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20 years ago, in October 1989, when the earthquake in San Francisco halted the World Series, Centervile's Kelly Downs, a Giants pitcher, was pictured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, carrying his 11-year-old nephew off the field.

Walking through the runway into the San Francisco Giants dugout, Kelly Downs was jolted so much that his head bumped against the wall.

In the Candlestick Park seats, Billy Kehl heard loud noises that sounded as if the fans above him were stomping, then looked down to see popcorn bouncing around his feet.

Twenty years later, the Bay Area earthquake that killed dozens of people, injured thousands more and stopped the World Series still resonates with them. They made the cover of Sports Illustrated, showing the pitcher carrying his 11-year-old nephew after the Giants' families made their way to the field, and their emotions of that evening remain strong.

Kurt Kragthorpe
Kurt Kragthorpe

"I was not happy," Kehl said. "I wanted to get out of there so fast."

Halted about a half-hour before Game 3's scheduled start, the Series did not resume for 10 days, until the stadium was deemed safe. The Oakland A's swept the Giants in four games and Downs remembers nearly every pitch he threw, including the two that Dave Henderson and Jose Canseco knocked out of the park.

Yet that's not what really sticks with him.

"I get goose bumps still, talking about it," he said recently in his home in Davis County, joining his nephew in reliving the experience.

Lying in bed the next few nights, Downs was shaken every time he would feel an aftershock, wondering, "Is this the big one again?"

By the Series' end, less than two weeks later, the pitcher -- already slender, at 6-feet-4 and 200 pounds -- had lost 22 pounds. "With all the pressure of the Series and everything going on, I couldn't eat, because of all the stress," he said.

Kehl was just glad to go back home to Riverton, after the excitement of attending the World Series was replaced by fear. The following year, when a small quake shook Oquirrh Hills Middle School, he was rattled again by flashbacks. "The rolling's all right," he said, "but the sound, I'll always remember that."

Billy's mother is a sister of Downs' wife, Shelley, and they were among some two dozen relatives with tickets for the Giants' first home game of the Series. It was intended to be a family celebration for Downs, a Viewmont High School product in his fourth season with the Giants. After a successful year as a starting pitcher, Downs moved into the bullpen and won Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, working four scoreless innings against the Chicago Cubs.

He had shut out the A's for two innings in Game 2, although the Giants lost 5-1. So he was eagerly awaiting his next chance to pitch when the earthquake hit, knocking out electricity.

After some 40 minutes, while the stadium was emptying, the families gathered on the field and the players were told to head home without even changing out of their uniforms. Downs remembers a slow drive down the coast to Palo Alto, with an eerie, blood-colored moon above.

While the A's relocated to their spring training facility in Arizona, the Giants stayed home. They joined in community events during what Downs described as "a tough 10 days" that included his 29th birthday.

When Game 3 finally was played, Downs "gave up a couple bombs," he said, managing to smile about the 13-7 defeat.

He had shoulder surgery the next spring and would pitch four more years in the major leagues -- two with Oakland, including an ALCS appearance in 1992. He pitched well in a brief stint in '94 with Minnesota's Triple-A affiliate, the Salt Lake Buzz, but chose to retire.

Having started a construction company with a brother-in-law during his baseball days, Downs is the vice president of Greene's Inc. in Woods Cross. The job's demands recently forced him to give up part-time baseball coaching, after he helped at Viewmont and Salt Lake Community College.

Kehl, now 31, spent five years in the Marines, then worked for Downs in construction before moving into law enforcement, which he believes is "my ultimate calling." An adult parole and probation officer and a reserve member of the Ogden City Police Department, Kehl has been motivated in his vocational search by his feelings as a child in '89, when his uncle, the baseball player, comforted him.

"I don't want anybody to be that scared," he said.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Bay Area quake -- a look back

» San Francisco's biggest earthquake since 1906, variously reported at 6.9 and 7.1 on the Richter scale, struck at 5:04 p.m. Pacific time on Oct. 17, 1989, about 30 minutes before the scheduled first pitch Game 3 of the World Series.

» The earthquake caused 63 deaths and nearly 4,000 injuries, mostly resulting from freeway collapses.

» The Series resumed 10 days later in San Francisco, with Oakland completing a four-game sweep.

» Viewmont graduate Kelly Downs made three relief appearances for the Giants in the Series, allowing four earned runs (all in Game 3) in 4 2-3 innings.

» Having been released by the both the Giants and A's, Downs retired in 1994 with a 57-53 record and 3.86 ERA in eight seasons in the major leagues.