Hero's pedestal is safe with late-night Lemke


October 24, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

ATLANTA -- Lemke?

Are you serious?

I read about a guy who won his second lottery jackpot, and they said the odds against were one in a couple trillion, and then you tell me about Lemke.

This is a guy who was drafted in the 27th round, who took five years to get out of Class A, who's a .225 lifetime hitter, who thought he might get sent down in spring training, who is known as a defensive replacement and who is the hero of consecutive World Series games, both of which ended yesterday.

This was the big sequel in town. Forget "Scarlett."

Forget the chop.

What we've got is Lemke, who ends the 12-inning telethon with a single for the Braves' first win and then triples in the ninth and scores the winner for the Braves' second win.


Here's what the guy did -- he scores the winning run on a fly ball to medium right when Twins catcher Brian Harper tags him with his elbow. A funny thing about that. Tagging a guy with the elbow doesn't get it, unless you're holding the ball with it.

A lot of guys screamed, but the call was right. The ball was a little up the line, and Lemke -- Lemke? -- wins the game. It was the fourth play at the plate in the game, and the first that scored.

"He made a hell of a play to catch the ball, but if he does it one-handed and swipes, he makes the play," said Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench, who's here working for CBS Radio.

Is this odd? Sure, it is.

Well, when the going gets tough, the weird turn pro, as the sage once said.

It started getting strange as soon as the teams got to Atlanta. Maybe it's the group outside the stadium that plays the tom-tom all night long, a right they won in a radio contest. I'm trying to imagine what second prize was.

Maybe it's Jane Fonda. Jane, as promised, was not chopping. But she was moving her hand up and down, which was more like bopping, as the crowd went into its war cry, which sounds most like moaning. Jane never can quite get it right.

Anyway, we began here with the 12-inning game in which Twins manager Tom Kelly runs out of players. He has to pinch hit a pitcher because he wasted half his reserves in complicated double-switch moves designed, apparently, to make people believe he could manage in the DH-less National League. Let's just say he didn't make any converts.

And, as it happened, Tuesday was followed by Wednesday, and last night, the sequel, brought us three -- count 'em -- runners tagged out at the plate and a pitcher (John Smoltz) who goes to a shrink. Actually, it's a sports psychologist who sits behind home plate every time Smoltz pitches. He's the one wearing a red shirt. You can see Smoltz either sneaking peeks at the shrink or he's looking at the catcher trying to pick up the signs.

Dr. Jack Llewellyn came onto the scene at the All-Star break when Smoltz was 2-11 and not allowed to stay on a high floor when the team checked into a hotel. Dr. Jack taught him something called positive visualization, and before you pull a rabbit out of a hat, Smoltz was a great pitcher. Smoltz was 12-2 in the second half, 2-0 in the playoffs and last night pitched seven innings in his first Series start.

Smoltz was in and out of trouble, and you could see him wishing that Dr. Jack had a beeper.

He might have won the game himself if it hadn't been for his two teammates thrown out at the plate in the fifth inning. Lonnie Smith -- yes, that Lonnie Smith, old Skates himself, for whom each step is an adventure -- waited too long at second base as Terry Pendleton's hit went over the head of the center fielder. He waited just long enough to get thrown out at the plate in a violent collision with Harper, who used more than his elbow this time on the tag.

A play later, Pendleton, who wound up on third, tried to score on a pitch that bounced away from Harper, who tagged him out.

Harper was on a roll, but it didn't last.

"If I went directly at the catcher, I'd have been out," Lemke said.

He went around him, and Harper couldn't get the tag.

The strangest thing was that Lemke got to third. He was up late the night before, or the morning before, reliving the moment with his family and friends. He said he was pretty tired by the time he got to the ballpark. It didn't show in the ninth, by which time it looked like another game might last forever. He pounded the ball to left-center and just kept on running. And he got home when Jerry Willard -- Jerry Willard? -- got the winning sacrifice fly.

And now the Series is tied 2-2. This worst-to-first business just won't end.

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