Philadelphia Daily News - April 24, 1980

Phils Lack Hitting in a Pinch


By Bill Conlin


Bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded and here was Randy Lerch coming up to pinch-nit for Dickie Noles. Randy Lerch? Bottom of the ninth?


Nah, that's not a typographical error. It was Randy Lerch. not Del Unser, the ninth, not the 19th. The Phillies were trailing. 3-2. not 13-12. and Dallas Green was out of guys whose normal job includes pinch-hitting. Which included George Vukovich, Greg Gross, Del Unser and Bob Boone. It did not include Manny Trillo. who is still too hobbled with a sprained ankle to walk to the plate, let alone run to first.


There were several reasons why Green had io dip into his pitching staff in a low-scoring game which did not go into overtime.


Take the first inning. That's when Larry Christenson strained a groin muscle throwing a pitch to Mets centerfielder Jerry Morales. It is not to be confused with two groin injuries he suffered in previous seasons while evading pitches. It is, however, the same groin and the injury-prone righthander will miss at least his next turn. The Mets scored a run in the first and because the Phillies failed to do anything until the fifth against righthander Mark Bomback. Green was forced to his bench and bullpen early.


TAKE THE EIGHTH inning (Take it. please.). Green raised eyebrows by sending Unser up to hit for rookie second baseman Luis Aguayo. This happened after catcher Keith Moreland narrowed the Mets' lead to 3-2 with a one-out single and took second on a relay to the plate by Doug Flynn that was too late to nail Mike Schmidt, after Larry Bowa sent pinch-runner Lonnie Smith to third with an exciting single.


Joe Torre's pitcher was Neil Allen. He might be the Mets' ace hammer, but he ain't Bruce Sutter, Kent Tekulve or Elias Sosa. Allen was scuffling. Green was short-handed and Aguayo had turned on the 23,023 fans with a single and triple off Bomback. In the press box, a lot of houses were bet and lost – again – when Unser was announced. ("No way Big D hits for the kid here; he'll make contact, runs good enough to stay out of a double play and Big D can use Bob Boone or Unser to hit for the pitcher in the two spot in the ninth.")


Torre, who was thinking more about Greg Gross in the nine spot than he was about a pinch-hitter, brought in lefthander Ed Glynn. Green sent up Boone, disregarding the old manager's axiom of avoiding the use of two players to make one move. In this case. Green wound up using three – Unser. out of the game without a swing, Boone and John Vukovich, who would replace Aguayo and fall into Tug McGraw's second spot in the order. Was Green surprised when Torre yanked Allen?


"YEAH," HE SAID after a 3-2 loss lowlighted by 13 stranded runners. "For building him up to be the big guy, he's not supposed to take him out. We still countered all right."


Well, the counterattack didn't remind anybody of the Tet Offensive. Boone flied out to center. Medium-shallow center. And Green was second-guessed because third base coach Lee Elia held Smith at third. Which brings to mind another manager's axiom heard often, over the years. "With the tying run on third at home in a late inning, send the runner on anything reasonable. Force the other team to make the play."


"That's a tough judgment play," Green said. "We got the benefit of seeing what happened. It would have been an interesting play." It would have been interesting because when Smith faked and returned to third, catcher John Stearns had the luxury of moving out six feet to take the throw on the fly. If Smith had come, he would have had to stay at home to field a nasty, short hop.


The Phillies elected to pay to see the card.


All this makes for great conjecture, of course, a writer's game. It is more cosmetic to poke through the glowing embers of the eighth and ninth than to point an accusing finger at the true reasons the Phillies lost once more to a team it should squash like a bug.


TAKE THE SEVENTH inning. Greg Gross led it off hitting for Lerrin LaGrow, second of four relievers who held the Mets to a pair of runs after Christenson's early exit. Greg gapped a triple to right-center. He died on third. With the infield up, Pete Rose smoked a liner right at second baseman Doug Flynn, a 3-0 pitch. That's fine. Good rip, line-drive out. But Bake McBride bounced the first pitch to short and with the infield back, Garry Maddox, more hurt than he is letting on with a left hip injury bounced out to third.


"We left three guys on third with one out," Green said, throwing in an extra situation which didn't show up on scorecards. "If we score one of those, two of those we're in pretty good shape."


Which brings us to the bottom of the ninth. when Maddox stopped a two-out run by fans to beat the Sixers traffic with a double to left. Mike Schmidt walked and Torre brought in Jeffery Reardon, who threw 450 feet worth of home run to Greg Luzinski, the next hitter, Tuesday night. Since everybody was aware by now that Green was down to his pitching staff and Noles was on deck, it was reasonable to expect an intentional walk to Luzinski. Torre had something like that in mind and when Reardon blitzed ahead 0-2 with fastballs, Joe was the most surprised guy in the Vet. "I'm a little surprised Stearns called for two fast-balls," Torre said. "At least the kid kept them up." Bull eventually walked and out came Lerch, the best pure hitter on a pitching staff that likes to swing the bat.


"I know he's a good-hitting pitcher, but I'd rather face the best-hitting pitcher than a regular hitter any day," Reardon said.


Lerch gave Green a good professional at-bat, fouling back three pitches with good rips before striking out.


"This one hurt," said Green. "We had so damn many chances. We kept battling back and battling back, but didn't get that big hit."


UNLESS THE PITCHING staff does a dramatic turnaround, the Phillies' offense will be doing a lot of battling back.


In the Phillies' 11th game last year, Dick Ruthven shut out the Mets, 8-0. Nino Espinosa beat them, 3-0, the next night. They blitzed into first place and everybody was writing about how the pitching staff was so much better than expected.


Nobody expected this pitching staff to be a great one, but after 11 games the starters behind Steve Carlton are in shambles. Green already has been forced to dig into his bullpen too early and far too often.




PHILUPS: Mets stole two bases on the way to an unearned sixth-inning run which made Lerrin LaGrow the losing pitcher. Lee Mazzilli doubled, stole third and scored when Luis Aguayo mishandled Joel Youngblood's hard smash with the infield in for his first big league error. Opposition has now burned the Phils for 15 steals... Dallas Green says he has no idea who will pitch or for how long against the Reading Phillies tonight... Garry Maddox was told to stay home and rest his injured left hip.

4 More Payoff Winners


There were four winners in the Daily News Home Run Payoff contest In the fourth inning of last night's Phillies-Mets game, Richard L. Fennimore of Borden-town, N.J., won $10 plus four tickets on a single by Luis Aguayo. Other winners were Arnold Jensen of Croydon, Paul Barone of Darby and Dean Mapp of Philadelphia. Each won four tickets to a Phillies game.


The Daily News has paid out a total of $2,775.


Today's entry coupon appears on Page 56.