- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
After O'Brien and Hendricks reached a basic contract agreement in late February, O'Brien got the approval of owner George Argyros. Only then did O'Brien tell Manager Rene Lachemann. The reaction? "I'd say acceptance but not enthusiasm," says O'Brien.
Perry arrived at the Mariners' camp in Tempe, Ariz. on March 5, two full weeks after the other pitchers. Picking him up at the airport was Seattle's traveling secretary, Lee Pelekoudas, whose father, former National League Umpire Chris Pelekoudas, was the first to body-search Perry. "Now I can get even with his son," Perry told Lee.
He was supposedly there on a make-the-team-or-say-goodby basis, but there's every reason to believe O'Brien was determined to take him north, barring a complete collapse. "If it came down to him or somebody else," says O'Brien, "Gaylord would get the benefit of the doubt." Despite a nightmarish spring debut—Perry walked six in three innings in a 12-3 loss to the Cubs—there was no doubt. He threw superbly against the Angels and in a B game against Oakland, and he signed a Mariner contract. "Even if he was an unknown pitcher he would've made the club based on his performance," says O'Brien.
Perry's contract is unusual and certainly piddling for a player of his magnitude. His base salary is $50,000, with monthly increments that could earn him $200,000 if he pitches the entire season. But he's still on a month-to-month arrangement and living with the threat of release if he goes into a slump. "You've just got to wonder about the judgment of some baseball people, who literally shovel money at some guys and not at a proven performer like Gaylord," says Hendricks.
"He's been more than a model citizen," says Lachemann, who's six years Perry's junior. That first became evident to the manager when Perry uncomplainingly joined the Mariners' aerobics exercise program in spring training. "Gaylord's not a bad dancer, either," says Lachemann.
Nor was he a bad pitcher in his first two regular-season starts. Although he lost 5-3 to Oakland and 3-2 to California, he went the route in both games. Victory No. 298 and No. 1 as a Mariner came on April 20 when he fanned a club-record 13 in a 6-4 defeat of the Angels, with relief help from Mike Stanton. After a no-decision in his next start, Perry nailed No. 299 with a 6-3 win over the Yankees in New York, Reliever Bill Caudill getting the final out.
If Perry was tight in the days before last week's game, he didn't show it. On Wednesday afternoon he exchanged pleasantries with President Reagan, who telephoned during a press conference at the Dome. The two were old friends, Perry having done some gubernatorial campaigning for Reagan in 1970. ( Richard Nixon also called the clubhouse with good wishes before the game.) Perry spent the early part of Thursday afternoon with Blanche and Amy at the Bellevue, Wash, hotel where he's been living, and they were at the ball park by 4 o'clock. "For some reason, my mother loves watching him warm up," said Amy. He did give them a show, though, by hitting a batting-practice home run. "Anybody can hit one out of here," said Perry. "That just shows what a tough place it is to pitch." Perry did his best to avoid interviews, but he was congenial enough when cornered at his locker stall, in which hangs a T shirt bearing the inscription 300 WINS IS NOTHING TO SPIT AT.
"He was so nice the entire day, my mother and I figured he'd get bombed," said Amy. But Perry's teammates were thinking positively. "This opportunity doesn't exactly come along once a season," said DH Richie Zisk before the game. "We'll be ready."
They were. The Mariners got Perry five runs in the third and two more in the seventh. Perry was in real trouble only in the eighth, when the Yanks loaded the bases with one away. Out came cleanup hitter John Mayberry, and down he went on three pitches, the last one a fastball. Catcher Bud Bulling hadn't called for that pitch, but Perry routinely shakes off 60 to 80 pitches a game. Two infield singles scored a pair of runs before Perry induced Roy Smalley to fly to left.
Once he got out of the eighth, Perry had clearly scaled the mountain. The fans chanted "Gay-lord! Gay-lord!" as he took the mound in the ninth, and even the old stoic admitted, "I got the chills." In the bullpen, Caudill considered leading his crew into the dugout to show Perry they had confidence in him. Up in the stands, Jim Perry—the other half of the combination that has won more games (515) than any other baseball brother act—proclaimed it was all over. Blanche was smiling confidently. On the mound, Gaylord Perry thought about the things Gaylord Perry always thinks about. "I just wanted to stay ahead of the hitters and not walk anybody. I didn't want their power to get up."