In the pessimistic mind of Dodger pitcher John Tudor, any number of awful things could happen tonight at Shea Stadium when he faces the New York Mets in Game 3 of the National League playoffs.
He could, for instance, aggravate the sore muscle in his right hip that prevented him from making his scheduled start in Game 2 Wednesday night. Or either his chronically painful left elbow or left shoulder could flare up.
Or maybe those hard-core Met fans, who often heaped abuse on Tudor when he pitched at Shea Stadium as a St. Louis Cardinal, will turn physical as well as verbal, as sometimes they are known to do.
Or maybe the subway heading to Flushing Meadow will break down and Tudor will miss his start altogether.
Just as easily, though, it could turn out that Tudor pitches as well in this important playoff game as he did last season, when he shut out the San Francisco Giants for 7 innings of Game 6 to force a seventh game.
Whatever the outcome tonight, when Tudor opposes Met right-hander Ron Darling, this is precisely the situation for which the Dodgers acquired Tudor after Fernando Valenzuela injured his left shoulder.
But when asked if he felt relaxed and confident because of his playoff experience, Tudor bristled.
“I have postseason and World Series experience, but as far as I’m concerned, you can take all that and throw it out of the window,” Tudor said. “It’s not going to do you any good. I think the Dodgers got me just to be a pitcher after Fernando got hurt. I don’t think they felt they got me specifically for the playoffs.”
Yet, Tudor seemingly has put special emphasis on his playoff role. When the Dodgers clinched a tie for the West title, he refused to celebrate, explaining that, despite having won 4 games in the final 6 weeks, he did not feel responsible for helping the Dodgers win. “I think I’ll be a bigger part of it in the playoffs and World Series, if they get there,” Tudor said. Maybe Tudor has been sitting too close to Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda in the dugout, however, because he actually displayed some optimism and humor when talking to reporters recently. “I have the body of about an 80-year-old, but I’ll be all right,” the 34-year-old Tudor said.
Of his hip injury, which occurred last Friday night in his final regular-season start, Tudor said: “It feels OK. I can’t guarantee wins or losses, but I’ll be out there. The hip shouldn’t affect me. It doesn’t now.”
Of those Met fans who have occasionally thrown objects ranging from coins to size-D batteries at opponents, he said: “As long as Met fans keep all their souvenirs in their hands, we’ll be all right.”
And of his chances against the Mets, he said: “They can be beat. They lost 60-some ballgames this season, so we’ll go from there.”
Not exactly as optimistic as Norman Vincent Peale nor as humorous as Jay Leno. But it was a good effort for Tudor, who in other years has been sullen--some say surly--with the hordes of reporters covering the playoffs and the World Series.
The Dodgers, however, did not get Tudor for public relations. He was the best left-handed starter available as the trading deadline neared, and the Dodgers did not hesitate to part with Pedro Guerrero.
Tudor has an 8-6 record against the Mets, including a victory for St. Louis this season. But, in two starts for the Dodgers against the Mets this season, Tudor’s pessimism has proven well founded.
On Aug. 22, in his second start as a Dodger, Tudor allowed 6 runs and 9 hits in 6 innings. Then on Sept. 2, he gave up only 2 runs through 6 innings but lost, 2-1. Tudor said before Game 2 Wednesday night that the condition of his hip had improved to the point where he could have started that game, if needed. “Maybe they felt better having (rookie Tim) Belcher pitching at home,” he said.
Tudor also said he will try to pitch through any pain in his hip, carry on until he is “hurting the team.” Tudor, accustomed to pitching while injured, has not missed a start since coming to the Dodgers despite periodic elbow soreness.
The Mets, at maximum strength when they stack their lineup with left-handed hitters against right-handed pitchers, will adjust with Tudor starting. Met Manager Davey Johnson plans to replace Howard Johnson at shortstop with Kevin Elster, who hits better against left-handers, and replace Wally Backman at second base with right-handed Tim Teufel.
Tudor is not impressed.
“If the Mets couldn’t beat left-handers, every club in the world would be trying to find lefties,” Tudor said. “They are a very good club. Both their two big guys, (Keith) Hernandez and (Darryl) Strawberry, are left-handed, but they handle the bat well against left-handed pitching. If I have confidence in my game, I can get anyone out, just like they can hit anybody when they have confidence in their game.”
Whichever way Darling has approached Dodger hitters this season certainly has worked for him.
He is 2 for 2 against the Dodgers this season and was impressive in both victories. In the Mets’ 3-2 victory over the Dodgers on May 30, Darling allowed 2 runs over 8 innings. On Sept. 2, Darling threw a 5-hit shutout in an 8-0 Met victory.
With 8 runs in the first 2 games of the series, the Dodger offense has been more productive than in weeks. The 6 runs they had Wednesday night against David Cone and reliever Rick Aguilera marked only the third time since Sept. 20 that the Dodgers scored 6 or more runs. As the Dodgers hoped, Mike Marshall has taken over primary offensive duties from Kirk Gibson, hampered at the plate by left hamstring and left shoulder injuries. Marshall is 4 for 8 with 3 runs batted in. Gibson is 0 for 6 and has not come close to hitting safely.
Mickey Hatcher most likely will start again at first base, even though he is a right-handed hitter. Hatcher, filling in for the unproductive Franklin Stubbs, had a 2-run double and scored 2 runs Wednesday night.
However, the Dodgers are hitting just .177 in the first two playoff games, a statistic that a pessimistic guy like Tudor could wallow in.
But Tudor said his responsibility is to shut down the Mets and let the hitters worry about production.
“It all depends whether I make the pitches,” he said. “If I don’t make the pitches, I’ll end up watching the end of the game on TV.”