Leyland went with that club to Chicago last Friday for a weekend series against the Cubs. The Wrigley Field weather was so frigid that Ernie Banks, were he still playing, might have suggested that it was a great day to play none.
There were two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Pittsburgh led 3-2. Jerome Walton was on first for Chicago. Ryne Sandberg came to the plate. Walton was running with the first pitch. Leyland had called a pitchout. Walton was meat at second. Game over. Sandberg's bat was as useful as the aforementioned Garden Weasel. "I guessed." Leyland later said. "I was lucky."
Now you needn't have been paying attention last weekend to notice that 1) if recycled, Harry Caray's eyeglasses could provide enough material for three coffee tables and a bus windshield, and 2) it wasn't luck that Leyland possessed. "That takes stomach," says Simmons. "I think he's the best manager in baseball."
Which is why Leyland was given a five-year contract extension in January. He will be winning in 1997 regardless of who is on his roster. At times the roster hardly seemed to matter this season. Leyland has wrung a .529 batting average and seven RBIs out of reserve outfielder Cecil Espy, who has a lifetime average of .400 as a pinch hitter. "The big thing is to contribute whether you're out there every day or coming in to pinch-hit," Espy says. "Everybody here realizes that. That's what makes this team what it is."
And what the Pirates are on Saturday is a vaudeville act. One out. The game is scoreless in the top of the sixth. Gibson, on first, is running on the pitch to Jay Bell. Bell hits the ball behind the balding Gibson, whose helmet has fallen off behind him. The ball hits the helmet, then caroms directly to Cub second baseman Sandberg. Sandberg throws to third baseman Chico Walker, well ahead of Gibson, who has no idea what has happened. The last he could see, the ball was screaming for rightfield. Caught in a rundown, Gibson remains alive long enough for Bell to reach second. The next batter, Van Slyke, doubles Bell home for the game's only run. Pirates win 1-0.
Afterward Van Slyke plays a tape of the Gibson rundown five times on the clubhouse VCR with the volume at high decibels, delighting with everyone as WGN's Steve Stone says over and over on the TV: "The Cubs are lucky that Gibson doesn't have much hair. If he had more hair, he might have kept his helmet on."
Gibson pats his head and says, "I gotta get some Velcro. Maybe I'll just paint a helmet on." Everybody laughs, then either returns to his locker or moves toward the buffet.
These are the Pirates. Still winning. Never getting too high, never getting too low. Leave it to Van Slyke to turn that clich� into an entry for John Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. "The key is to play like Nebraska," he says. "Just as flat as you can."