Isn’t an appearance in a league championship series and a World Series supposed to be a dream fulfilled?
Isn’t it supposed to be the highlight of a career?
The dream remained more of a nightmare for Jay Howell Tuesday night when he threw the pitch that Mark McGwire turned into the winning run as the Oakland Athletics beat the Dodgers, 2-1, to close their World Series deficit to the same margin.
Pitching for the first time in 10 days and for the first time in the Oakland Coliseum since the A’s traded him to the Dodgers last December, Howell had one out in the 9th inning of a 1-1 tie when he got a fastball up and out over the plate to McGwire, who deposited it over the left-field fence.
“No excuses,” Howell said.
“I had just come in on him with a fastball that he fouled back, and I was trying to go away with another, but I got it up too much and too far over the plate.
“The location was bad, and he did what a good hitter does with a bad pitch. Give him credit.”
Howell had entered the game in the ninth after Alejandro Pena had pitched 3 shutout innings, allowing only 1 hit.
“I couldn’t expect Pena to pitch another inning. I couldn’t send him out there again,” Manager Tom Lasorda said of his set-up man.
Faced with the heart of the Oakland lineup, Howell threw a fastball to Jose Canseco that shattered his bat and produced a popup to second base.
McGwire was next. Howell threw 7 consecutive fastballs. The count was 2-and-2 when McGwire, who was 0 for 9 and had fouled off 3 in a row, finally connected.
“I stayed with the fastball because McGwire is a good breaking-ball hitter,” Howell said. “He has something of an uppercut swing, and I tried to throw it by him. There was nothing wrong with the velocity, just the location.”
Did the 10-day absence affect his control?
“Not important,” Howell said. “I think that would just be an excuse.”
Have the difficult events of the postseason left a mark?
“Not important, either,” he said, showing no emotion in a cramped clubhouse packed with members of the media.
What more can happen?
--Attempting to protect a 2-1 lead in the 9th inning of Game 1 of the playoffs against the New York Mets, Howell threw a curve to Gary Carter that Carter blooped to center, where John Shelby missed a diving catch and 2 runs scored in a 3-2 Dodger loss.
--Reporting for work the next day, Howell discovered that Met pitcher David Cone, collaborating on a column in the New York Daily News, had compared his curveball to that of a “high school pitcher.”
--Working against Kevin McReynolds in the 8th inning of Game 3, Howell was ejected for having pine tar on his glove and drew a 3-day suspension that was later reduced to 2 days.
--Then, on the eve of the World Series, Howell was again hammered by an opposing player.
The A’s Don Baylor, later saying he was responding to a rip from Howell that Howell said he never made, questioned the relief pitcher’s courage and ability to work in pressure games.
“He was right where he wanted to be in Games 4 and 5,” Baylor said of Howell’s playoff suspension.
Now, the weight of McGwire’s homer had been added to Howell’s burden. His 21 regular-season saves seem a distant memory.
Will Lasorda talk to him today?
“I don’t think there was one day this season that I didn’t talk to him,” the manager said, “I’ll make it a point to talk to him tomorrow, but he’s played long enough to know these things happen. He’s a competitor, he’s tough. He’ll be back out there tomorrow night if I need him.”
Said catcher Mike Scioscia:
“Jay understands that when you’re on the hot seat, these things happen to you. He shouldn’t be down. He shouldn’t be hanging his head. He’s had a tremendous season, but it’s never automatic. You can’t be perfect every time you go out there. Jay gave his best. You have to give McGwire credit.”
All of the fastballs Howell threw to McGwire were over 90 m.p.h., pitching coach Ron Perranoski said.
“I was optimistic when he was warming up in the eighth inning, and I’ll be optimistic if he’s asked to pitch again tomorrow night,” Perranoski said.
“He pitched to two batters tonight. There wasn’t time for the layoff to have affected his performance, and I’m confident that everything that’s happened to him recently didn’t, either.”
The postseason has been one of putdown, letdown and sit down for Howell, but he wouldn’t reveal the scars, if any.
Nor would he say how the return to Oakland, where he was booed by hometown fans at last year’s All-Star game, may have affected him.
His reception Tuesday night was mild. Only McGwire treated him rudely.