St. Louis Post-Dispatch - April 26, 1980

Cards, Vukovich, Littell Breathe A Sigh of Relief


By Rick Hummel of the Post-Dispatch Staff


PHILADELPHIA – Relief, perhaps, is on the way for the Cardinals.


Bob Sykes and Mark Littell teamed to wriggle out of a dangerous ninth-inning situation as Pete Vuckovich beat the Philadelphia Phillies for the seventh straight time Friday night, 3-1.


"I needed that," said Littell, who induced Mike Schmidt to tap in front of the plate with the bases loaded on the final play of the game. Catcher Ted Simmons gathered up the ball and tagged Del Unser coming down the third-base line.


Sykes, pitching in short relief for the first time in his two seasons as a Cardinal, had been Vuckovich's first successor and an excitable one at that. He was called twice for going to his mouth while on the pitching rubber, which is called an automatic ball.


But the lefthander also made one exceptional fielding play and another good one. After Bake McBride and Unser, both pinch hitters, had singled to open the ninth inning, Sykes replaced Vuckovich and Pete Rose bunted. Sykes, without rushing, threw out Rose at first as the runners advanced.


There might have been a play at third in this case but catcher Ted Simmons said it had been predetermined to go to first no matter where the bunt was. "We wanted to try to get one out and then it would take two hits to beat us," said Simmons.


Then, Greg Gross lashed a ball back at Sykes. who got a glove on it, fell backward but scrambled to his feet to throw, not to first, but to home to catch McBride, who was limping with a sore knee.


"Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him going home," said Sykes. "I had no idea of even going to first."


Sykes, giving Garry Maddox a two-ball handicap, wound up walking him before Littell, who had been ineffective in three of four previous appearances, got Schmidt. "He was firing gas on that slider," said Simmons.


Littell said, "I told you I'd come back.


"It feels good to be back in gear, you might say. I threw the low slider as opposed to the high slider. They've seen that one."


That last reference was to the grand slam hit by the Chicago Cubs' Barry Foote off Littell Tuesday in a 16-12 loss.


Littell was to be the last Cardinal on the bus back to the hotel as he signed autographs on the way. He absorbed some roasting for this but reliever Roy Thomas said, "Hey, it's the first save for the bullpen."


Phillies Manager Dallas Green thought McBride's lack of judgement on the bases had a lot to do with the outcome. McBride, who had not started the game – he had fluid drained from a knee – should have gone from first to third on Unser's single to right, Green said.


"You would have made third," Green said to a reporter, who hasn't been there in a while. Then, he criticized McBride for trying to come home on Gross' ball. McBride, in fact, ended up walking into a tag by Simmons at the plate.


"I wouldn't have gone," said Green. "I don't know why he went."


Asked about McBride's knee ailment, Green said, "I gave him a day's rest. It shouldn't have affected him. He's been playing on it."


Offensively, the Cardinals let George do it. George Hendrick hit solo homers off Randy Lerch in the fourth and sixth innings.


The question was what Hendrick would have said to reporters if he chose to talk about those homers rather than how Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of Los Angeles Lakers was going to sky-hook Darryl Dawkins of the Philadelphia 76ers out of the gym if their teams play in the National Basketball Association finals.


"He would have said, 'I am beautiful,' said Simmons. Then he chuckled. "Actually, he would said, 'Get the hell out of here."'


Vuckovich is 7-2 now against the Phillies for his career, all his victories coming as a starter. He struggled a bit, allowing nine hits and walking two, but allowed only the one run in the fourth on a double by Maddox.


"I'm drained mntally," said -Vuckovich. "I had guys on base all night."


He repeated what he had said the first time he beat the Phillies this season, that there nothing mystical about it. "I don't even think about it,"' he said. "I try not to make many mistakes."


Schmidt said there was no psychological block for the Phillies. "I guarantee you that every hitter who goes up there is trying to make an adjustment," he said.


"The guy just has good motion, it's tough to pick up the spin on his ball and he gets it over the plate.


"He got me three times and I'm a 'pretty good hitter."


REDBIRD NOTES Cardinal third baseman Ken Reitz almost made a game-nding catch on Maddox as he leaned over the box seats. But a fan in a black jacket touched the ball just as it was coming into Reitz's glove, deflected it away and then Reitz plunged headlong into the seats, not to be seen for a while. "Some fat lady jumped on top of me," said Reitz. "Tempy (Garry Templeton) had to pull her off."


Tom Herr, playing in front of some friends and relatives from Lancaster, had two hits in a start at second base but was caught in between hops twice in the field. "I've just got to stay back on this field," said Herr. "I'm still learning how to adjust to the turf."


Sykes explained his floundering for Gross' ninth-inning ball: "I looked like a fish out of water."


The former Detroit Tiger said he had been used in short relief in 1978 – and he had six saves. He said he wouldn't mind doing it some more and Manager Ken Boyer said he would have Sykes in the bullpen tonight for the second game of the series although Sykes will start Tuesday at home against the Chicago Cubs.


Vandals apparently got into some Cardinal equipment bags. Reliever Darold Knowles came up short a glove, a heavy jacket and a pair of shoes and Keith Hernandez' batting helmet was missing.


Reitz's 12-game hitting streak was snapped.... Hendrick last hit two homers in a game Aug. 19 of last season... John Fulgham is to oppose Phillies ace Steve Carlton tonight.