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WILL THE BUBBLE EVER BURST?
Jim Kaplan
May 18, 1981
Fernando Valenzuela had to struggle for a while in running his record to 7-0 but, by gum, he got his fifth shutout
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May 18, 1981

Will The Bubble Ever Burst?

Fernando Valenzuela had to struggle for a while in running his record to 7-0 but, by gum, he got his fifth shutout

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In the second, the Mets again loaded the bases, but with two out Valenzuela righted himself by fanning Bob Bailor. He survived the third after yielding a single and a walk. Valenzuela was playing brinkmanship: no runs, but seven runners left on base.

The true test of a pitcher isn't how he pitches when he's on, but whether he survives when he's off. Valenzuela not only survived; he took control. There is a Spanish expression, Camina con los angeles ("He walks with the angels"), that seems to apply to him. Characteristically rolling his eyes heavenward on every pitch, Valenzuela began gaining strength. He retired the side in order in the fourth and fifth. Mixing his fastball, curve and screwball, he gave up harmless singles in the sixth, seventh and eighth and humiliated the Mets in their last turn at bat. First he fanned Doug Flynn, a .346 hitter, by throwing two screwballs for strikes and then crossing him up with a fastball down the middle. Frank Taveras tried to bunt his way on, but succeeded only in grounding to Cey. Reduced to desperation, Lee Mazzilli chased a 3-0 pitch and popped to First Baseman Steve Garvey. Valenzuela had thrown 137 pitches, the most in his big-league career; he looked as if he could have thrown more.

Like a crafty fish, Valenzuela had allowed the Mets a good chase (five walks, seven hits) but no catch. And like frustrated fishermen, the Mets had nothing to show for their efforts but exasperation. Poking hopelessly at screwballs, the power-hitting Kingman fanned three times. When the respected Rusty Staub pinch-hit in the seventh with a runner on second, Dodger Catcher Mike Scioscia asked Valenzuela, "Do you know who this is?" Valenzuela replied, "I know how to pitch him." Staying safely inside on Staub, who likes the ball over the plate, Valenzuela walked him on four pitches.

"The second time around, we'll see," said Mazzilli. The Giants and Astros said the same thing and were shut out. The safest prediction is that he'll be involved in a lot of pitchers' duels. In four of his seven starts the Dodgers have scored no more than two runs. "Fernando said to go out and get them in the first inning, and we got the run for him—what more do we need?" said Dodger Second Baseman Davey Lopes after Friday's win.

Valenzuela has maintained remarkable composure through all of this. On Friday night, with runners on first and second in the seventh, Fernando paused to scan the stands and watch a plane fly overhead. At the end of the game he skillfully handled four different handshakes—an abbreviated soul, a high-five, a low-five and a conventional.

Later, Valenzuela was asked, facetiously, if he thought he could win every game. "That would be very difficult," he said deadpan, "but not impossible." But surely it is impossible. No pitcher is unbeatable. "That's what's so beautiful about Fernando," says Dodger Pitching Coach Ron Perranoski. "Things like him just don't happen." Until this year, anyway.

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