Dave Stewart’s eyes smolder with resentment. He takes a deep breath, trying to regain control.
Stewart knows that when he steps on the mound tonight in Game 6 of the World Series for the Toronto Blue Jays, he can clinch his third World Series championship ring with a victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Blue Jays not only would become the first team since the New York Yankees in 1977-1978 to win consecutive World Series, but a victory by Stewart would provide him with 11 postseason victories--the most by any pitcher in baseball history.
Perhaps only then will he hear the words that have always eluded him.
“I’m just waiting for someone to tell me I’m a pitcher,” said Stewart, who says he will retire after next season. “No one has ever told me that. People say I’m a thrower, but never a pitcher.
“The toughest thing in my career to get over is not (being overlooked for) a Cy Young Award--even though it’s a travesty I haven’t won two of them--but not getting credit for being a pitcher.
“Really, that’s what I want to prove more than anything in this game.”
Stewart, wearing a black cap pulled low over his forehead and a black leather jacket over his T-shirt, had planned Friday simply to perpetuate his sinister image. He wanted all the world to know that he wasn’t afraid of anything, least of all pitching Game 6 of the World Series.
Certainly, the last element of his personality he wanted to convey was sensitivity, revealing the pain he has felt throughout his baseball career. He probably never meant for it to come out like this, not at a time when he can establish himself as the game’s premier postseason pitcher, surpassing Whitey Ford in victories.
But if the Phillies can be lovable for being a bunch of castoffs and rejects, why should he be virtually shunned by the public?
He was a mop-up man in the Phillie bullpen in 1986 when he was released. He had been castigated in 1984 for acknowledging that he helped cover up former Dodger teammate Steve Howe’s cocaine problem, arrested in 1985 for solicitation of a prostitute, and run out of Texas for calling the fans a bunch of idiots.
Now, at 36, he is being lumped in with the rest of his high-priced Toronto teammates and considered merely another corporate entity.
“People forget where I’ve come from,” Stewart said. “The indignities of my past have built character and allowed me to be who I am, and what I am. You can’t measure my heart.”
When the Blue Jays scoured the free-agent marketplace for help last winter, they knew Stewart was not the same 94-m.p.h. pitcher who won 84 games from 1987-1990 with the Oakland Athletics. His fastball was in the mid-80s, he was struggling more frequently with his control, and his strikeouts were diminishing.
They weren’t even sure Stewart would leave Oakland. He was asking for a two-year, $7-million contract, the same average salary he earned the previous season. Oakland General Manager Sandy Alderson instead offered him a one-year, $2.7-million contract.
“It was insulting the way Sandy talked about me,” Stewart said. “It was like everything I had done in the organization was unimportant. I was hurt.
“People talked about the loyalty of Cal Ripken and Kirby Puckett staying with their teams, and how I was disloyal to Oakland for leaving. Well, what about Oakland’s part? Where was their loyalty?
“I mean, was Cal Ripken worth the money he got from Baltimore? Is Ryne Sandberg worth the $7 million he gets paid from the Cubs? Come on, it was just their teams’ way of saying, ‘Thank you.’
“I tell you right now, if Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan weren’t there, I really wouldn’t care what happened to them. They can lose all of the games they want.”
The Blue Jays signed Stewart for his heart as much as his physical ability, General Manager Pat Gillick said. That is why Gillick says he didn’t worry when Stewart won only 12 games with a 4.44 earned-run average and suffered two groin injuries, a strained hamstring and a strained right forearm during the season.
Gillick was there July 30 when Stewart gave up 11 hits and six earned runs against Detroit. Instead of worrying about his own problems, Stewart came into the clubhouse to comfort teammate Todd Stottlemyre, who feared he was going to be traded. Gillick looked on in disbelief when Stewart received permission to skip the workout before his scheduled start in Game 6 of the American League playoffs so he could serve dinner at a homeless shelter.
“He’s the most remarkable athlete I’ve ever dealt with in my life,” agent Tony Attanasio said. “The Blue Jays bought a reputation, and what they discovered is, the character they bought is much more.”
Meanwhile, the Athletics lost 94 games. And Stewart is back in the World Series for the fourth time in six years.
“He’s the Michael Jordan of October,” Blue Jay right fielder Joe Carter said. “Really, it’s like he belonged right away. The only strange part was seeing him wearing blue. We’ve been so used to him wearing that green and gold, it took a while to get used to.”
Said Phillie starter Terry Mulholland, who will oppose Stewart tonight: “Believe me, I have all the respect in the world for that man. In 1986, he was at a point in his career that you wouldn’t think he would still be around in 1993, let alone three World Series.”
Stewart firmly believes the Series will be over tonight.
“I feel real confident about going on the field,” Stewart said, “and I know my teammates do, too. This is very attractive to me. That’s why I’m not even nervous. You get nervous when you don’t really want to be in a situation, not when you’re looking forward to it.
“Believe me, I’m treating this just like it’s Game 7. I know we’ve got the luxury of a loss, but you don’t want to think like that. That’s like playing with a burner that needs gas. If you light the match at the wrong time, it can blow up in your face.
“As you know, that’s not my style.”
* MARIANO DUNCAN
The contented Phillie infielder will gladly take to his new role tonight--designated hitter. C12
* BASEBALL REPORT
Phillie starter Curt Schilling was feeling ill before making the Blue Jays sick in Game 5. C12