Wilmington Evening Journal - July 18, 1980

McBride knuckles down to beat Astros


By Ray Finocchiaro, Staff Writer


HOUSTON - Not too many people would like to make a living of hitting the Niekro brothers' knuckleballs.


But Bake McBride says he wouldn't mind.


The Phillies' right fielder, who had two hits and scored both runs that beat the Houston Astros' Joe Niekro 2-1 last night in the Astrodome, will get his shot at older brother Phil tonight in Atlanta.


"I've had great success against both of them, said McBride as the Phils hurriedly dressed for a flight out of Houston's 100-plus degree heat. "I don't try to kill the ball. I just try to make contact. I try to hit the ball before it breaks."


McBride hit it well enough last night to collect two singles. He subsequently stole second both times and scored, first on two straight Niekro wild pitches and then on Bob Boone's grounder for the eventual winning run for Steve Carlton, who improved his record to 15-4.


"They (the Niekro brothers) are not easy to steal off because they've got great moves to first," said McBride, whose pair of thefts gave him 10 this season. "Most guys who steal off them are guessing.


"Tonight Joe started everybody off with a fastball, and you didn't see anybody try to steal on the first pitch. But then he went to knuckleballs and that's when I went."


The Phils, who remained a game behind the Montreal Expos in the National League East as the Astros dropped one-half-game behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the West, were happy that McBride was a good guesser last night.


Houston, which managed just five hits off Carlton in the first eight innings, bunched a pair in the ninth to threaten to tie the score.


Luis Pujols, who was on base three times, opened the ninth with a single and stayed moored to the bag as Carlton struck out pinch-hitters Denny Walling and Bruce Bochy to run his total to 10.


But Rafael Landestoy tripled over left fielder Greg Gross' head to make it 2-1. Carlton came down to make-or-break time against Terry Puhl.


"Lefty made a bad pitch to Landestoy," said Manager Dallas Green, "but he reached back for everything he had for Puhl. If he didn't get Puhl, I was gonna bring in Tug McGraw."


But McGraw, who was reactivated when the Phils released Lerrin LaGrow before the game, just watched as Carlton got Puhl to bull a grounder to first baseman Pete Rose to end the game.


"A slider," said Green. "Lefty had a super fastball tonight. He knows that he can't throw the slider 95 percent of the time, but he threw it when he had to."


Boone said the Astrodome mound gave Carlton more trouble than usual.


"Steve was struggling with his control tonight," said the catcher. "The mound gave him trouble. It was like throwing uphill."


Green was grateful for Carlton's uphill struggle.


"It was a damn good performance when we needed it," he said. "We're a little bit hurt, but the guys we put in played like the devil."


While Green beat the Astros with his Oklahoma City roster Wednesday night, plugging five 89ers into his starting nine, the manager hit the Astros with his juggled infield last night.


Green put catcher Keith Moreland at third base for the first time this season and shifted Ramon Aviles, Wednesday night's shortstop, to second base.


Moreland was originally a third baseman and played there on occasion in the minors, but the Aviles shift was not one Green wanted to make. However, Manny Trillo has a jammed middle finger on his left hand and is on a day-to-day basis after X-rays proved negative.


"They told me not to try hitting today,'' said Trillo, the league's top hitter with a .331 average who has batted .400 (24-60) in July. "They said don't do anything. It will be two or three days before I can do anything."


The Phils did their best to carry on without him, though they had little success against Niekro's knuckleballs in the early going. Niekro retired the first eight batters he faced before Carlton singled to right to become the Phils' first baserunner.


The Phils got their unearned run in the fourth when McBride singled, stole second and came home on the second of two Niekro wild pitches. Garry Maddox had struck out for what would have been the third out, but the pitch fluttered past catcher Pujols as McBride raced across the plate and Maddox got to first.


McBride got the Phils in gear again in the sixth, singling to left and stealing second. Maddox extended his hitting streak to nine games with a bloop single to left, but it took Boone's groundout to get McBride home with the second run.