It Was Time to Bring Out the Big Gun

And so, as Bo Jackson and George Bell and Steve Sax sat twiddling their thumbs, wallflowers at the ball, waiting for a chance to dance, up to home plate dragging a big old bat in his hands stepped who ? Little Joey. Yes, young, puny, anxious, hitless Joey Cora, who promptly pops out to shortstop, ending the game.

And into the interview room strides Gene Lamont, manager of the now desperate White Sox, to explain that the reason he sent up Cora instead of, well, someone else was: "He gets on base."

And because: "I wanted to get to Frank." (Meaning Thomas.)

And because: "I also thought we might need him later in the game." (Meaning Jackson.)

Question:

What later?

Two outs in the ninth inning and you're saving Bo Jackson for later?

Maybe they fired the wrong Chicago manager Wednesday. OK, relax, that's a joke, but wow, what was Lamont thinking? With his Chicago club about to blow both home games of this American League playoff series to baseball's defending champions from Toronto, you don't go for a game-tying two-run homer because you would rather get Cora on base and wait for a game-winning three -run homer?

Good thinking.

And as the Blue Jays put away their 3-1 victory with Frank (Big Hurt) Thomas kneeling helplessly in the on-deck circle, the firm of Jackson, Bell and Sax filed out of the dugout, their uniforms still spotlessly clean, not having been used for much of anything except to shag outfield flies before batting practice.

Bo and Bell conducted their usual postgame "get the hell away from me" seminars and about all Saxy could do was shrug and say he wished he could be of more help. The White Sox are now hitting a frosty .238 as a team to the Blue Jays' .416, and away we go to Canada for our first look at Toronto's winningest pitcher, Pat Hentgen.

Talk about a big hurt.

"I'm sure they're not feeling too good right now," the winning manager, Cito Gaston, said of the White Sox. "But baseball is a funny game."

Isn't it, though?

And few players have been funnier over the years than Little Joey, who once drove Larry Bowa dizzy during the latter's brief spell as manager of the San Diego Padres. Bowa is the one who later raked Cora over the coals in his journal of that season, a book called "Bleep!" saying, among other things: "I could sit here and hold a baseball seminar for him (Cora) all day and wonder if he'd ever understand a thing."

Bowa recited play after play in which Cora's head was not in the game. He described one particular throw to first base as being too high for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to stab, a play that the considerably shorter Steve Garvey remembered as being "pretty funny, because there haven't been too many times in my career when I didn't even attempt a vertical leap."

Such a throw was Cora's contribution to the fourth inning of Game 2. With two on and two out, Cora uncorked one that Manute Bol couldn't have reached, permitting Tony Fernandez to score all the way from second base. And neither side would score again.

"Just got away from me," Little Joey said.

That makes two errors in two games for the little second baseman, whose even wilder throw in Game 1 opened the floodgates to a three-run Toronto inning from which the White Sox never recovered. All of which is human and forgivable were not Cora also hitting a cool .000 in the series, striking out three times, rapping into a double play and never once getting the ball out of the infield.

This didn't daunt Lamont.

"Joey has been a good hitter for us," the White Sox manager said. "Everyone seems to think that if George or Bo gets up, they're going to hit a home run for us. I don't think that's necessarily the case."

We'll never know, will we?

The pinch-hitter who led off the inning for the White Sox, Spanky LaValliere, spanked a single to left. But this didn't influence Lamont, who stuck with Cora two outs later against Toronto's bullpen stopper, Duane Ward, maybe going with that ever-popular lefty vs. righty percentage play managers love so much, or maybe hoping that Ward would walk a batter who is only marginally taller than Eddie Gaedel.

Bowa wrote that Cora "doesn't know when to go up there looking for a walk and when to be aggressive." The aggressive Little Joey went up there hacking Wednesday, popping up in the process. Same as he went up hacking a night earlier in the White Sox eighth, grounding into an inning-ending 6-4-3.

Lamont wouldn't use Bo Jackson in these clutch situations.

Nah.

He's saving him for later.

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