Welch hinted at greatness quickly at ‘Stick

Great moment No. 1 in the late Bob Welch’s career was, of course, his strikeout of Reggie Jackson that sealed the Los Angeles Dodgers’ triumph over the New York Yankees in Game 2 of the 1978 World Series.

Great moment No. 2 for Welch very well could have occurred during that same year. It was a performance against the Giants that helped re-establish the Dodgers’ footing in the National League West.

Saturday, Aug. 5 dawned with the Giants leading the West by two games over second-place Cincinnati. Los Angeles, the reigning division champions, occupied third place, 4 1/2 games behind the Giants. The Dodgers appeared to be reeling, having slipped closer to fourth place (San Diego trailed them by four games) than first.

Then Bob Welch took the mound at Candlestick Park.

The Giants clearly were overdosing on momentum. They captured one-run decisions in the first two games of a four-game series against the Dodgers. The pitching matchup for game three of the series seemed to favor the Giants. Ed Halicki, a 16-game winner the year before who had a respectable 3.03 ERA this season, opposed Welch, a rookie making his 13th Major League appearance but just his fourth start. Surely, San Francisco would teach Welch what the Giants-Dodgers rivalry was about.

It didn’t happen that way. Welch pitched his first Major League complete game, allowing nine hits in Los Angeles’ 2-0 victory. In a dress rehearsal for his confrontation with Jackson, Welch struck out Jack Clark, the Giants’ premier slugger, with two runners on base and one out in the ninth inning. The Giants remained in the division race through early September. But the Dodgers did more than just hang around. Welch’s victory began a 20-6 surge that helped propel Los Angeles into first place.

As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Anybody who saw Welch pitch that afternoon sensed that he would make an impact. He certainly did, as his career attested. If more pitchers like him come along, baseball fans should be so lucky.

Chris Haft

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