Because of his end-of-the-season tailspin, Kison expected to see little action during the National League playoffs against the Giants. He watched from the bullpen as Pittsburgh won two of the first three games. But when Steve Blass failed to last in the fourth game, Kison was called in. It was the third inning, the score was tied at 5 apiece and it seemed obvious that Danny Murtaugh wanted to save his veteran reliever, Dave Giusti, for the crucial later innings. Kison was to be a stopgap performer, who, hopefully, could manage three outs before someone would pinch-hit for him in the next inning. But Kison handily dispatched the Giants, and Murtaugh, sensing a new character was being written into his scenario, did not replace him when he came to bat in the fourth. Nor did Murtaugh seem overly upset when the skinny rookie wiped out a Buc threat in that inning by hitting a routine ground ball. Kison began fleshing out his part with one scoreless inning after another. When he finally left the game in the seventh in favor of Giusti, Kison had created for himself a leading role in the game. Throwing mostly rising and screwballing fast-balls and a small but quick slider, he had limited the Giants to two hits and no runs in 4? innings, and he was to receive credit for the Bucs' pennant-clinching victory.
Kison's performance had been an unexpectedly adept, professional effort, yet the rookie pitcher seemed not the least impressed either by the circumstances in which he now found himself (besieged by writers) or the batters he had just faced. It was assumed that Kison's coolness on the mound and in postgame interviews was really nothing but a naively constructed facade. This notion sprang in part from Kison's manner (he is quiet to the point of taciturnity) but mostly from his deceptive appearance. At 21, he looks 15. He has a gawky adolescent's body, all arms and legs and little torso. His face is long and fine-boned and dusted with a peachlike fuzz. It is dominated by eyes so wide and blue as to appear unblinking, stunned, with the three-dimensional quality of those animals like gazelles that are only one twitch from flight. Yet Kison is neither timid nor stunned. Nor does he possess an unfathoming innocence akin to Billy Budd's. He is simply a direct, if slightly unfinished, young man, whose parts are well formed if too few. His directness owes only a small debt to innocence and more to an instinct so blunt as to be, at times, brutal. He does or says nothing that is superfluous and, in fact, seems as straight and simple and obvious as the age in which he lives is circuitous and convoluted and devious.
His performance in the playoffs was viewed as the aberration of a novice, owing more to luck and propitious circumstances than to any talent he might possess. So when the World Series began, few people expected Kison to play a prominent part in its resolution. He remained the fledgling rookie on whom a team could hardly rely in the Great American Classic. (Oddly enough, Kison was only eight months younger than Vida Blue, a pitcher of whom people expected a great deal more than he delivered in a similar situation.) Heroics in the World Series were to be the private reserve of veterans like Dock Ellis and were certainly not the domain of a youth who, some said, divested himself of his beard each morning with the aid of only a hot towel. Kison himself did not expect to be used much in the Series. He was even apologetic for the good fortune that had brought him into an event that some of his teammates, like Bob Veale, had worked for a decade to reach. And Veale, who had fallen out of favor with the Pirate management for not having fulfilled his potential, would probably see as little action as Kison.
Bruce enjoyed his anonymity as the Series began in Baltimore. It allowed him to eat his meals in peace and sit unnoticed in the chaotic, baggage-strewn lobby of the Bucs' hotel, watching the spectacle of his first World Series with a detachment that was being denied his more famous teammates. Manny Sanguillen, for instance, could not step from an elevator without being besieged by autograph seekers who were drawn to him as much by his perpetual grin as by his blindingly white panama suit with its lapels approaching the wingspan of a 747. On the other hand, Dock Ellis, a heavy-lidded, petulant-faced man who seemed always bored or angry or maybe just in need of sleep, was too foreboding a presence to be approached for autographs. He always was striding across the lobby with a high-waisted, stomach-thrusting strut to answer a page's "Call for Mr. Dock Ellis!"; or else he was surrounded by sportswriters to whom he was expounding on the qualities of his hotel accommodations, as if he were not just Pittsburgh's starting pitcher in the first game but also a dark-skinned Temple Fielding in wedge-heeled boots. Kison was left largely to himself. He sprawled across his bed and watched television or telephoned his fianc�e in Pittsburgh.
The heavily favored Orioles took the first game handily. They knocked Ellis out of the game in the third inning. In the second game Baltimore was ahead 3-0 when Murtaugh relieved starter Bob Johnson in the fourth. The new pitcher was Bruce Kison. Kison threw nine pitches. Eight of them were balls; he walked one run in and was promptly replaced by Moose. The Orioles won that contest 11-3.
In the locker room after the game, Kison was asked by sportswriters if he had been jittery in his first World Series appearance, and if that hadn't accounted for his wildness. "No," he said, "I just wasn't used to the mound. That might have thrown my control off. But I wasn't nervous." The following day newspapers around the country explained that Kison's wildness was caused by his nervousness at pitching in his first World Series; it was to be expected of a rookie, the writers noted.
The third Series game was played in Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium, one of those perfectly proportioned ovals similar to ancient coliseums but so oppressively modern as to be without odor (except of fresh gypsum); without blemish (no worn patches on the billiard-table surface, no obstructing pillars, no garish advertisements on the outfield fences); and without character (private, glass-enclosed booths are available but are so removed from the action that the occupants can be seen watching the game on portable TV sets). The stadium has rows of brightly painted seats that incline almost straight back, rising away from the playing field like the seats in a movie theater. This puts the spectators beyond the first few rows at a great distance from the field. At such a distance on a muggy afternoon the athletes become blurs of gray and white, gliding in slow motion over a perfect, pale-green cloth, pursuing a baseball that can be heard but not seen, seeming to perform an eerie ballet akin to that of the tennis players in the movie Blow-Up.
In that third game the Orioles managed to get only three hits off Steve Blass and the Bucs had a win at last. Blass, a 29-year-old veteran of modest successes, is regarded by sportswriters as the Bucs' resident wit and intellectual (he is excellent "copy"). He is also a pitcher of only adequate talent but great desire, and he throws the ball with such a flurry of arms and legs that he resembles a young boy trying to impress his elders and willing to fall on his face, if necessary, to do it. Still the Pirate victory was looked upon by many as simply a delaying action, a postponement of the inevitable Oriole triumph.
The fourth game was to be the first night game ever played in a World Series. During batting practice Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn was led to a spot near home plate by some photographers. He was given the monstrous metal World Series trophy to hold and told to stand in that spot until pictures could be taken with the rival managers. When Earl Weaver and Danny Murtaugh appeared on either side of Kuhn, one of the photographers yelled, "O.K., smile, Commissioner," which he did, obligingly. While the commissioner grunted under the immense weight of the trophy and tried to smile at the same time, Murtaugh and Weaver chatted across him and the trophy, as if the trophy, one empty vessel, was suspended solely by another. When the photographers finished, they unceremoniously left the commissioner. Weaver trotted back to his dugout and Murtaugh, his hands stuffed in his back pockets, walked deliberately back to his. The commissioner, still smiling, stood by himself with his prize for a long moment before finally saying, "Dammit, somebody help me with this thing or I'll be standing here all night." Things seemed to be going awry in Pittsburgh and for Pittsburgh.
Starting the game did not help at all. The Orioles scored three runs in the top of the first before Pirate Pitcher Luke Walker was taken out of the game. When his replacement, Bruce Kison, arrived from the bullpen there was an audible groan from the fans. It was as if the appearance of the pink-cheeked rookie signaled Murtaugh's resignation to a Baltimore triumph, and the fact that Kison retired the side with one pitch did little to dissipate the feeling of despair. However, when the Bucs scored two runs in the bottom of the first, the hometown crowd, expecting a speedy substitute for Kison, was encouraged. If Bruce could just manage three outs, Murtaugh could send in a pinch hitter for him in the bottom of the second. Kison, working quickly with his sweeping right-to-left, sidearmed delivery, retired the first two batters. Then Paul Blair hit a pop fly that bounced on the Tartan Turf in front of Roberto Clemente and sprang over his head for a double. Kison, unfazed, got the next batter out on an infield fly.