BASEBALL PLAYOFFS : Red Sox Play Into A’s Hands : Trade for Welch, Tonight’s Starter, Has Paid Off
Ten months have passed since Sandy Alderson and Fred Claire arose from the bargaining table in Dallas, shook hands and walked away with fingers crossed, the gamble officially undertaken.
Bob Welch and Matt Young were to become Oakland Athletics. Alfredo Griffin and Jay Howell were to become Dodgers. And the New York Mets, acting as middle men, were to send Jesse Orosco to Los Angeles for three prospects.
It was the most complicated deal of the 1987 winter baseball meetings, but 10 months later, it has come to a simple resolution.
“We wouldn’t be here right now if not for Bob Welch,” said Alderson, the Oakland general manager, whose team will play host to the Boston Red Sox tonight in Game 3 of the American League championship series. “And the deal turned out well for the Mets and the Dodgers, too. Everybody involved in it is in the playoffs.”
So they are: The A’s, the Dodgers and the Mets--three-fourths of the 1988 postseason field, brought together last December in that rarest of transactions, the three-team trade that doesn’t hurt anyone.
Except, maybe, the fourth team in this year’s playoffs, the Red Sox.
They already have squandered their home-field advantage, their two best starting pitchers and the first 2 games of this best-of-7 series. They will try to come up for air at 5:20 p.m. at the Oakland Coliseum, where they are 0-6 this season and where they must face Welch.
Fancy meeting you here, Bob.
The calculated risk by A’s Manager Tony La Russa--starting Storm Davis in Game 2 instead of Welch--is now looking like a masterstroke. Initially, it seemed that La Russa was merely serving up Davis as a sacrificial lamb to Roger Clemens in Game 2, hoping to return home with at least a 1-1 split before turning matters over to the highly bankable Welch.
But Davis and a long line of Oakland relievers outpitched Clemens & Co. Thursday night as the Athletics wrung out a 4-3 victory. New England, you might guess, regarded this as a considerable upset.
Now, the A’s are home for the weekend, in possession of a 2-0 series edge, and if all goes to form, Welch should make it 3-0 and all but over.
“The way we played the whole season was to clinch our division as fast as possible,” A’s catcher Terry Steinbach said. “Yes, we want to clinch this series as fast as possible, too. We’re going to try and end this series in 4.”
Welch (17-9) will attempt to take the third step against Boston’s Mike Boddicker (13-15). They have met before. On Aug. 29 here, Welch earned a 3-1 victory, allowing only 6 hits and a walk in 8 innings.
“I think (Welch) pitched one of the finest games of the year the last time we were here,” Boston Manager Joe Morgan said. “That was the first time I’d seen him, and I didn’t realize he threw that hard. He overmatched us.”
Welch has proven especially formidable at home during his first season in the American League. In 20 starts here, Welch went 13-4 with a 2.56 earned-run average. On the road, by comparison, he was 4-5 with a 5.29 ERA in 16 starts.
That, as much as anything, figured into La Russa’s decision to hold Welch back for Game 3.
Welch, who has always delivered a better fastball than quote, is at a loss when asked to explain his binge by the Bay.
“It’s my teammates,” he offered. “That can be the only reason. This is a totally new experience for me, but the one thing my teammates have done for me is make it fun to pitch here. I’m thankful for that.”
Hmmm. Well, then, let’s go to the teammates.
Said pitcher Dave Stewart: “Pitching in Oakland is a lot like pitching in Dodger Stadium. There’s a big outfield in both places, and Bob always gives up a lot of fly balls. He’s still a National League pitcher--he challenges guys, pitches to the middle of the plate and gives up fly balls. That’s how he’s been successful for 10 years.”
And that, according to Steinbach, doesn’t bode well for Boston.
“The Coliseum’s very symmetrical,” Steinbach said. “You don’t get a lot of the hits you would get off the Green Monster at Fenway Park. Balls that are singles and doubles off the wall in Fenway are routine outs here.”
For the Red Sox, who are 1-14 in their last 15 games in Oakland, their best chance would appear to be in somehow unsettling Welch. A jumpy sort--Boddicker calls him “hyper"--Welch can run into trouble when, as Steinbach puts it, he “tries to get two outs with one pitch.”
Said Steinbach: “Sometimes he gets to working real fast, and when he does that, the quality of his pitches goes down. He stops hitting the corners, he starts getting his pitches up. As catchers, that’s when we have to work at slowing him down.”
Boddicker says he gets a kick out of watching Welch kick up a cloud of dust when he reaches a fever pitch on the mound.
“He digs a hole deep enough to bury a tiger in,” Boddicker said.
Or, tonight, possibly big enough to bury the Red Sox.
Alderson has to be grinning. His A’s are up, 2-0, after withstanding Bruce Hurst and Clemens. They’re home. And they enter Game 3 with a well-rested Welch, the missing link they uncovered 10 months ago in Dallas.
Sometimes, the best-laid plans do pan out.
“Our goals at the winter meetings were to find left-handed hitting and a quality starter,” Alderson said. “And not a No. 5 guy, but someone at or near the top.
“Bob Welch didn’t come cheap. He was the most sought-after player at the winter meetings. We had somebody in high demand ourselves in Alfredo Griffin, but Alfredo alone was not enough to get him. We gave up what we had to in order to get him.”
Added Stewart: “He was the best trade we could have made. If you want to improve a club, the best way to do it is improve your pitching. You build a team with pitching, and when you talk about Bob Welch, you talk about bringing one of the best pitchers in the National League to this team.”
And should Welch win tonight, his next start could very well be against the champion of the National League, next week in the World Series.
And that team could be Welch’s old team.