The first time Mark Langston's control deserted him, he was watching The Exorcist in a San Jose, Calif. theater. He squirmed and fidgeted in his seat, elbows pressed tightly to his sides. "For the next six months I was one weird 12-year-old," he says. "I'd look in the mirror and see my eyes changing colors. And every time I heard a rattling in the attic, I'd say, 'Oh no, here it comes.' "
These days, Langston, a 24-year-old Seattle Mariner rookie, is a demon only on the mound. And though he may be an aficionado of trash when it come to films, he doesn't throw junk. He mixes up fast-balls, sliders and hard and soft curves with diabolical brilliance. And he's giving hitters a devil of a time.
His 16 wins against nine losses at week's end were the most in the Mariners' eight-year history. He was five shy of 200 strikeouts and on the verge of becoming the fourth rookie ever to lead the American League in Ks. And he's unfazed that Mets rookie Dwight Gooden's incendiary heat is getting all the ink. Langston understands that playing for the moribund Mariners in the Kingdome, a chamber of horrors about as inviting as a mausoleum, is unlikely to make him a media darling.
Langston favors horror movies because of the tension they build. "I love the intensity," he says. "You know it's around the corner, you know it's going to get you, but you have no idea when it's going to do it."
Opposing batters must experience a similar sense of dread. California's Reggie Jackson calls Langston one of the league's two top lefties. Oakland's Carney Lansford says Langston is the best southpaw he has ever faced. Detroit skipper Sparky Anderson thinks Langston's the best pitcher there is. Period. And Anderson has good reason for holding Langston in such astonishingly high esteem. In two starts against Detroit in August, he surrendered only six hits in 17? innings and struck out 23.
Despite Langston's fearsome reputation, he is usually a very mild fellow. "I call him Pretty Boy," says Mariner catcher Bob Kearney. "He's blond and got one of them nice pretty haircuts. Blows them bubble-gum bubbles. But when he goes out on that mound, he turns from Pretty Boy to Nasty Boy." Kearney's description sounds a lot like Langston explaining why he was a Teenage Werewolf fan: "He was a normal man who could change into an ugly-looking hairy thing—I could relate to that."
Langston likes being frightened, in movie houses and in ball parks. "I love the pressure out there," he says. "I never panic." At week's end he was 12-4 in night games with a 2.66 ERA. Not bad for a kid who was afraid of the dark until junior high.
The "scaredest" he has been in the majors was in his April 7 debut, against Milwaukee. "Loosening up was so nerve-racking I thought I'd go crazy," he recalls. "It was the same kind of scared I felt sitting in Halloween II. But it wasn't a scared scared. It was more like unsure scared." When leadoff batter Paul Molitor struck out, fear did likewise. Langston got his first win by allowing only four hits and two runs in seven innings while striking out five.
On June 15, Langston whiffed seven Rangers in a row. "It was like one-two-three, you're out," says Kearney. "He asks me, 'How'm I doin'?', and all I can answer is, 'Yeah, Wow!'
"His fastball is like The Thing. It jumps out of the cold, and when you go to hack it, you don't know if it's hard and rising or slower and dipping. His slow curve just creeps up on you, like The Blob."