Wilmington News Journal - April 12, 1980

Luzinski powers Phillies over Montreal in opener


By Hal Bodley, Sports Editor


PHILADELPHIA - Emotion, mostly the unhappy kind, had been swelling inside Greg Luzinski for almost a year. Last night one swing of his bat let it out.


Greg Luzinski blasted a three-run homer in the first inning to lead the Phillies to a spirited 6-3 conquest of Montreal in the season opener.


For Luzinski, it was home run No. 205, but admittedly one of the most important of his career. It signaled the start of a comeback and helped pay off the debt for all the hard work he put in over the winter and in spring training.


Steve Carlton, who had not gone past six innings when the exhibition games were still being played in Florida, turned in an unexpected complete game, although he apparently tired in the ninth inning when Gary Carter cracked a two-run homer.


But the 10th season opener in the Vet's proud history belonged to Greg Luzinski. Frequently booed during the disaster of 1979, the Bull won back the fans in a hurry.


With two down in the first, old Phils' nemesis Steve Rogers walked Garry Maddox and Mike Schmidt. The count went 2-2 on Luzinski who deposited the right-hander's next delivery over the fence in left field with an awesome swing.


As the Bull circled the bases, it was obvious he was juiced. When he rounded third base, he slammed a hand into coach Lee Elia's waiting palm. Then, seconds later he clenched a fist and threw it above his head.


The last time Luzinski showed so much emotion was when he homered against Pittsburgh in 1978 on the day the Phils clinched their third straight National League Eastern Division title.


After Luzinski returned to the dugout, the crowd of 48,460 gave him a standing ovation that lasted nearly a minute. He finally appeared and tipped his cap.


“I was in another world; I don't even remember clenching my fist," he said in he Phils' clubhouse. "I had a lot of emotion inside of me and it had to come out. I really can't tell you what I was thinking when I ran around the bases. It was just a great, great feeling."


Nearly 25 pounds overweight and injured most of the year, Luzinski hit only 18 homers and slumped to a .252 average. His name was frequently mentioned in trade talks and some people said he was washed up.


But at only 29, Luzinski insisted there was plenty of good baseball left in him. He went on a strict diet, going from 238 to 215. He got in the best condition of his life and worked on his batting stroke, the quick, powerful stroke that made him one of the most feared hitters in the league.


"When the count went 2-2, Rogers tried to come in with a pitch," said the Bull. "He was trying to turn a fastball over, so all it was was a slider in. I was able to wait on it and had a good stroke."


"It's the same stroke he had in spring training," said new manager Dallas Green. "It's that quick, powerful stroke that he used to have. I told you that I would bet my house that he would have a great year. Well, tonight, one payment was made."


"In 12 hours we go at them (Expos) again," said Luzinski. "For me, it is important to get off to a good start. That helps make up for what happened last year. It was hard for me to cope with that because it had never happened before."


"Of all the players, the fans wanted him to do well," added Green. "They love that son of a gun."


"The bubble burst," said Luzinski. "No, I wasn't really that surprised by the fans' reaction. I knew they would come back. The year before, they did the same thing to Mike Schmidt. He had a bad year and they booed him. Then, he came back and, they cheered him."


Last night's victory oozed with a blend of baseball basics and an obvious reborn spirit. There was also a hint that the fact all the Phillies remained together in Florida after the players association struck the exhibition games helped. The Expos appeared rusty at times.


Rogers, who had beaten the Phils six straight times before he lost to Carlton last Sept. 30, walked three and was relieved by Stan Bahnsen after six innings.


"We didn't play sharp," said Montreal Manager Dick Williams. "Three of the walks scored, another came across on an error and we messed up a rundown. That's five of their six runs. And Steve Rogers did not get the pitch where he wanted it to Luzinski. That sums it up."


Carlton, who allowed eight hits, could have sailed into the ninth inning with a shutout had Luzinski not fallen in left field racing after Ellis Valentine's hooking liner in the sixth. It became a triple, allowing Rodney Scott to score.


In the ninth, however, Larry Parrish doubled and Carter followed sending Carlton's 2-2 pitch to left field for a homer.


In the third, with Larry Bowa on first, Manny Trillo singled to left. When the Expos trapped Trillo between first and second, Bowa alertly waited and tore home from third, sliding under Carter's tag for the fourth run.


Bake McBride, who had two doubles, drove home Carlton from second and Pete Rose scored on Garry Maddox' sacrifice fly in the seventh to complete the Phils scoring against Bahnsen.


EXTRA POINTS – The victory was the first for the Phils in an opener since 1974 and gave them a 5-5 record at the Vet... Carlton threw 119 pitches... The crowd was. the second largest for an opener in the Vet's history... The largest was 55,352 the day the stadium was opened in 1971... Green said he was pleasantly surprised by the reception of the fans... "Because of the strike talk and all that, we were expecting them to be tough," he said... Bowa, who had only six errors in 1979 and none at home, booted Scott's grounder in the fourth inning... His last error here was on Sept. 26, 1978 in the second game of a double-header against the Expos... The victory was the sixth straight for Carlton, who won his last five decisions in 1979... The series continues today with Dick Ruthven going against Bill Lee... Tomorrow, Larry Christenson starts against Scott Sanderson.