For Bob Welch, 5 o’clock will never come earlier than it does on Tuesday.
It has been 10 years since Welch was a 21-year-old Dodger rookie and struck out Reggie Jackson in one of the World Series’ most memorable at-bats.
Now, Welch is an American Leaguer, an Oakland Athletic, and perhaps all that is standing between the Dodgers and their second World Series championship of the ‘80s. He will be the A’s starting pitcher in Game 3 in Oakland Tuesday, and with the A’s already down 2-0 in the series, he readily admitted Sunday that he has never pitched in a bigger game.
“I’m sure it will be a tense situation,” he said. “That’s a simple fact.”
If the Dodgers know anything about their teammate of 10 seasons, they know this: In terms of excitability, he’ll make Steve Sax look comatose by comparison.
“On the Sax scale of hyper, he’s about a 9-plus,” Dodger catcher Mike Scioscia said.
“When he’s out on the mound, he’s going in a million different directions. Bobby’s problem has definitely been one of keeping him under control out there. I think it’s probably still the case.
“He’s so talented, you had to get him to harness it. He wants to get the ball and throw it.”
Obviously, Welch was something more than a loose cannon for the Dodgers. He won 115 games for the Dodgers, with a single-season high of 16 in 1982, before being traded to the A’s last December in the three-way deal with the Mets that brought Alfredo Griffin, Jay Howell and Jesse Orosco to the Dodgers.
And with the A’s this season, Welch won a career-high 17 games in 36 starts. He struck out 158 batters in 244 innings.
Still, Scioscia remembers his frequent visits to the mound to settle down Welch, with whom he remains good friends.
“It was tough for me to get serious with Bobby sometimes,” Scioscia said with a laugh Sunday. “It was tough for me to look Bobby in the eye and tell him I’d kick the . . . out of him.”
The trade to Oakland did nothing to diminish Welch’s excitability. Terry Steinbach, the A’s catcher, has said that Welch tries to get 2 outs with 1 pitch. And Boston pitcher Mike Boddicker, who faced Welch in Game 3 of the American League playoffs, noted that Welch dug a hole in the mound big enough to hold a tiger.
“If you know Bobby,” said Dave Duncan, the A’s pitching coach, “you know he doesn’t like a lot of attention. And after the trade, he had a lot of media, a lot of things written about Bobby, what he meant to the Oakland A’s, what he was going to mean to the Oakland A’s.
“Early on, he put a lot of pressure on himself, but gradually he settled down.”
Welch is often at his most agitated early in a game, Duncan said.
“There are times he has problems, when he looks anxious to get things going and is overly aggressive,” Duncan said. “Sometimes early in a game he doesn’t get focused in on things that enable him to get in a good (rhythm).”
Given the circumstances of Tuesday’s game, will Welch be more agitated than usual?
“He can’t win two games Tuesday,” Duncan said. “He can’t win three games. He can only win one game. He knows how to throw to these guys and where he has to put the ball.”
Welch said that in his eagerness to prove to the A’s they had made a good trade, he put extra pressure on himself, the most he has ever felt. That did not go unnoticed by Rick Honeycutt, who also came to the A’s from the Dodgers.
“In the early part of the year he wanted to do good so bad, he thought he had to pitch a shutout all the time,” Honeycutt said. “He felt he had to make the perfect pitch, blow people away.
“But this team has got a lot of confidence in Bobby when he’s on the mound. He’s done a good job.”
It has been the toughest of his life, Welch said.
“This has been my most challenging season as a professional,” he said. “Everything was new this season. I had lived in the same house for the last 9 years, I had a lot of friends. This was a new league, new teammates.
“I really, really enjoyed this baseball season, but it was tough.”
Postseason play hasn’t been easy on Welch, either. He hasn’t gotten beyond the third inning in three playoff starts, two with the Dodgers, one with the A’s, and in four World Series appearances with the Dodgers, he is 0-1 with an earned-run average of 10.30.
“Sure, it crosses your mind,” Welch said of his October efforts. “But it’s something I can’t dwell on.”
Said Duncan: “Bobby can’t change anything in the past. The only thing he can control is now. I think he looks at it as one game, regardless if the situation is 2-0 or 0-2.”
Asked if he knew how Welch would pitch to him Tuesday, Scioscia smiled.
“Sure,” he said. “But I’m not going to tell you.”