Philadelphia Inquirer - July 5, 1980
Espinosa comes back strong, but Phils fall
By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer
ST. LOUIS – Nino ("I'm Not Talking") Espinosa didn't throw hard, didn't throw often and didn't throw to anybody ever spotted in Spartanburg, S.C., yesterday.
But when Espinosa was through with his first major league start since last Sept. 23, what he had thrown was a two-hit, one-walk, eight-inning shutout.
It would have made for a nice, inspirational, back-from-oblivion fairy tale had Espinosa done all that and also won. But there's a limit to how many innings formerly sore-armed pitchers can last, especially on a scorching 100-degree day that felt like noon on the Bonneville Salt Flats.
So after eight innings of 0-0 dueling with the previously undistinguished Bob Sykes, Espinosa retired to cooler confines. And Kevin Saucier came on to eventually serve a game-resolving 10th-inning change-up to George Hendrick.
Hendrick was almost as happy to see it as he would have been to see a giant air-conditioner floating his way. He bashed it 400 feet out and 35 feet up to left. And the Cardinals won it for Sykes, 1-0.
"I just thought he'd be sitting on a fastball he could hit out of the park," said Keith Moreland, who had come in to catch in the ninth. "Obviously, he wasn't."
This was a day that didn't figure to turn out this way. Sykes came in at 2-6, with a 5.37 earned-run average for the year 17-22, 4.78 lifetime.
And he is one of those lefthanded fastballers the Phillies have been munching on all year like so many postgame tacos. They had lost to only one lefthanded starter all season until Sykes – change-up king Charlie Leibrandt in Cincinnati on May 9.
But then nobody had figured Espinosa would be quite this good the first time out, either.
"Give him credit," shrugged Dallas Green. "Because he told me all along he could do this. You just doubt what you see sometimes."
Three weeks ago, Green exiled Espinosa to Spartanburg and told him it was time to either pitch "or go back to the Dominican Republic and find something else to do." Yesterday he was back, making up in guile what he had lost in fire.
Nobody was mistaking Espinosa for J. R. Richard. But he got the job done. He whooshed through his eight innings on just 79 pitches, baffling the Cardinals with all kinds of slow-motion magic.
"He just pitched great," said Bob Boone. "He didn't have a whole lot of velocity. But he has one of the best abilities to just pitch a game of anybody I've ever caught."
Even when he threw hard, Espinosa was as much a pitcher as a thrower. And that came in handy yesterday, because the Cardinals took one look at that endless stream of floaters, forgot they are great contact hitters and turned every stroke into a Dave Kingman swingalike contest.
"You can't try to crush it, which they were all trying to do," said Boone. "It's kind of the reason Randy Jones has success, not that he and Nino pitch the same. You see the ball good. You know he's not going to throw it by you. So you tell yourself you're going to crush it. But it's never right there in a good hitting area."
Espinosa is a different kind of pitcher now. He is even different than he was in September, after the bursitis in his shoulder already had begun to flare.
"It's tough for me to describe," said Boone. "The ball just comes in different. I think right now he's like Ruth-ven was, coming off his problem. It looked like he was protecting his shoulder a little bit. He gets to his delivery point and he's pushing the ball. He's not letting loose. It's like he's saying, 'I'm not going to let it hurt me.'
"I think, as he starts to get more and more confidence, he'll start letting one go, then letting two go, building like that. He's like Dick was at the beginning of the year. Except Nino has the ability to just flop the ball in there and change speeds."
The two hits the Cardinals got were Leon Durham's grounder through the right side in the first and Ted Simmons' double in the seventh. At one point, Espinosa retired 15 in a row.
Meanwhile, the Phillies stranded men in scoring position five times against Sykes. They also got Pete Rose thrown out at the plate in the eighth.
Rose had singled with two outs. Then Greg Luzinski looped an end-of-the-bat flare down the line in short right. Rookie rightfielder Durham never saw it until the ball skidded toward the bullpen. So Rose tried to motor in from first.
But Durham threw it over two possible cutoff men. Catcher Ted Simmons scooped it up on the short-hop. And Rose was out.
"As soon as that ball was hit, I knew they were gonna send me," Rose said. "I just knew from where the outfielders were playing. Simmons made a real good play, because the ball short-hopped him. The way his position was to the plate, all I can do is try and knock it out of his hands. He made a real good tag."
Nobody in the crowd of 15,481 seemed especially unhappy to see Rose get nabbed. Rose gets treated in Busch Stadium like a guy with 3,000 murders on his record instead of 3,000 hits. Earlier, after he had caught a foul pop-up in the seventh, a fan knocked off his helmet, then threw a beer at him.
"I'm just glad I'd already thrown the ball when he did it," Rose fumed. "I would have hit him in the chest as hard as I could throw. Then them fans give him a hand for it."
Green also blasted the crowd as "the worst group of fans I've seen in a long time." He also wasn't amused by the organist's rendition of Old Gray Mare after Rose hit a ground ball.
"I think that's bush – Augie Busch, or whatever Busch," Green said. "They're just encouraging people on to what happened today."
It was, all in all, a pretty eventful day for a 1-0 game. But what Espinosa thought of it shall remain one of the world's great mysteries.
"I'm not talking," said Espinosa, after an hour in the trainer's room. "I'm just not talking. That's all."
The Phillies' doubleheader sweep Thursday night was their first sweep since April 15, 1979. That was 12 doubleheaders ago. What made this one amazing was that they did it without using a single relief pitcher.
Ruthven (7-5) went nine in the 2-1 first-game victory, allowing four hits and one fourth-inning run. Then Bob Walk (4-0) pitched his first big-league complete game, an 8-1 five-hitter in the nightcap.
"Two fine-pitched baseball games," said Green. "And we needed them. It would have been hard to expect this, not the way the Cardinals have been swinging the bat. They're a pretty damn good offensive team."
Walk has allowed only three earned runs in his last three starts. He also has walked only two in his last 16 innings. He feels he belongs now, and he is pitching like it.
"I don't feel any different now than I did when I pitched in Oklahoma City," Walk said. "It takes a while to adjust to the realization that you're as good as everybody else up here. You think you're just a Triple A pitcher. But then, after a few games of success, you think, 'Well, I'm as good as they are.'"
NOTES: Mike Schmidt probably will at least go to the All-Star game and be introduced. But he probably won't play. Green and Paul Owens talked with National League president Chub Feeney yesterday. "We explained to him that Schmitty wants to play," Green said. "He wants to be a part of it. But to have him not play in this whole series and then play there, I don't think, quality-wise, he would be ready to do his best playing."... Bob Walk's ERA is down to 4.59 after his 8-1 win in the second game Thursday. Three starts ago it was 7.96. It was pointed out to Walk how well he had handled an excellent fastball-hitting team. He replied, "Yeah, they are – um, I guess. I don't know. I'm pretty new at this business."... Walk also set a personal record for quickest time of game 2:14. Previous low: 2:23, with six starts over 2:30, two over three hours.... Manny Trillo has hit in 11 straight. The best streak by a Phillie this year is 12 by Bake McBride. Trillo's career best is 13, in 1978.... Jim Kaat (2-5) vs. Randy Lerch (3-10) tonight. Last month Kaat was 2-1, 1.98.