Wilmington News Journal - July 6, 1980

41-year-old Jim Kaat kids around with Phils


By Hal Bodley, Sports Editor


ST. LOUIS - Don't let this get out but as the Phillies staggered to a 6-1 loss to St. Louis last night, Dallas Green found himself rooting for the winning pitcher.


That's right – the skipper secretly turned traitor as craggy old Jim Kaat mowed down the Phillies with the expertise that only a competitor with his experience could muster on such a sweltering night.


While most 41-year-olds chose to sit by a fan or avoid the 100-degree heat some other way, Jim Kaat marched to the mound in steamy Busch Memorial Stadium and promptly gave his former teammates a lesson in pitching. And while he was at it, he might nave dropped a subtle hint that the Phils made a drastic mistake last spring when they shipped him off to the New York Yankees.


Randy Lerch, the Phils' cocky young lefthander, wasn't around long enough to watch Kaat's entire show. Lerch, who fell back into what has become his 1980 Jekyjl-Hyde pattern, gave up five runs on seven hits before Green replaced him with Lerrin LaGrow to start the sixth inning.


Lerch, now 3-11 with a 4.41 earned run average, obviously didn't have it from the beginning. The Cards, who fell behind 1-0 in the first on an unearned run, quickly gave Kaat a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the inning and, after that, it was a breeze.


Kaat, who came here after being released by the Yankees in April, polished off the Phillies in an hour and 39 minutes. It was supposed to be a night game, but Kitty got Pete Rose to ground out with the final out before it got dark.


The setback kept the Phils from moving into a first-place tie with Montreal in National League East The Expos lost to New York 7-5 last night and remain a full game ahead of Philadelphia.


That old son of a gun is a great competitor," Green said of Kaat. "I'll tell you the truth, he had me rooting for him at the end. He pitched a helluva baseball game tonight: Maybe some of our pitchers ought to take a lesson from the way Nino Espinosa, Bob Sykes and Kaat have pitched the last two days.


"They would realize you don't have to powder the damn ball all the time. If you don't walk people, you're going to stay in some games."


Green was referring to Lerch, who walked Cards' leadoff batter Bobby Bonds twice. Bonds, who opened the bottom of the first with a walk on four pitches, easily scored on Keith Hernandez's single to left after Garry Templeton's ground-rule double to center.


"Bonds has been in a hitting slump and you know he is more selective up there," said Green. "But I'll tell you the truth. He couldn't have hit any of those pitches Randy threw him in the first inning if he tried."


Lerch had pitched well in three of his four previous starts and Green thought the left-hander was getting in a good groove. Last night he reverted back to his old form.


“We're trying to get him to be successful," said Green. "If he is a successful pitcher, we're going to walk away with this thing (division). We have been trying to get him to establish his fastball. For some reason, he thinks he is a breaking-ball pitcher. Then, when he doesn't get that over, they lay back for the fastball."


Green paused a moment, munching on a piece of fried chicken before adding: "Randy did not pitch very well tonight. He knows that because the Cardinals told him."


Kaat, like Espinosa and Sykes in Friday's game, did not overpower anyone. He struck out just two batters, spaced six hits and was aided by three double plays en route to his 267th career victory. He is 3-5 with St. Louis.


"I was really pumped up for this start," said Kaat. "In fact, I think it probably hurt me because I was so pumped up in the first inning I was working too fast and was trying to overthrow. It's kinda like when you have to run a mile and you sprint the first hundred yards. You run out of gas.


"I was fortunate because they hit a lot first and second pitches, and they hit the ball at people. It was almost as if we were destined to win that game." Kaat, in his 22nd major-league season, says he seldom thinks about a specific start before he reports to the ball park.


"But today I couldn't get the game off my mind," he admitted. "It was a long day for me, to say the least. I'm satisfied the way I pitched, but I think I pitched better in a couple of my starts against Pittsburgh. The Phillies hit a lot of balls on the nose tonight, but they were fly balls at people."


Knowing the Phillies so well, Kaat said, made his job even tougher.


"You think about personalities more, about the good friends and all that. Usually as a pitcher I try not to even look at the hitter, I just want to look at the catcher. Overall, I think it was probably an advantage they had not faced me under game conditions."


Bonds, who walked three times and stole three bases, scored three runs, while Hernandez drove in three with the single and triple. George Hendrick, whose 10th-inning homer off Kevin Saucier in the 10th inning Friday gave St. Louis a 1-0 victory, drive in two runs with a double and single. Ted Simmons' double off LaGrow in the seventh produced the sixth Cardinal run.


Lonnie Smith singled, stole second and continued to third on Simmons' throwing error in the first. He scored on Rose's sacrifice fly, but that ended the Phils' scoring.


The Cards, considered the best hitting team in the National League, managed just 12 hits in the first three games.


"We came in here, swept a double-header from them and held them down on Friday," said Green. "They were ready to lose that game before Hendrick hit his homer. That brought them to life and now they are crushing the ball."


EXTRA POINTS - In the first inning of his 17 starts, Lerch has given up 20 runs, 29 hits, walked 11 batters and issued five homers... The Phils are now 4-3 on this eight-game road trip... Steve Carlton (13-4) will go against Pete Vucko-vich (7-5) today... The Cards are 5-4 against the Phils... Manny Trillo's 11-game hitting streak came to an end... Kaat joined Sykes and Charlie Leibrandt as the only three left-handed starters to defeat the Phillies this year... They also lost to Grant Jackson and Dennis Kenney in relief... Overall, they are 11-5 vs. lefties

Walk simply throws strikes to save job


By Hal Bodley, Sports Editor


ST. LOUIS - Dallas Green didn't march Bob Walk into his office and say: "Pitch well tonight or you're on your way back to Oklahoma City."


Green didn't say anything. He knew the time had come for the young pitcher to produce and Bob Walk knew it.


So, on June 25 the 23-year-old right-hander bought some time with the Phillies' varsity with a superb effort against Montreal. He allowed just four hits over eight innings and just one unearned run. That run kept him from getting the decision in a 2-1, 10-inning Phils' victory.


Just to prove it wasn't a fluke, Walk followed up that start with a 5-2 victory over New York that raised his record to 3-0. Then, last Thursday night in the second game of a doubleheader against the Cardinals here, he pitched his first "perfect" game in the majors, a five-hit, 8-1 victory.


"The start against Montreal was really make-or-break for him," Manager Green admitted the other day. "We just couldn't continue to send him out there."


In Walk's previous start, at San Diego on June 19, he didn't get past the third inning, allowing three runs on four hits as his earned run average zoomed to 7.96.


Newspaper headline writers were having a field day because the young Californian was walking so many batters. In his first six starts after being called up in late May, Walk had issued 15 walks in 26 Vi innings. But in his job-saving performance against Montreal he walked just four batters and against New York only one while striking out seven to lower his ERA to 5.36. Walk now has a 4-0 record and 4.59 ERA.


The problems the Phillies have had with their pitching staff this season have been mentioned here many times. Green's desperate need for a healthy arm forced him to promote Walk from Oklahoma City even though the pitcher had just three years of professional experience.


“The first couple of starts, I lost my composure," said Walk, who had a 12-7 record and 2.24 ERA at Reading of the Eastern League last year. "I think I lost my intensity. The hardest thing for a pitcher to deal with mentally when you get to the big leagues is making yourself realize that you're on the same level with the other guys. The tendency is to assume that they're better, and try to pitch 'up' to them.


"In a sense, I was afraid to let the' batters hit the ball. I guess in the back of my mind every hit was going to be a home run. So, I tried to make each pitch an exceptional one. When you do that the chances are you're either going to strike the guy out or walk him.


"I realize I'm not going to strike out everybody. So I'm trying to make guys hit the ball. We've got all those Gold Gloves out there, right? So, why not let them catch it?"


In Walk's start at San Diego, Green was openly critical.


"He grew up near here (Van Nuys, Calif.) and a lot of his family and friends were at the game, but I didn't like the way he pitched. I can understand why he would be nervous, but I think it is time he got over that."


Pitching coach Herm Starrette had always considered Walk a fast worker, but once he arrived in Philadelphia on May 26, the delivery seemed to have slowed down.


"We talked about it and in those two good starts, he pitched quickly," said Starrette. "I think when a pitcher works quickly, it helps everyone on the team."


“I never pitched that slowly in the minors," said Walk. "I got up here and things went a little rocky and I started to think, 'Oh, God, what do I have to do now?'" he explained. "In the minors, I was not to slow. I never took much time between pitches."


Green, a former pitcher himself, admits it is difficult for someone with no more experience than Walk has to jump from Double-A to the majors without Triple-A experience.


"Bobby Walk has done a great job," Green said as he prepared for the much-needed All-Star break. "He finally learned that major-league pitching isn't as hard as it looks if you just, get the ball over the plate and work more quickly. He has pitched within himself the last two times out."


The Phils picked Walk in the fifth round of the January 1976 draft, but he didn't sign. They drafted him again the following June and signed him.


"He was the most improved pitcher on our staff at Reading," said Manager Jim Snyder, who is now piloting Oklahoma City. "He has command of all his pitches. All he has to do is stay down with that fastball because it is a good one."


"When the Phillies called me up, the enormity of the whole thing got to me," said Walk. "I had trouble sleeping. I couldn't think of anything but what I would do when I got to the mound. Now, when I am away from the ball park, I can think of other things. I feel I'm beginning to get a grip on my job."


Walk paused a moment before adding: "But nobody's position is cemented at my level. I'm still the low man here and, if I got sent back to Oklahoma City tomorrow, I wouldn't feel that bad. Anyway, those things are out of my control. All I can take care of is what's between the white lines. Someone else makes the decisions."