Philadelphia Inquirer - July 28, 1980
Comedy day at the Vet
By Frank Dolson, Sports Editor
In the trade they call romps like yesterday's 174 affair at Veterans Stadium "laughers," and if there's one thing the Phillies were ready for it was a few laughs.
Harry Wendelstedt, who had the dubious distinction of working the game behind the plate, wasted no time putting it into perspective. "Like the Sunday beer league," he sighed before hastily adding, "It's not the worst game I've ever seen played in our league."
"Maybe not," a guy told him, "but it might deserve a spot in the top 10."
Wendelstedt nodded thoughtfully. "It might make it," he conceded. "I think everybody got psyched out when they walked on the field today.''
At least those unfortunate enough to be wearing Atlanta uniforms. On a day when the home team scored more runs and got more hits (21) than any team in the 10-year history of the Vet, the visitors set an unofficial record under the heading Most Ground Balls Not Fielded Successfully.
Barrel of laughs
It wasn't the home run Lonnie Smith hit to greet Rick Matula in the first or the bases-loaded triple Garry Maddox hit on Preston Hanna’s first pitch in the second that buried the Braves as much as all those Astro-Turf bouncers that kept bouncing under, over and off Atlanta gloves.
"I never saw so many hits without balls leaving the infield," said Hanna. "You make a pitch and see the ball chopping way up in the air and say, 'Oh, no.' I kept thinking, 'Hit one hard, will you?'"
And the Phillies, in an unusually obliging mood on this fun day at the Vet, occasionally did.
Ah, yes, it was a barrel of laughs watching a makeshift Atlanta infield – minus regular shortstop Luis Gomez and regular first baseman Chris Chambliss – trying to get in the way of those bouncing balls. Or were they trying to get out of the way? Bill Nahorodny, a catcher playing first base for the first time this season, had trouble doing either. He simply couldn't find the ball in that sea of light-colored shirts.
"I'm not accustomed to playing that position," he said. "It's a little bit rough. The ball (Greg) Gross hit (to the right side in the fifth inning), I didn't see the ball 'til it hit the white line (on the infield)."
All in all, it added up to the wildest slapstick comedy seen on local TV screens in a while, a logical follow-up to a movie called Duck Soup, starring the Marx Brothers, that ended on Channel 48 just as this baseball game that was duck soup for the Phillies was starting on Channel 17.
But if Rick Matula failed to see the humor in it all, he could hardly be blamed.
We all know that pitchers, if they stick around long enough, are going to have days like this. A day, OK. Matula's having a month like this.
Two weeks into the season, this pleasant young man was leading the league in earned run average. "He was up there with J. R. (Richard)," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said.
Since then, both Rick and J. R. have been having their problems.
If you think the Phillies have been going bad of late, check out what's happened to Matula. Yesterday, he was charged with eight hits and eight earned runs in an inning and a third. The time before, against Montreal, he was kayoed with nobody out in the first inning after giving up six runs (five earned). The time before that, against Houston, he gave up six earned runs in 2-1/3 innings. In case you're counting, that's 19 earned runs in his last 3-2/3 innings.
Sinking with sliders
"A sinker ball pitcher's got to have a little luck once in a while," Cox said.
He also needs infielders who can (a) see and (b) field ground balls.
One other thing: He needs to stick with the pitch that got him to the big leagues in the first place.
"He threw four sliders to Lonnie (Smith), and then he hit one out," Pete Rose said. "I hit a slider. Bake (McBride) hit a slider. He was getting beat with sliders."
"We threw about six sliders in a row (to Smith in the first inning)," Matula acknowledged. "Maybe I should have shook Bruce (catcher Bruce Benedict) off."
Better yet, maybe the Braves should have taken the day off.
"I felt good about the game," Matula insisted. "I actually felt we were going to win.... Those, balls that were hit (on the ground), I guess they were just out of reach of everybody. I can't let it get me down."
On a day like this, there's only one thing for the losing pitcher, his battered relievers, his manager, even the plate umpire to do: Laugh it off.
Phils crank up in 17-4 victory
Carlton wins No. 16; Maddox has 5 RBIs
By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer
Among the things Steve Carlton has had to do to win 16 games this year are pitch three near-no-hitters, strike out 181 guys, hold the other team to one run or less in 11 starts, and go eight innings in St. Louis when the temperature on the field was only about 140 degrees.
He didn't have to do any of those things yesterday. In fact, he probably could have thrown five innings of knuckleballs, pitched from a lotus position, tossed up a few sliders righthanded, and still had a W next to his name in the box score.
Things had to even out sooner or later. In a revival of that beloved old 76ers jingle, "We Owe You One," the Phillies finally paid Carlton back yesterday.
They dumped 17 runs and 21 hits in his lap, and Carlton knew what to do with them. He shifted his left arm into cruise control and calmly pitched a 17-4 win over the eminently charitable Atlanta Braves.
The outcome was foregone for so many innings and so many hours that Dallas Green was ready with his postgame answers even before the media had fired any questions. Green has the Carlton questions down so pat by now, he ripped off a complete Carlton interview in about 12 seconds before anybody had asked about him. It went thus:
"It wasn't one of Lefty's better games, but he won. No, I can't compare it to any ones he's had before. I took him out (after seven) because I wanted to rest him. There, that probably answers all thousand of your questions. Anything else? Fine. See ya tomorrow."
Carlton (16-5) has failed to win in only seven of his 23 starts, and the Phillies scored 11 runs in those seven games.
So yesterday, all they did was spew out the most runs and most hits by any team in Vet history. That may not even them up with Carlton. But, in an exaggerated way, it may have pointed out that pitching is not really the major problem on this team.
"I think the pitching has actually been exceptional at times," said Garry Maddox, whose five RBIs yesterday were his Phillies career high. "Most of the time I think it's been offense that has kept us right where we are right now."
The Phillies went into the weekend fourth in the league in runs scored. But that position was staked out early, when Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski were pumping home runs about every other inning. On their recent 10-game road trip, the Phils scored more than three runs only twice.
"Offensively, we have struggled," Green conceded. "It's funny. You see something like this, you wonder why it can't happen all the time."
All 14 Phillies non-pitchers played yesterday, and 11 got hits. Pete Rose (back up to .289) had three hits by the third inning. Maddox had four RBIs by the second.
Braves starter Rich Matula, whose ERA has gone from 2.30 to 4.93 in the last six weeks, had a shutout going for exactly four pitches. Lonnie Smith ripped the fifth into the Braves bullpen for his second homer in three days, and the game was never the same.
Matula got only one of the first five hitters out, and centerfielder Dale Murphy had to bounce off the wall grabbing a Schmidt mortar for that one. It was 3-0 after an inning.
An error by Smith in left helped the Braves tie it in the second. But the Phillies immediately resumed their merry pummeling of Matula.
The righthander retired only one of the first six hitters in the second. Bake McBride stroked a two-run double to untie it permanently, and Matula was gone one intentional walk later.
Maddox drilled Atlanta reliever Preston Hanna's first pitch for a bases-loaded triple to make it 8-3. Carlton could have thrown tennis balls up there after that.
Instead, he allowed only two more hits and one run, on a Glen Hubbard homer. He also fanned eight and stopped Bob Horner's hitting streak at 12 games. Dickie Noles and Warren Brusstar pitched well in running out the final two innings.
The offensive goings-on seemed noteworthy, if only because the Phillies will have to score runs somehow while Greg Luzinski makes what apparently will be a lengthy recuperation from knee troubles.
For now, Maddox is the guy batting in the No. 5 spot behind Schmidt. If he can provide a few more days like yesterday, he can ensure that Schmidt might actually see a fastball he can hit a couple of times a week.
"I guess it will put pressure on me if they do that," Maddox said. "But maybe I can use some."
Maddox has pumped his average up to .269 from the .226 he was flailing at in mid-May. But he still feels he hasn't found the consistent groove that made him a .330 hitter in 1976.
"I just finished a 12-game hitting streak where I think I had maybe 13 hits for the whole thing," he said.
"Right now I'm going through this stage where I've had to change from the hitting style I've used in the past. I wasn't willing to sacrifice the season just to stay with what I was doing. So now I'm trying different things practically every time up, trying to find something comfortable."
Meanwhile, Smith, Luzinski's heir apparent in left, has come out of a 2-for-19 slide with seven hits in his last three games, including two homers.
"Last year (in Oklahoma City), I got in a streak where I hit like four homers in five days," Smith said. "Then after that I didn't hit another one till almost two months later. A lot of people have looked at my arms (which are mammoth) and said I, should hit home runs. But when I try to swing hard, it gets my swing all messed up."
He won't have to hit homers to make Green happy, though. Asked what his plans were if Luzinski is out for a while, Green said, simply, "The kid's gonna play."
NOTES: Larry Bowa and Manny Trillo both were beaned by Hanna, but both are all right.... The 17 runs are the most by a National League team this season. They also are the most scored by the Phillies since a certain 23-22 game in Chicago…. Last time the Phils scored 17 in Philadelphia was Aug. 3, 1969, against Cincinnati. A free copy of "The Life and Times of Jerry Lynch" to all who remember that they also lost that game, 19-17.... Carlton and Baltimore's Steve Stone are the majors' only 16-game winners.... Carlton's 181 strikeouts are 62 more than anyone else in baseball. Bert Blyleven and J. R. Richard have 119.... Houston, which comes to town tonight, will face Nino Espinosa, Randy Lerch and Dick Ruthven. Meanwhile, the Astros rotation for the series isn't quite the magical names you might have expected when you sent away for tickets in April. It will be Gordon Pladson (0-2) tonight, followed by Joacquin Andujar (1-4) and Nolan Ryan (5-7).