"The press and the Bay Area fans really tore into me," says Knepper. "The criticism came so fast and hit me so hard that I couldn't cope. I retreated within myself. I quit being outgoing and aggressive."
Knepper also decided to change his pitching style, to rely on finesse rather than on power. "When I was younger, I hadn't learned how to pitch," he says. "I was just throwing hard. I've finally realized that on the mound I have a phlegmatic personality, that I have to hunker down and get guys out with sinking stuff."
After winning just 20 games all told in his first three seasons with Houston, Knepper finally regained his form. He won 15 in both 1984 and '85, and then matched his career high with 17 in '86 as the Astros won the Western Division title. However, during the Championship Series with the New York Mets, Knepper again fell victim to his psyche, suffering a tremendous letdown after the Astros' 7-6, 16-inning loss in Game 6. For eight brilliant innings, Knepper held the Mets scoreless, giving up just two singles. But he was knocked out in the ninth.
"I was too emotionally drained to cry," Knepper says. "I felt as though I'd blown a game that would have been the pinnacle of my career. I was always tagged as the guy who couldn't handle pressure, somebody who wouldn't kill to win. I just wanted to be accepted as a quality pitcher."
Knepper replayed the game time and again that off-season—while doing ranch work, watching TV and lying in bed. "All of a sudden, he would shake his head and close his eyes," says Terri. "It was one of the hardest periods of our married life. It was difficult to understand why we had to experience such a sick, sorrowful, lost feeling."
The depression affected his preparation for 1987. He refused to work out, and by season's end he had established career highs for losses (17) and ERA (5.27). This past off-season, though, Knepper trained with a vengeance. Outside one of his barns, he filled a tub with 130 baseballs and fired them one by one at the aluminum siding. He also converted a two-car garage into a high-tech workout room. Although he was well prepared physically and mentally for this season, his early success scares Knepper. He says he is beginning to hear himself think out there.
"The last few outings, my mechanics haven't felt right, and I catch myself wondering," he says. "On some pitches I'll remind myself if I give up just one run, my ERA will go up. On others I'll tell myself, Hey, one shutout and your ERA will be even less!
"I've always been afraid of success. Right now, I have a fear of my own ego. I don't know of anybody who isn't affected by success, from Jimmy Swaggart to Nolan Ryan. I wonder, Will I like success too much? Will I want more fame? More money?"
One thing that hasn't seemed to bother Knepper, surprisingly, is the commotion over his remarks about Postema. And the uproar does seem to have diminished. The signs in ballparks have become scarce (one reads: BOB, IS YOUR WIFE UMPIRING TODAY?), and though several pickets were spotted outside Veterans Stadium when Knepper was scheduled to pitch in Philadelphia in April, a women's rally, scheduled for Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium, was rained out. "That's what God ordained," says Knepper. He laughs off being nominated for Neanderthal of the Year by the Houston chapter of the National Organization for Women.
"NOW is such a blowhard organization," he says. "They are a bunch of lesbians. Their focus has nothing to do with women's rights. It has everything to do with women wanting to be men."