"I cried, literally cried, when we had to give up Welch," says Lasorda. "I loved him not only as a pitcher but as a human being. But for the last two years we led the league in errors and our bullpen was last in saves, and last season we were last in hitting."
With a better bullpen and added offensive punch, L.A.'s starters can breathe more easily. "In the past, if I gave up a leadoff double or triple, I'd work my rear off to prevent that runner from scoring, knowing it might be the difference in the game," says Hershiser. "I would try to be too fine, take risks and have them blow up in my face." Hershiser is outspoken about how much the Dodgers needed to bolster their lineup with fresh talent. "It wasn't as if there was one thing missing," he says. "There was a ton missing."
"We had so many needs," says Claire in agreement. "But our overriding need was a new attitude."
Enter Gibson. During spring training, before what would have been his first exhibition game with the Dodgers, he stunned the club by exploding in anger and storming off the field after he discovered that someone—Orosco, the merry prankster—had lined the inside of his cap with eye black. Gibson had hoped to make an impression on his new teammates, but he almost ended up making an impression on Orosco's skull.
"As upset as I was—almost out of control—I chose to leave the park, go home and defuse it," says Gibson. "We dealt with it the next day, and some positive things came of it. My whole point was, if you need to play jokes to get yourself ready, fine. But don't involve me."
Has Gibson's glowering intensity rubbed off on the Dodgers? "A lot," says Sax. "He's an absolute force on the team." Gibson credits his Dodger teammates with smoothing his transition from the American League by "making my adjustment period comfortable." For someone known as the Caveman, Gibson puts a high priority on comfort.
"When you're in your comfort zone, you play better," he said before Friday's game. Moments later, responding to a minor attack of discomfort, Gibson was up in arms. Griffin, though not strong enough to be in the lineup, was pitching batting practice and having trouble getting the ball over the plate. "This is horse——!" said Gibson after taking his cuts. "Why do we take BP if we're not going to get anything out of it?" Everyone ignored him.
A few minutes later, Gibson bellowed at a portly and persistent baseball-card photographer: "Get out of here! We told you to quit bothering us!" The photographer appealed to Lasorda. "Tommy, I'll go, but what did I do wrong?" he said.
"I don't know," replied Lasorda. "But when he's like that, you just walk away from him."
"Gibby's always upset before games," says Dempsey. "That's how he gets himself psyched up." If any Dodgers object to these displays of spleen, they have kept their mouths shut, because Gibson's methods work. After having homered twice against the Cubs in Game 2 of last week's series, he doubled and scored a run in Game 3.