Mark Langston was standing there, waiting, when the Angel clubhouse door swung open. Nobody had to hunt for him. Here I am, the starting pitcher for today's game against Randy Johnson and the Mariners, 1:30 p.m., the Kingdome, Seattle 98104, his body language said. What would you like to know?
"They'll be waiting for you," someone said.
"Good. Tell them we're coming," was Langston's reply.
On May 25, 1989, Langston was traded by Seattle to the Montreal Expos for three other pitchers, Gene Harris, Brian Holman . . . and Randy Johnson. Of all teams, of all pitchers, to face for the right to meet the New York Yankees in an October baseball series. Langston (15-6) vs. Johnson (17-2), winner take all.
In one dugout, a 35-year-old lefty, smooth, self-assured but never before on a winning team, pitching with pain from tendinitis, up in the saddle for Gene Autry's last roundup.
In the other dugout, a 6-foot-10 lefty, cutthroat, cocky, the "Big Unit," tallest man ever to play in the majors, maybe the scariest guy in the game.
Do the Angels dread Randy Johnson?
"I'd like to be optimistic," outfielder Tim Salmon said, "but being realistic, I don't think we're going to score 10 runs, you know?"
Gary DiSarcina was more realistic.
"I wish he'd come up with a stiff arm or something," the Angel shortstop said.
So, away we go. Angels against the devil. Nine innings for the American League West flag, against a pitcher whose team has a record of 26-3 in games that Johnson starts. The ball is in Langston's south paw. He wants it there. The season is at stake and so is his reputation, as a guy you wouldn't necessarily want in a big game.
The ball wasn't given to Langston recently when the Angels had another huge game at Seattle. He was crushed. DiSarcina said, "I know it really hurt him, when they skipped his turn. His whole career, he's wanted to pitch in a game like that."
The reason given was that Langston's arm wasn't sound. Some of the hockey players with whom the pitcher occasionally works out say that Langston is hurting much worse than he lets on. True or false, Langston still wants that ball.
"How's your arm?" he was asked.
"Great," Langston said. "Physically, I feel great. I don't think it even really plays into this. It's the farthest thing from my mind."
This is the game Langston has waited six years to pitch. He signed with the Angels seven months after that three-for-one trade involving Johnson, then little more than a giant from USC. Langston came to Anaheim with great aspirations. So did his wife, an actress-in-training whom Jackie Autry promised to help find Hollywood jobs. California and the Langstons seemed made for each other.
But the psychological clock is ticking.
Being this successful yet still having to prove himself, that perplexes Langston. He said last week, "It kills me when people say I can't pitch in a big game. I've only been in one other situation like this, back in Montreal. So it's not like I've been doing it every year."
Games like this could rattle any pitcher.
"Oh, you're always a little nervous," Langston said.
Angel pitcher Mike Bielecki was eavesdropping.
"That means he'll throw up three times instead of only two," Bielecki called out.
It's good that the Angels can kid. They need to keep loose. Everybody came through Sunday in style. Chuck Finley did his part. The hitters did their part. The Mariners did their part. Do you believe in miracles? Angels do.
Langston looked for words to express what he felt. He said, "I know a lot of people gave up on us . . . and rightly so. We played terrible. But this weekend we played the way we did for three-quarters of a year. I'm so excited. Gosh, everyone here has worked so hard. I'm so proud of these guys.
"You can't ask for anything more. This is a chance of a lifetime. I know what Randy Johnson is capable of. I've pitched against him before. And, obviously, I've pitched up there before. I know that city. They'll be waiting for all of us, not just for me."
For the Angel-Mariner game.
For the Angel-Mariner game.
Langston was asked: "How do you prepare for something like this?"
"There is no preparation," he said. "You just strap it on and go get it."