Wilmington Evening Journal - August 15, 1980

Phils ‘crafty’ Espinosa slows down Mets


By Hal Bodley, Sports Editor


NEW YORK – Nino Espinosa's fastball looked like a butterfly floating up to the plate. His breaking pitch was even slower, and you could count to 10 when he threw his changeup.


That's what Manager Dallas Green saw everytime the right-hander struggled to get back on the Phillies' active list.


The men who run the Phils were torn. Some thought Nino should be given a chance to prove he could help the team; others insisted hitters would clobber him if he could not throw harder.


Espinosa, of course, was taken off the disabled list on July 1, and he has proven he can get batters out even though he still is not able to throw his best fastball.


Espinosa pitched his first complete game since Aug. 15, 1979 last night, baffling his old teammates, the New York Mets, 8-1 at refurbished Shea Stadium.


Mike Schmidt drove in four runs with his 31st homer, two singles and a double, while Bob Boone kicked in with his ninth homer and two singles.


"I tried to convince them before Nino came off the disabled list that he could help us," said Boone. "He is a classic example that you do not have to throw hard to get people out. I have never caught a more crafty pitcher.


"It's a funny thing. His pitches come up there and they are not good enough to hit, yet they are strikes. I'll tell you, he drives the hitters crazy. He keeps them off-balance."


Espinosa, who had to end the 1979 season early because of a sore, tired right shoulder, now has a 3-3 record and has been in just about every game he has started.


"I've seen Nino throw harder," said Joe Torre, the Mets' manager. "He's learned to become a pitcher since his injury. He had a real good changeup tonight and pitched real well while we were doing everything wrong."


Espinosa will not talk to newspaper reporters because when he was trying to work his way back to the team, stories were written quoting Green that the right-hander should either pitch or quit.


Espinosa, however, will talk to radio-TV people, including former catcher Tim McCarver, Last night he talked to McCarver on the Phillies' post-game TV show about his continuing respect for his old team.


"I don't have any hard feelings against the Mets," Espinosa said. "When they traded me, they got a good player back. They're super guys and I got along real good with Joe Torre. No, there's no hard feelings."


Espinosa credited his Met days, especially when Tom Seaver was still in town, for making him the complete pitcher he is.


"I watched Tom Seaver a lot," Espinosa said. "Even though he was a power pitcher, he didn't try to blow people away. He tried to pitch his game, in and out, and I learned a lot from him.


"You have to know how to pitch. You don't just throw strikes down the middle. You have to make your pitch."


Last weekend in Pittsburgh, Schmidt was mired in a horrible slump. He was 1-for-his-last-22 and 2-for-his-last-28. As the Phils took two out of three games from Chicago, Schmidt had three home runs in three days and was 8-for-14.


When he gives the Phils the kind of offense he did last night, they have a chance to get back in the National League chase. By defeating the Mets, they climbed to within 4½ games of Pittsburgh and Montreal who are tied for first place.


Schmidt ripped a single off loser Pat Zachry in the first inning, then drove in two runs with a bases-loaded single in the third.


"They set the table for me," said Schmidt. "One out and the bases loaded is just about as good a time as there is to hit."


"Zachry was too fine with the batters in front of Schmidt," said Torre. "And when you get the bases loaded like that, there's no place to put Schmidt."


"I began to get the swing back in Pittsburgh," said Schmidt. "I didn't have any hits on Sunday, but I walked three times in the first game. In the nightcap, I hit the ball hard and could have had a couple of hits with better luck. I felt the swing coming back."


When asked what the difference is between his present stroke and the one that had him going 1-for-22, the third baseman said: "If I knew the answer to that, I would be a genius.


"No, seriously, it's a matter of being able to relax and be confident. I'm always confident, but when you're scuffling, everything is magnified. You begin to think about fundamentals. It's a vicious cycle. Mechanically, when you're in a slump like I was in, the problem is usually the fact the front shoulder is flying out. That's the way it was with me."


Boone, who was hitting in the low .200s a week ago, says he has stopped lunging after the ball.


"Zachry struck me out in the first inning on off-speed pitches," said the catcher. "When I came up the next time (in the fourth), I decided to gear up more. The pitch I hit out was a slider and I'm not even sure it was a strike. It was the pitch I can hit for a home run, but lately I have been staying away from it."


As for Espinosa, who gave up five hits, including Claudell Washington's seventh-inning homer, the outing was obviously his best of the year. He threw 16 ground-ball outs.


"I think he had better stuff tonight than he has had before," said Boone. "The only really bad pitch he made was to Washington. It was a fastball out over the plate."


EXTRA POINTS - The new owners of the Mets have done a good job cleaning up and brightening up Shea Stadium. The field is in fine shape and new seats have replaced old ones... Tonight a sellout Is expected for a fireworks show and the opening of a picnic area... Greg Luzinski, who had nee surgery on July 28, took live batting practice for the first time since the operation before last night's game. Although his mobility is still limited, he appeared to be swinging the bat well... Zachry has a 2-5 lifetime record against the Phils... Before last night, the Mets had won 10 of their last 16 games... Larry Christenson, who came off the disabled list on Monday, will make his first start since May 21 tonight when he faces the Mets' Mark Bomback (9-3)... Tomorrow afternoon Bob Walk (8-2) goes against Craig Swan (5-8).