Philadelphia Inquirer - April 14, 1980
It’s Valentine’s day – Expos edge Phils in 10
By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer
One of the intriguing things about baseball is the way a single fastball down the chute can undo three hours of good intentions.
That's about what happened to the Phillies yesterday in a 5-4 extra-inning loss to the Expos.
The Phils got a basically impressive five innings out of their retired bicycle daredevil, Larry Christenson.
Then they got four shutout innings of middle relief from two guys who weren't even 12 years old when Pete Rose got his 1,000th hit Dickie Noles and Scott Munninghoff.
And then they scrambled back from a 4-1 deficit by piecing together four singles and a big error to score three runs with two outs in the ninth.
Which all turned out to be real satisfying for exactly four pitches. The fifth was a chest-high 3-and-l fastball, thrown by Lerrin LaGrow to Ellis Valentine. Valentine calmly flattened it 400 feet, off the black tarp in left-center, to hand the Phillies their first loss of the decade.
"Naturally," said Dallas Green, "I'd like to be 3-and-0. I'm not satisfied with 2-and-1. But I can't look at this game and say it was all negative. Some positive things happened today."
To start from the beginning, there was Christenson, who pitched only two-thirds of an inning less yesterday than he did in spring-training games.
He gave up a first-inning run without a ball leaving the infield, mostly because he walked Ron LeFlore and then balked him to second.
He also gave up three runs in what was clearly a run-out-of-gas fifth. Billy Almon (4-for-5) legged out a leadoff triple. That was followed by a Rowland Office sacrifice fly, another LeFlore walk and Andre Dawson's first hit of the year – a two-run homer to left-center.
But in between, Christenson looked reasonably close to his old 19-game-winning self. He pitched especially well in a third-inning jam, powering a tough inside fastball past Rodney Scott for one strikeout and a low-and-away slider past Andre Dawson for another.
"I thought he was pretty consistent," Green said. "We've seen him better. But I thought his breaking ball was a little better than I had anticipated. And he threw four or five changeups, all of them very good.
"Except for the one pitch (to Dawson), which hurt us, I thought he was fine. And that pitch wasn't all that bad. A slider that was up just a little and over the plate just a little. Not a real good place to throw a slider, but all in all, I felt he was throwing pretty good."
Green pinch hit for Christenson in the fifth, something he said he had planned even if Dawson hadn't put one out. So on came Noles and Munninghoff, who did what Warren Brusstar used to do around here – keep the game in hand.
“I was very pleased by the way Dickie and Scotty handled themselves," Green said. "They kept us in the fight. That's all we asked them. I don't know how many times that happened last year."
Noles' and Munninghoffs contributions were not the kinds of things to make anybody miss Doug Bird, anyhow. Noles got in a touch of trouble in the sixth by allowing two singles and then walking the pitcher, Stan Bahnsen, to load the bases.
But he jumped ahead of LeFlore, 0-and-2, and got him to bounce into a force play. Then he threw a 1-2-3 seventh, finished off with a three-pitch strikeout of Valentine.
Munninghoff worked the eighth and ninth, and just did what he did all spring training – four ground-ball outs, a ground-ball single, a strikeout and a routine fly ball. It is still early, of course, but Munninghoff has the looks of a guy who is more than a once-around-the-circuit wonder.
"He's got the kind of stuff where, if a guy sees him more than one time, it's not going to make much difference," said Rose. "A lot of guys who just throw hard will go one time around the league, and then it will catch up with them. He's not like that. He's got a lot of poise, a lot of guts. He's got good stuff. Every ball hit was a ground ball, wasn't it?"
Rose and Munninghoff are both from Cincinnati. But Rose says he wouldn't have known Munninghoff, even if they hadn't had an 18-year difference in age. "I come from the poor section. He comes from the rich section," Rose said. "He comes from the section where Cadillacs drive up and Jaguars jump out."
Munninghoff gave the Phils the chance to tie it off Bahnsen and Woodie Fryman in the ninth.
Greg Luzinski (two more hits) stroked a leadoff single. Bob Boone (3-for-5, batting .462) floated another base hit over short. Montreal's Billy Almon made a brilliant lunging stop and a better diving tag to turn Larry Bowa's bouncer up the middle into a force at second. Then Manny Trillo dribbled a checked-swing roller to first for the second out.
But Greg Gross inside-outed a 3-and-1 Bahnsen fastball and stroked a slow-motion line drive at third-baseman Larry Parrish. Parrish got fooled by its waltz-time change of pace and only deflected it off his glove into left.
That made it 4-3 and brought on the lefthanded Fryman to pitch to Rose. Why the lefthander against the switch-hitter?
"They probably watched my performance (hitting righthanded) yesterday," Rose said. "They saw me kill those 13 ants out in front of home plate against Bill Lee."
But Rose sneaked an 0-2 pitch through the shortstop hole for a single. Lonnie Smith, running for Gross, made a harrowing dash from first to third on the play, head-firsting it in just ahead of Jerry White's throw from left.
Was that overrunning your mistakes or just being aggressive, a writer asked Green later.
"Flip a coin," the manager said, smiling. "He just damn well better be safe if he does it, though."
Since he was, he scored the tying run easily on Bake McBride's single through the middle. But Elias Sosa came on and fanned Garry Maddox on a breaking ball for the third out.
That brought on LaGrow, who missed with three out of four fast-balls to Valentine, then missed one fatal time more.
"If you're gonna pitch from behind, you're gonna get hurt in this league," Green said, "unless you're gonna use something besides the fastball." So LaGrow and the Phillies got hurt. But better one pitch hurt them than nine innings of fumbling, bumbling baseball.
"We lost today, but we played aggressive," Rose said. "I liked the way we fought back. It ended up a one-run ball game. And there's so many one-run ball games, the team that executes the fundamentals is the team that's gonna win consistently. That's all it boils down to."
NOTES: Luzinski stole the Phillies' first base of the year and also became the first outfielder to throw out a baserunner, nailing Gary Carter at second in the fourth…. Rose turns 39 today…. Warren Brusstar showed his sore arm to a doctor in Oklahoma City, but nothing new or dramatic was found…. Phils are off today before visiting St. Louis tomorrow and Wednesday.
Remember Willie Keeler?
By Frank Dolson, Sports Editor
Before the series with the Montreal Expos began, the Phillies held a team meeting to go over the opposing hitters. They had some pretty tough customers to talk about, too, but one man had them throwing up their hands in-surrender.
No, not Gary Carter, who hits all those Veterans Stadium home runs. Not Larry Parrish or Ellis Valentine or Andre Dawson or Ron LeFlore. The man who had them baffled, befuddled and bewildered was a backup shortstop who didn't figure to start a game over the weekend. The man they couldn't figure out was, for crying out loud, a San Diego Padres castoff who used to play for Brown University.
Somewhere there must be a book on Bill Almon, but the Phillies haven't found it.
"It's a standing joke around here," center fielder Garry Maddox said.
No way to play him
"We went over their hitters opening night and we said, 'Well, if Almon plays we don't even have to worry about him. He's going to hit it wherever I'm not….
"It's uncanny," left fielder Greg Luzinski chimed in. "If we play him over to that side, he hits the ball to this side."
"I mean every time," Maddox said, "no matter where I play."
OK, enough already. Chris Speier is Montreal's starting shortstop. No reason to get gray hairs fretting over how to defense a guy who's going to spend the weekend sitting on the bench, right?
Well, not exactly. The fickle finger of baseball fate played a rotten trick on the Phillies yesterday... and didn't do too well by Chris Speier, either.
Speier had been troubled by a toothache early in the week, but the pain disappeared… until Saturday night. "I finally got to sleep about seven in the morning," the victim said. "It just kept throbbing."
The pain became so intense that something had to be done. "The Phillies have a team dentist," Speier said. They referred me to him, and he picked me up (before yesterday's game) and took me over to his place."
Almon takes over
Had that dentist been aware of the Phillies-killer the Expos had waiting in the wings, he would have rushed Speier back to the Vet in plenty of time to play. But, alas, by the time Speier returned, Almon's name had already been inserted in the starting lineup.
First time up, Larry Christenson simply overpowered him. "He was swinging behind the ball," Maddox could plainly see from his vantage point in right center field. "So I felt really comfortable where I was playing."
He should have known better. Next time up Almon sent a long, high drive to deepest left center for three bases, touching off a three-run rally against Christenson. After that, all he did was single to right off Dickie Noles, single to center off Scott Munninghoff and single to center off Lerrin LaGrow.
Oh yeah, and then there was the play he made on Larry Bowa's bounder up the middle in the ninth, the one where his momentum carried him past the bag after a lunging, one-handed stab, and he made a diving tag to nip Bob Boone at second.
No wonder Warren Cromartie was hollering, "Remember Wally Pipp!" in the Montreal clubhouse after the Expos' 5-4 victory.
Pipp, in case you don't recall, was the Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig replaced for 2,130 consecutive games.
Takes it in stride
Speier took the needling in stride, secure in the knowledge that Bill Almon – despite what the Phillies may think – is no Lou Gehrig.
What he is, is an extremely pleasant young man with a New England accent and a feeling of great relief at having escaped San Diego, where he spent his first three full big league seasons after signing as the No. 1 pick in the June, 1974, draft.
"One thing I like about this organization, there's a lot of communication," Almon said. "Right from the start (on the team bus, actually), Chris let me know he might not be able to play, and as soon as I got here Dick (manager Dick Williams) let me know there was a good possibility I'd be playing. That helped me prepare.
"The old organization I was in… you really never knew what was going on...."
Yesterday he knew… and the results were devastating. "Oh, a couple of the hits were just placed well, sort of seeing eye," he said modestly, "but you've got to take them, too, because some day you're going to hit a good line drive and someone's going to catch it. So it all evens out."
Hmmm. We'll let Garry Maddox be the judge of that.