Philadelphia Daily News - August 16, 1980
Phillies on the Mend
Christenson Returns To Help Blank Mets
By Bill Conlin
NEW YORK – Larry Christenson has spent more time on the disabled list than the DC-10.
He could author a book titled, "Modern Sports Medicine and Me," and it would be a very fat volume.
Christenson sent Phillies stock soaring 10 points last night. The ticker was running 15 minutes late after the Lazarus of National League righthanders threw six innings of shutout baseball and the Phillies put an 8-0 whipping on the Mets.
When Dr. Phillip J. Marone went into Larry's right elbow on May 29 to remove several bone spurs, Dallas Green hoped to have his righthander back in the starting rotation by mid-September. But Christenson has become a master of the healing arts.
THE WAY HE went after the Mets last night, one would be tempted to surmise that he spent the last two months taking the waters at the Shrine of Lourdes.
His mid-season form overshadowed a Phillies offense which put the game away with a four-run bat-around in the second and an attack which produced 16 hits, including career hits No. 3,500 and 3,501 by Pete Rose. Featuring a speeded-up arm motion and more body turn, Christenson allowed just four singles, struck out five and didn't issue a walk.
Green was thinking in terms of 70 pitches for Larry's first outing. He would have settled for five innings of decent work. Instead, it took Christenson just 66 pitches to wade through six pristine innings.
Other players coming back from surgery have a psychological barrier to surmount. There is a fear-of-reinjury barrier and a pain barrier. "Does pain mean I'm going to injure it again?" a player tends to ask himself. But Christenson has come back from such a variety of injuries – the congenital back problem which he always will have, a broken collarbone, two elbow operations and several severe groin injuries – that he is past the point of paranoia. He follows doctor's orders. If Dr. Marone tells him he can safely cut loose, but to expect some tenderness, he takes the instruction at face value.
HE REJECTED A Green plan to ease him back toward the rotation via the bullpen. Larry dismissed the theory out of hand on grounds that he needed at least 20 minutes to warm up.
"Which just goes to show I'm not always as smart as I think I am," the manager said.
"It wasn’t really tired," Larry said afterward, wearing the traditional pack of ice on his elbow. "I probably could have gone out there in the seventh and eighth, but I didn't really want to push it. I was pleased enough we had a lead, otherwise I might have gone out there and pushed it."
The long-range effect of Christenson's return to the rotation is that Green could go into the final six weeks of the season with five healthy, effective starters. With only three doubleheaders left on the schedule he can settle into a Carlton. Ruthven, Walk, Espinosa, Christenson rotation without the team suffering the weekly what-to-do-about-Randy-Lerch crisis.
Green won't rush Christenson back into combat, though. Lerch will work a game of Sunday's doubleheader and Dallas won't attempt to pitch Larry with less than six days' rest. This is already his third comeback of 1980 and the manager knows there are not enough days left in the season for there to be a fourth.
Soon, Green will have the services of Greg Luzinski again and the prospect of going into September with a team that is whole in body, if not in spirit. And Bake McBride probably fingered the ultimate answer to the question: What happens to Lonnie Smith when the Bull comes back?
"I HAVE A feeling hell platoon me and Lonnie in right field." Bake said.
There have been dramatic improvements in the field of sports medicine since Christenson's elbow was cut the first time in 1973. His convalescence that time was slow and he spent most of the 1974 season in Triple A. Now there are electronic devices which monitor the strength and range of motion in a mending limb, more sophisticated exercise programs aimed at maintaining muscle tone in surrounding areas while an athlete recovers from an injury or surgery.
"I started on the Nautilus after about a month on my own," he said. "I tried to so some running, as much as I could, and throwing, as much as I could."
Christenson watchers were amazed at his velocity the first two times he threw in the bullpen. He wisely nursed the breaking ball, the pitch which was bound to cause the most tenderness. And while he was building the arm back to strength he began to alter his mechanics, with time on his side.
One of the constant criticisms of Larry Christenson, pitcher, was that he was too much the Spalding Guide pitcher. His delivery was smooth as butter, with no hitches or twitches to distract a hitter. His fastball and changeup were both delivered with the same slow arm motion.
EVEN A NOVICE Christenson watcher could spot the difference last night. From the time he goes over his head with the ball to the time he releases it there is a marked acceleration. He is rocking back farther and giving hitters a significantly shorter view of his arm.
"It's something I worked out on my own," he said. "I felt I needed more movement on the ball and to do that you've got to grip the ball looser. Speeding up makes it easier to throw the ball with a nice, relaxed grip. I don't think I've lost anything in velocity, but I've gained movement on the ball."
Trainer Don Seger says Christenson has a remarkable arm. "Even during his rehabilitation, Larry's arm strength rates with the best on our staff," Don said. "He showed the 'Same' tendencies after his collarbone surgery. He happens to be blessed with great physical strength."
Maybe it is time for all that strength and ability to flow in an uninterrupted stream. Christenson has paid his dues with interest.
The game of baseball owes him a long stretch of uninterrupted good health.
PHILUPS: The Phillies mice roared once again. Lonnie Smith and Larry Bowa each had three hits and Manny Trillo banged his third homer, an eighth-inning shot off reliever Tom Hausman... A Larry Christenson bunt proved the key to the Phils' putaway second. Garry Maddox walked – honest – with one out and Bowa sent him to third with a single. Bob Boone legged out an infield single – honest – to make it 1-0 and Christenson dropped a bunt toward third. Elliott Maddox threw it away, Bowa scored, Boone wound up at third and Christenson chugged into second. Smith scored Bowa with a single to left off starter Mark Bomback and Pete Rose drove in the fourth run of the inning with the first of his three hits… It was a laugher after that. Tug McGraw allowed just two hits in a three-inning save behind Christenson... Craig Swan comes off the DL this afternoon to oppose Bob Walk... Huge fireworks display helped draw crowd of 40,436.
3 Winners In Payoff
There were three winners last night in the Daily News Home Run Payoff. In the fifth inning of the Phillies-Mets game at Shea Stadium, Doc Anderson of Havertown. Helen Kopekna of Chester and Lawrence K. Doran of Yeadon each won four tickets to a Phillies game.
So far the Daily News has paid out $15,130.
Today's entry coupon appears on page 33.