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The only thing riding on the game was the individual stats of the players. Buckner and Valentine were in contention for the batting title; Paciorek needed one RBI to reach 100; and I needed to strike out 27 in a row to have a chance at extending my career.
It hardly figured to be the grand climax that I fantasized about when Paul Owens signed me to a bonus contract in 1965. At my departure there would be no tearful farewell speeches, no station wagon loaded with gifts for me and the family, no deferred payments through 1990, no World Series ring, just an aching shoulder, my picture on a Phillies baseball card and a couple of scrapbooks full of nice memories of my brush with glory.
I wanted to go out in style, though, do something dramatic for my swan song. I considered clutching my heart and staggering to the ground when I took the mound to illustrate the symbolic death of a "can't-miss" prospect. I discarded that idea, however, figuring neither baseball nor the Spokane fans would be interested in such theatrics.
I felt rebellious enough just coming to the ballpark with a four-day beard. Those were the days of no long hair and no agents (free, legal or otherwise). Bowie Kuhn wanted to keep his button-down empire in line. (Earlier in that '70 season, Hank McGraw, Tug's older brother, a catcher-first baseman for the Emeralds, the Phillies' Eugene, Ore. farm team, was suspended for refusing to get his hair trimmed. He was batting .305 with 14 homers and 49 RBIs at the time.)
Abandoning my normal pregame ritual, which included abstaining from beer, wine or hard liquor, I warmed up for my farewell appearance by downing a couple of Coors in the clubhouse. I figured it would help to ease the trauma of facing the end.
Choked with emotion, I trotted to the mound for the start of my final fling. All but a handful of the Spokane fans had chosen to skip this important event in my life, but after five years in the minor leagues I knew the pleasure of working in privacy.
The first few innings went smoothly enough. Valentine, the players' pick as the best prospect in the league, drilled a couple of singles to sew up the batting crown. I was happy for him, mainly because I shared the opinion of my teammates that Buckner was a hot dog, second in the league only to Willie Montanez. He was, however, a heck of a hitter, and judging from his 1980 batting title, he still is.
By the bottom of the fifth inning it was obvious that I was struggling. My curve was hanging, my fastball had lost about a yard and a half, and I'd given up a couple of runs. With Garvey leading off and Paciorek to follow, our manager, Whitey Lockman, had a reliever warming up. The end was near.
Standing on the rubber watching Garvey dig in, his Popeye forearms squeezing wood chips out of his Louisville, I decided to dazzle him with my knuckler. It didn't matter to me that I'd never thrown one in a game before. It was my last chance.
I threw him four consecutive floaters, each one dancing through the air like a hummingbird in a summer storm. Unfortunately, none of them came within three feet of the plate. Garvey was on with a walk.