Philadelphia Daily News - July 29, 1980
Hands Full Minus Bull
By Bill Conlin
Until yesterday morning, when Dr. Phillip J. Marone went into Greg Luzinski's right knee to cut away some damaged cartilage and evacuate assorted debris, the offensive disaster was merely waiting in the wings.
Good teams can improvise over the short haul. A Ramon Aviles can do a job off the bench at short or second base. A John Vukovich can play defense at third. There are no irreplaceables in major league baseball as long as the key words are day-to-day and not month-to-month.
Luzinski felt something catch in his knee sliding into second in St. Louis before the All-Star break. It puffed like a balloon when he tried to play on it and Dallas Green put his resident literary critic on the 15-day disabled list. There were positive progress reports at the beginning of last week. Bull was swinging the bat.' running straight ahead sprints. But the knee puffed again after the sprints and Dr. Marone told Dallas Green that he had better get an arthroscope in there to pinpoint the problem.
WHAT THE PHILLIES orthopedic physician found in there could have been worse. It could have been better. On a Richter scale of knee injuries, Luzinski's 1974 surgery on the same knee rated an 8.5. This one deserves a 5.5, but it will be enough to keep him out of the lineup until the vicinity of late August.
Without Luzinski, the Phillies are forced to play a different game, and that's no Bull. Mike Schmidt is the guy who hits in front of Luzinski. Although it sounds like a paradox, a clean-up hitter always runs interference for the guy in front of him. When The Bull is hot, Schmidt is almost guaranteed he'll get some fastballs to hit, some breaking balls aimed at the strike zone instead of the dirt or an area six inches on or off the plate.
Rookie righthander Gordy Pladson, a, British Columbian of all things, tossed an 0-for-4 at the National League's home run leader last night. Pladson threw pitcher's pitches, secure in the knowledge that nobody hitting behind Schmidt was likely to take him deep, struck Schmidt out twice, fouled him out with runners on second and third with nobody out in the fourth and the Western Division-leading Astros edged the Phillies, 3-2, in 10 innings of Astrodome-style baseball.
THIS ONE WAS IN the Vet, however, a venue where the day before the home nine had pounded 17 runs on a stadium record 21 hits. But Bill Virdon's resourceful roster of unknown soldiers is a different breed from the Hessians who wear the Atlanta uniform. All the Braves can do is hurt good pitching once in a while. Ask the Astros. Hit the ball hard someplace and you have a chance. Get into the Atlanta bullpen early and you cap run up some big numbers.
The Astros have no reigning Gold Gloves, but they make the basic plays consistently. They have nobody like Schmidt or Luzinski to drive home runs in clusters, no big RBI men, but they steal you blind and take the extra base at every opportunity. To play the Astros is to be besieged by a well-organized army of mice. They flow through every crack. The Dodgers may be the maulers of the West, but the Astros will nibble you to death.
None of this would work, of course, without the Big P. People keep saying that with J R. Richard disabled or whatever it is only a matter of time before that staff ERA of 3.02 starts climbing. But they've won three of four on the current East Coast trip with J R. back home under a microscope and lead the Dodgers by 3½ games. The Phillies, meanwhile, slipped five games behind the Pirates, who are 5-2 in their second and last West Coast trip of the season.
Ironically, the Phillies tied it 1-1 in the fourth on an Alphonse and Gaston routine in right-center by Dave Bergman and Cesar Cedeno on a high fly by Bake McBride with Pete Rose on first. Nobody caught it and the Phils had runners on second and third with nobody out. But Schmidt foiled out on an 0-2 pitch and it took an infield out by Garry Maddox to get the run home.
THE PHILS TOOK a 2-1 lead courtesy of a remarkable slide by Larry Bowa in the fifth. The shortstop led off the inning with a single, stole second and went to third on Bob Boone's fly to center. Nino Espinosa. who pitched resourcefully to a no-decision, fouled off a suicide squeeze attempt. Catcher Alan Ashby called a pitchout on Pladson s next pitch, but the squeeze was on again with a 1-1 count. Espinosa squared to bunt and missed.
Bowa was halfway home. Ashby threw to third baseman Enos Cabell. The rule of thumb is to always run a guy back toward the base he just vacated, particularly if that base is third. But Cabell ran Bowa toward the plate. Bowa beat Ashby with a Spalding Guide fallaway slide. He missed the plate, but got a hand in before the catcher could recover. It goes into the books as a steal of home.
Espinosa walked Ashby leading off the seventh and the Phils appeared to catch a break when Pladson struck out trying to get a bunt down. Bergman singled to right. Green went to Tug McGraw and Bill Virdon sent up Art Howe to hit for shortstop Craig Reynolds. Howe singled to left and it was 2-2.
The mice roared in earnest in the 10th when Joe Morgan legged out an infield hit. Boone, doing some of the best throwing of his career the past two weeks, gunned out Joe at second. But Ron Reed walked Jose Cruz and Cedeno provided the gamer with a triple into the right-field corner.
"Cruz. hey. he was struck out if you really want to know about it." Green grumbled after the Phillies' winning streak ended at two. "But we didn’t get the call again. It was as good as the pitch (called strike three) to Schmitty (in the ninth). It got called a strike and the other one didn’t."
THE PRESS, CONDITIONED by years of Danny Ozark saying. "I could have hit that guy," tried to badger Green into saying Pladson couldn’t get Jimmy Watson out. The Manager wouldn't touch that one with a six-foot Pole. The last thing he needs right now is underlined quotes on the other team's bulletin board.
"You guys think because he has a big ERA (6.00 in an inconclusive six prior innings since his July 14 recall) he's out there to lose or get knocked around. He's out there to earn his money, too. Nino pitched a hell of a game, but this guy beat us. He had a good fastball and slider and junked his curveball early when he couldn’t get it near the plate."
Pladson didn’t know the Phillies have acquired a rich reputation over the years as a halfway house for the lame, halt and unknown of the pitching fraternity.
"I didn’t know anything about that." said Pladson. "I'm definitely not going to take J.R.s place. He's one of the premier pitchers in baseball, but when you come up and get a chance like this you have to make the best of it."
You'd think a kid who grew up in Northwest Canada would have spent most of his youth mucking it up in the corners, taking the body and checking up a storm in the juniors. Pladson passed up more than hockey. He didn't play high school baseball either.
"I PLAYED BASKETBALL and soccer." he said. "My high school didn't have a baseball team."
If his age the Astros" brochure says he'll be 24 Thursday is listed correctly, Pladson was signed as a free agent when he was 17 years old. The road to Houston included stops at Covington, Dubuque, Cocoa, Columbus, Charleston and Tucson.
The Phillies weren't exactly seeing a virgin. And the Astros didn’t become mice that roar by sending guys Danny Ozark could have hit out there to self-destruct.
PHILUPS: Bake McBride, splendid this season even when limping, raised his average to .302 with a 2-for-4. He's hit in 17 of his last 18 games... Phils managed just four hits off rookie righthander Gordy Pladson, one off relief ace Joe Sambito, who picked up his sixth win with a scoreless ninth and 10th... Manny Trillo tripled with two outs in the second, stung the ball in the fourth and seventh... Despite the loss. Phils lead the season series 7-3... Misery is knowing that by Thursday, Phils will have 11 games left on the West Coast, Pirates none... Joaquin Andujar vs. Randy Lerch tonight.
NL Question: ‘Who’s Cruz?’
By Ted Silary
His calling card, designed and refined throughout the past four seasons in the outfield of the Houston Astros, featured an average of .301 along with norms of 76 for RBI and 36 for steals.
Only thing was, each time Jose Cruz tried to flash it, he got treated like the Avon lady at the door of a fraternity house.
So then conies 1980 and Cruz, the acknowledged successor to Roberto Clemente as the No. 1 player in his native Puerto Rico, plays well enough in the first half of the season to earn a spot on the All-Star roster.
Dutifully, he reports to Los Angeles and the excitement crests by game-time not only in his body, but in all the various burgs in P.R. "Cheo." as he's called back home, not only will play, these fans are certain, but probably will appear for three or four innings.
ALAS. WHEN IT comes to Cruz. Chuck Tanner chooses to snooze. Save pitchers, he will be the lone DNP for the National League.
"After all that waiting, a lot of people were happy for me that I made it onto the All-Star team,' Cruz noted last night, after driving in one run and scoring the game-winner as the Astros edged the Phillies. 3-2. in 10 innings. "Me too.
"But the manager, he didn't use me. What can you say? I asked him about it and he told me that he had to keep one guy out for emergency purposes, in the event of an injury late in the game. I understood, but I also couldn't help thinking, 'Why me? Why me?’"
Which points to another question: Why is Jose Cruz among the best-kept secrets in baseball?
Once again, his stats – .309 average, 57 RBI (10 game-winners), 22 stolen bases – are extra impressive on a squad where the scoring of a run is greeted with a rendition of "Pomp and Circumstance." And no Astro can touch him in terms of durability.
Cruz, however, does possess two glaring shortcomings. He does not ask for veto power over the possible sale of his team and he does not ask that fans watching the game from behind him submit to frisks for flash light batteries.
In other words, he just plays ball. Well.
"IT DOES NOT bother me that people don't seem to notice me." Cruz told a crowd of one around his locker. "I let my steadiness do my talking and go from there. I'm in my fifth year of keeping a .300 average and I have also led this team in game-winning hits each year.
"The people back home know what kind of ballplayer I am and they give me a lot of credit. Over here, I just don't know what it is."
Even in Houston, Cruz claims he is asked for an interview session "only when i do something to directly win the game." On the road, he could probably get more ink if he laid out the post-game food spread in the clubhouse.
According to Harry Shattuck. who follows the Astros for the Houston Post, Cruz is somewhat slighted because he's not exactly the second coming of Groucho Marx when it comes to glibness and not exactly a walking advertisement for the local branch of the Berlitz School of languages when it comes to English.
Shattuck insists, however, that Cruz is given his just due in Houston, where a cheer of "Croooooooze" is liable to rise up even after a simple catch.
"He's a very popular player and he deserves more attention than he's getting," Shattuck said. "You know he'll be out there every day and you know he'll do the job. In the past, he had trouble with grounders in the outfield and he had some trouble with getting picked off. But that hasn't happened this season."
WHAT HAS HAPPENED this season is that the number of Cruz Brothers playing ball in the US. now equals the number of Blues Brothers making merry in the movies. Cirilo (Tommy) Cruz, who last season hit .297 for the Yankees' AAA affiliate in Columbus, Ohio, has migrated to Japan. Hector (Heity) Cruz is still a spare Reds outfielder.
"I opened the door for my brothers," Jose said, proudly. "The scouts saw me. I told them about my brothers. They proved their ability, too. But Tommy got sick of hitting .300 almost every year in the minors and not getting a break, so now he plays in Japan and makes good money."
Who knows? He might even be a Nipponese national hero.
"Maybe people think that because we're from Puerto Rico, we can't speak enough English to interview us," Cruz said, talking as much in general as in specific. "I think that's wrong. They should come talk to me – and us – and at least find out for themselves. If they don't at least make some effort, how are they going to know?"
In the first inning last night, Cruz followed Joe Morgan’s two-out walk with a bullet in the direction of the right-field picnic area. A youngster made a nice two-hop stab and Morgan was unable to romp in on the ground-rule double (a long shot, anyway). Cesar Cedeno then popped to center.
WITH RUNNERS ON first and third in the third, Cruz directed a semi-scorcher to the right of second base. Manny Trillo could only muffle the ball's progress as Cruz got a hit and an RBI.
With it all, Jose most displayed his mettle in the 10th by milking a walk from Ron Reed after Morgan had been shot down trying to steal for the second out, as the count moved to 2-2.
This time Cedeno was the clutch one, tripling to the right-field corner.
"I was hoping that Joe could steal the base and give me the chance to bang him in," Cruz said. "But just because he gets thrown out, I don't give up. If I can get on, the inning is still alive and Cesar can maybe bang me in. That was what happened."
And, of course, almost everyone swarmed to Cedeno's locker stall, leaving Cruz to sip on a beer and munch on a hot dog (minus the roll) in virtual solitude.
It was just another status quo evening for the guy who, for some weird reason, is lacking in status.
3 Win Tickets
There were three winners last night in the Daily News Home Run Payoff contest. In the third inning of the Phillies-Astros game, winners of four tickets each to a Phillies game were Jos. Loeber of Oaklyn, N.J., Edward Johnson of Camden and Edward Reed of Philadelphia.
So far, the Daily News has paid out $13,550.
Today's entry coupon appears on Page 19.