Old pro Andersen shakes off nerves

October 13, 1993|By Rich Hofmann | Rich Hofmann,Knight-Ridder News Service

ATLANTA -- He is 40 years old. They have been paying him to play baseball for 23 years now, more than 13 of them in the major leagues. Larry Andersen has seen just about everything that there is to see in this game. Twice.

So why was he so nervous?

Seven organizations, eight stops -- from Cleveland to Pittsburgh to Seattle to Philadelphia to Houston to Boston to San Diego to Philadelphia again. He's pitched in big games before -- playoffs, World Series, the whole thing. He's a funny guy. He's an experienced guy. And on a team with a young pitching staff, Andersen's role as a wise head/big brother/teacher for some of them has been noticed by the people who sign his checks, noticed and appreciated.

So why was he shaking?

"Why? Because I was scared to death," Andersen said.

He had just gotten his first save in more than a year. He had pitched an anxious-but-perfect 10th inning against the Braves, a team that refuses to exit before there is blood on the floor -- yours, theirs, someone's. He had protected the one-run lead in a 4-3 victory. He had gotten the final out, a called third strike on Ron Gant, with a split-finger fastball -- a pitch he never throws in games.

But he'd started off like a kid. He'd started off too fast. The adrenalin pumped, but it was more than that. He'd never been in this kind of situation all year, but that wasn't everything.

"I'm scared to death every time I go out there," Andersen said. "Well, maybe not scared to death. But I'm nervous. I'm always nervous. Anybody who says they're not nervous is lying. It just depends on how you use it.

"It can help you. It can hurt you. It really has to do with the male ego, or maybe any ego, but there's a fear of failure. Everybody has it."

Otis Nixon was the first guy Andersen faced. He knew the imperative here. He knew it in the bullpen as he was warming up. He also knew he had better stuff than he did on Saturday, when two of his first three warm-up pitches bounced away from the catcher, down the line and into the Phillies' dugout. That was the day Andersen pitched to four Braves and retired only one.

Back to the imperative: Keep Nixon off base. Don't walk him -- because second base would be his. "I knew it," Andersen said. "It goes back to what Lefty [Steve Carlton] used to tell me: 'The thought precedes the action.' "

He knew it. Don't walk Nixon -- because he'll take second, and because if Nixon gets on, you'll probably be looking at needing to get Fred McGriff out to end the game.

He knew it.

Ball one.

He knew it.

Ball two.

You could see the nerves, see them in his facial expressions, in his demeanor, in all of it. He has pitched well this year as the right-handed setup guy (3-2, 2.92 ERA) -- very well on most nights, and very often in any case. But in the last little while, he has looked, more than anything, like a 40-year-old guy with 64 appearances.

He hasn't been good lately, and now he was nervous, too. Catcher Darren Daulton saw it. He called time.

"I started off just rushing too much," Andersen said. "One of the keys to those guys is keeping Nixon off base -- especially in a one-run game, in extra innings. I just got ahead of myself. I was saying to myself, 'Come after him hard.' But I came after him too hard.

"Bubba came out and said, 'The beer's on ice. It'll stay cold. Just take your time.'

"It's just instinctive," Andersen said. "The adrenalin is pumping. I could hear half the stadium doing the Tomahawk Chop. I'm deaf in one ear, so I couldn't hear the other half."

From then on, the inning was his. He got Nixon to fly out to right field; there are few bigger outs than that one. Then he struck out Jeff Blauser. Then he got two strikes on Ron Gant.

That's when Daulton signaled for the splitter.

"He throws it between innings," Daulton said. "He has good command of it. And it was like Ron Gant didn't know he had it -- because he really doesn't."

Andersen's reaction?

"I reached down, picked up my jaw, got my composure and threw it," he said. "At that point, I figured, 'Why not?' I was getting my slider up. If you do that too much to Gant, he can hit it out."

So, he threw the splitter.

Gant still hasn't moved.

It was as fitting an ending as any for a guy who survives mostly on guile these days. It was the ultimate -- throwing a pitch he doesn't have, getting a save even though he doesn't get saves anymore.

The next closer?

"No, Mitch [Williams] can have it," Andersen said. "Give me a 10-run lead with nobody on base any time. This was my 50th career save. That vaults me a lot closer to the Hall of Fame."

Not to mention the World Series. In all the talk that has surrounded this series with the Braves, much of the focus has been on the Braves' on-paper superiority, which is fine. The part that Andersen says he doesn't get is the widespread belief down here -- and in a lot of places -- that a Braves' victory in the series was inevitable.

"What has surprised me is the talk that we don't have a chance," Andersen said. "I don't think there's any question that they have more talent than we do. That's the truth. I don't think anyone would disagree with that.

"But you can't measure heart and guts and fight and attitude. People think we're just a bunch of goofy characters. More has been said about that than about what fighters we are . . .

As he packed up for home, Andersen handed something to Frank Coppenbarger, the Phillies' clubhouse manager. "You got a place you can put this without bending it?" he asked.

It was the dugout lineup card.

Oct. 11, 1993.

Phils 4, Braves 3.

Another day in the life.

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