It’s not as if the New York Mets are stupid. It’s not as through they are fooled when, reading about Dodger strongmen, they only read about Kirk Gibson, and Kirk Gibson, and maybe Kirk Gibson.
The Mets know better. The Mets think of Dodger strongmen, they think of just one man too. But it’s not Kirk Gibson.
“I don’t mean this as a slight to Kirk Gibson, but the Dodger I’m most concerned about is Mike Marshall,” Met first baseman Keith Hernandez said. “When he’s cold, he can’t hit the side of a barn.
“But when he’s hot, you can pitch it over his head and he will still hit it out. He’s the best clutch hitter they have.”
And this was said before this National League championship series ever started.
Late Wednesday, after the Dodgers had evened the playoffs with a 6-3 victory in Game 2, after Mike Marshall had collected 3 more hits to improve his series average to .500 (4 for 8) with a team-high 4 runs batted in, other Mets were saying the same thing.
“Marshall is the one guy who can hurt us the most consistently,” Met shortstop Howard Johnson said. “Gibson, we don’t feel he can hurt us all the time. But not Marshall. Every time he comes up, something can happen. When he gets going, look out.
“Without Mike Marshall right now, that team would be in big trouble.”
Wednesday was just another typical Marshall night: A bloop RBI single to left in the first inning. A sharp run-scoring single to right in the second. A single up the middle and an eventual run in the fifth.
And afterward, a careful blush.
“Whatever anybody says about you, you still have to go out and prove it,” said Marshall, who at .500 is hitting exactly 500 points better than Gibson. “Shoot, I respect a lot of those hitters on the Mets, too.
“Yeah, I’m feeling good now, but I’m also getting a little lucky. You have to take the bloops when you get them.”
And the overshadowing by Gibson?
“I don’t feel shaded or mistreated by anyone here,” said Marshall, who during the season hit an impressive .309 with runners in scoring position. “In my mind, Kirk Gibson is the most valuable player on this team. Everything he has gotten, he has deserved.”
Of course, Marshall thinks everyone is just great. Take the Mets.
“No question in my mind, I think they are the best team in the National League,” he said. “But the question is, how close can we come to them in a short series?”
And how close can the Mets come to stopping Marshall?
And so Gregg Jefferies really is a rookie.
The nation discovered as much about the Mets’ precocious 21-year-old in the first inning Wednesday, shortly after Jefferies collected his third straight playoff hit, a 1-out double into the right-field corner. After Keith Hernandez followed with a walk, setting up the Dodgers and Tim Belcher for a quick, hard fall, it was Jefferies who went down.
Darryl Strawberry lined a ball to shortstop Alfredo Griffin. It was a sure, easy out. Except Jefferies didn’t act like it. He raced off second base toward third, halting only when he realized the ball would be caught. He was caught and tagged out by Griffin for an easy, inning-ending double play.
“It was an early turning point,” Howard Johnson said. “We had a chance to make something happen, and didn’t. It’s bad enough to lose, it’s worse when mistakes kill you.”
Although on the field in the middle of the playoffs isn’t quite the place for career counseling, that was what was happening between Johnson and Jefferies in the bottom of the first. While the Mets were throwing the ball around the infield before the Dodgers began hitting, Johnson wandered over to Jefferies and gently scolded him about the mistake.
“I told him, when you run good like he does, you don’t need that big of a jump off second base to score on a single,” Johnson recalled. “You don’t have to be so anxious to move. Take your time, watch the pitch.”
In the clubhouse afterward, Jefferies quickly said, “I wasn’t being . . . " and then stopped. “Well, OK, maybe I was being overanxious a little bit.”
The way he explained it, the play was lost on just one step.
“All I did was take one step,” he said. “I was pretty sure the ball was going to be caught, but when it was, I looked back and realized I had stepped too far.”
Was the kid embarrassed, perhaps?
“Oh no, I wasn’t embarrassed, that kind of stuff happens,” he shot back. “It was just a mistake, my mistake.”
The usually smart Mets ran themselves out of another rally in the fourth. With none out and 2 runs already in that inning on Hernandez’s homer, Strawberry singled to right. After Kevin McReynolds struck out, up stepped Johnson.
And a couple of pitches later, Strawberry took off for second. He was thrown out by catcher Mike Scioscia, and Johnson then flied to right to end the last great Met hope until the ninth.
“He just took off,” Johnson explained. “He was guessing he would throw me a breaking ball on the first pitch. It happened to be a fastball. He was dead meat.”
Dodger pitcher Tim Leary, who almost certainly would have started Game 2 if he hadn’t gone into a slump the last month of the season, reportedly was angry at being bypassed in the playoff rotation.
“I guess you have to be Superman to some people,” Leary was quoted in a New York newspaper. “I keep hearing that I’m tired and that I’m in a slump. It’s not true. Tell me, exactly what inning did I get tired? At 221? Or 222? I haven’t pitched badly, but I know how things work around here.”
Before Game 2 Wednesday, however, Leary said he had no quarrel with Lasorda’s decision to put him in the bullpen.
“You’ve got to look at the pitchers we’re using,” he said. “You want to pitch Orel as many times as you can. And this is what we got (John) Tudor for.
“How are you going to get me in there? (Tim) Belcher is hot right now. You’ve got to get him in there. We’re all pulling for each other out there. There are a lot of guys in my situation. Look at Lenny Dykstra.”
Dykstra, the Mets’ center fielder in Game 2, was not in Tuesday’s starting lineup, though he did pinch-hit.
The Philadelphia Phillies have obtained permission from the Dodgers to talk to batting coach Ben Hines. The Phillies’ new manager is Nick Leyva, who played four years for Hines when he was coaching at La Verne College.
Times staff writers Gordon Edes, Sam McManis and Ross Newhan contributed to this story.