broke down.