You grind, you hope, you pray, you wait, you dream of this from the time you first pick up a Wiffle Ball.
That was what Mark Langston, the former Angel left-hander, was saying Friday on the eve of the World Series in this first real October of a 15-year career in which he had made 432 regular-season appearances but had never pitched in a postseason game.
Never, that is, until he pitched 1 1/3 shutout innings in three relief appearances as the San Diego Padres defeated the Houston Astros in the division series and the Atlanta Braves in the National League championship series.
And now, with Game 1 of the World Series tied in the seventh inning at Yankee Stadium--center stage, as teammate Jim Leyritz has described it--he was provided the ultimate October opportunity only to have that dream turn into a . . .
“No, it’s not a nightmare,” Langston said. “Obviously, I’m disappointed and frustrated.
“The results aren’t what I wanted, but we still have six games left and nobody in this room doesn’t believe that we can’t come back from this.
“It’s all about doing your job, and tonight I didn’t.”
He was standing at his locker Saturday night, responding to the same questions from waves of reporters after the New York Yankees had defeated the Padres, 9-6, with a seven-run seventh in which Chuck Knoblauch hit a three-run, game-tying homer off Donnie Wall and Tino Martinez won it by slugging a grand slam on a full-count fastball from Langston.
As the man said, he didn’t do the job--or did he?
His previous pitch, a 2-2 fastball, seemed to cut the heart of the plate at the knees, but umpire Rich Garcia called it the third ball.
“I thought it was right there when I threw it, and I’ve already seen it a thousand times on replays and am even more certain about it,” said Langston, meaning he thought he had Martinez struck out for what would have been the third out, leaving the score tied, 5-5.
On the bench, when Langston didn’t get the call on 2 and 2, Manager Bruce Bochy was seen exclaiming, “Where the hell was that?”
Langston also barked at Garcia, who had no response.
“It was obviously a big pitch,” Langston said, “but I’ve been in plenty of situations where I’ve not had a call go my way and I know you have to push it aside and execute the next pitch. I didn’t and that was the difference in the game. I executed on 2-2 but not 3-2.
“I was trying to get another fastball down and away but left it right in his wheelhouse. Horrible location. I can cry about the call, but it would just be sour grapes.”
Said pitching coach Dave Stewart: “The pitcher concentrates on making the right pitch hoping the guy making the call is concentrating just as much. I thought it could have gone either way.
“Maybe Mark was still upset. He was trying to go with the same pitch but didn’t put it in the same place. He’s a veteran pitcher who knows that he’s not going to get every call, but that was a situation where he had no place to put Martinez and was forced to come in with the count full.”
There were other problems for Stewart and the Padres in this game. They built a 5-2 lead on three home runs off David Wells, but ace Kevin Brown, whom they hoped to start three times if the Series went seven games, weakened while fighting a sinus infection Stewart didn’t know about before the game--"It’s up to him to tell me if he doesn’t think he can pitch"--and middle reliever Wall extended his recent ineffectiveness, complicating the tired arm that has sidelined Dan Miceli since he gave up a slam to Andres Galarraga in Game 4 of the NLCS.
“Every game we’ve lost in the postseason, we’ve had a tough seventh inning,” Stewart said. “If we can’t count on our middle relievers, we have a problem.
"[Wall and Miceli] have brought us this far, but this has become a repeated thing with [Wall], and we may have to look for an alternative.”
It is not easy to find out against a team that has won 122 games this year.
Wall replaced Brown (his future availability wasn’t clear late Saturday) in the seventh and promptly gave up the Knoblauch homer.
A Derek Jeter single brought in Langston, who popped up Paul O’Neill, but a wild pitch forced an intentional walk to Bernie Williams, followed by an unintentional walk to Chili Davis, setting the stage for Martinez.
Langston, 38, had spent eight seasons with the Angels, but repeated knee problems led to his free agency and signing by San Diego.
He was starting on a regular basis when shelled by Milwaukee on Aug. 22 and informed Padre brass that he was quitting only to be talked out of it by Bochy, Stewart and General Manager Kevin Towers.
Langston ultimately finished the season 4-6, with a 5.86 earned-run average for 22 appearances, six out of the bullpen.
“I didn’t want to be the weak link on a great team,” he said of his temporary decision to quit, “but half an hour later they fired me up to stay.
"[Padre coach] Davey Lopes told me, ‘As long as you play, you owe it to yourself to be out there when your team clinches a playoff spot.’ I thank him every day.”
This, too, he was saying before Saturday night, when the Martinez slam brought painful reminders of Luis Sojo’s bases-loaded hit that helped lift the Seattle Mariners over the Angels in the 1995 division playoff game, Langston ending up on his back at home plate in the Kingdome.
He was standing after his first World Series appearance, but his team was reeling.