SEATTLE - Dr. Davey said he had the right formula, but it looked more like a solution for Flubber than for a victory. The formula? Open the Division Series against the Seattle Mariners with three of your starters - your three best hitters - on the bench.
It doesn't matter that sitting down left-handed hitters Rafael Palmeiro, B.J Surhoff and Roberto Alomar had worked the other times the Baltimore Orioles had faced hard-throwing left-hander Randy Johnson this season. This was the playoffs, and to see a team essentially say our best hitters aren't good enough to play was unsettling.
But Davey Johnson, the mad scientist running the Orioles, was convinced he had the right mixture for this particular situation: Jerome Walton for Palmeiro at first, Jeff Reboulet for Alomar at second and Jeffrey Hammonds for Surhoff in right field. He was willing to bear the brunt of the explosion if it blew up in his face.
"That's why they pay me the big money to make these kinds of decisions," Johnson said before the game. "If it doesn't work, then I'll take the fall."
There would be no fall. It worked big time as the Orioles stomped the mighty Randy Johnson and his fearsome fastball 9-3 at the Kingdome to take a 1-0 lead in the Division Series.
Now they will sing the praises of Dr. Davey and marvel at his genius. They might even nominate him for a Nobel Prize, which he might have to share with winner Mike Mussina. Mussina also was a big part of the success of the formula, striking out nine and walking none, allowing just two runs in seven innings, and getting the mighty Ken Griffey out three times on two weak infield hits and a foul pop. The evidence was there that it would work. Baltimore had won all three games. Randy Johnson started against them this year with its revamped right-handed lineup. But the stakes were much higher now, and Dr. Davey was going to bench 72 home runs and 258 RBI in favor of three hitters who had a combined 28 home runs and 91 RBI.
Heck, Palmeiro alone (38 home runs, 110 RBI) had better numbers than the Dr. Davey's experimental trio.
"I'll bet no one in history has ever started a playoff series by sitting down their leading home run hitter and RBI guy," said general manager Pat Gillick. "But it's the logical thing to do." The numbers were logical. Palmeiro is just 1-for-21 lifetime against Johnson, Surhoff 2-for-12 and Alomar 8-for-37. And since Alomar, normally a switch-hitter, is restricted to batting just left-handed because of a injured left shoulder, it would only be worse.
"Randy Johnson is the most intimidating pitcher in baseball, particularly to left-handed hitters, so I'm going with my right-handers," Dr. Davey said before the game. "It's a decision I can live with."
The Mariners couldn't live with it, though, and Randy Johnson seemed like the intimidated one. Hammonds walked twice and scored twice. Reboulet delivered a key two-strike sacrifice bunt that put the runners in scoring position for Eric Davis's two-run single in the top of the fifth that gave the Orioles a 4-1 lead. Walton went hitless in two at-bats, but the overall idea worked. Johnson left the game after just five innings, having thrown 100 pitches, giving up five runs on seven hits and four walks.
Dr. Davey's formula was working even better than expected. Orioles hitters lit up right-handed reliever Mike Timlin for four more runs. Johnson brought in Palmeiro for Walton, and he hit a double to center. He brought in Alomar for Reboulet, and he received an intentional walk and later scored when Dr. Davey brought in Surhoff, who drove a two-run double down the right-field line in the top of the sixth inning.
By this time, the only noise coming from the crowd of 59,979 - the largest ever for a baseball game at the Kingdone - was booing for their home team. So not only had Dr. Davey handled Randy Johnson, he had now turned the usually frenzied Seattle crowd against the Mariners. The formula was almost Einstein-like in it's execution.
The only question that remains is where last night's lineup card should wind up - the National Baseball Hall of Fame or in a science exhibit at the Smithsonian.