In the first inning on Thursday night, Piazza comes to bat in a minifunk of his own. Entering the season, Piazza was a career .334 hitter with 168 home runs and 533 runs batted in. Last year his numbers were positively gaudy: .362, 40 homers, 124 RBIs. As a catcher who worked in 152 games. As he steps in, slow and sure, to face Portugal, Piazza is batting .290 with nine homers and 30 RBIs. Not up to his standards.
The game is a blur, just 2½ hours long. The starters throw strikes and pitch eight innings each. The Phils lead 2-0 after eight and win 4-0. Piazza goes hitless in his four at bats. In his final chance, in the ninth, he reaches base on an error, on a broken-bat grounder to short. The next batter, Eric Karros, grounds into a fielder's choice and the game is over. Piazza trots off the field and into the clubhouse, frustrated by the loss and by his 0-fer. His batting average is down to .282. He isn't worried. He's had one swing thought for his entire career, and it has never failed him: Swing hard. He undresses and showers. As he walks back to his locker, a trainer says to him, "Fred wants to see you." Fred is Fred Claire, the Dodgers' general manager. Claire never asks to see players after a game unless something's up.
Piazza shakes his head and says, "I've been traded."
It is 10:00 p.m., and for Mike Piazza the day is ordinary no more. The most dumbfounding 24 hours of his life are about to begin.
Turns out Claire wants to see Lankford, too. Lefthander Dennis Reyes is coming back to the team from a stint on the Dodgers AAA team, in Albuquerque, and to make room on the roster, Lankford will be returning to the Yankees organization and to their AAA team, in Columbus, Ohio. Goodbye, Manhattan Beach. Goodbye, bigs. Goodbye, Raiderettes.
THURSDAY, 10:05 P.M.
There are five people in the trainer's office, off the clubhouse. Claire; Bill Russell, the Dodgers manager; Derrick Hall, the team's publicity director; Todd Zeile, the third baseman; and Piazza. Claire, a decent and cautious man, is nervous and to the point: You are both being traded to the Florida Marlins, but it's not official yet.
"For who?" Piazza says.
"I can't say," Claire answers.
"You don't know or you're not saying," Piazza says.