Philadelphia Inquirer - June 1, 1980

A 35-8 year for Carlton in works?

 

By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer

 

MONTREAL (Oct. 5, 1980) – Steve Carlton raised his record to 35-8 with his sixth one-hitter of the season yesterday as the Phillies defeated the Montreal Expos, 8-0. John Tamargo's infield single with two outs in the eighth was the only hit off Carlton, who finished the year with a 1.84 earned-run average. The lefthander fanned nine, giving him 359 strikeouts for the season.

 

CHICAGO – One of these days, Steve Carlton has to go out and get hammered, doesn't he?

 

You know, give up three homers to – the Padres or somebody and be gone in the third?

 

After all, the guy isn't a computer, is he? He's human, right? Even Dallas Green has to figure Carlton will get blasted once eventually. Doesn't he?

 

Uh . . . doesn't he?

 

"No, I don't believe in those things," said Green after Carlton blanked the Cubs, 7-0, yesterday with another one of his standard 11-strike-out four-hitters.

 

"I think, especially in the groove Lefty's in, that he's liable to roll off about 18 of these in a row before anybody worries about him losing anything. He's just in an outstanding groove right now."

 

The word "groove" somehow isn't adequate to describe the 1980 version of Steve Carlton, though. "Groove" implies that this might inevitably end. Carlton implies that it might not. Ever.

 

He doesn't imply that verbally, of course. But his record does the talking. It stands now at 9-2. He has a 1.84 earned-run average and 91 strikeouts in 93 innings.

 

He has made 12 starts, and he probably should have won them all. Yesterday was the fourth time he has struck out 11 in a game, and in two of the previous three, he didn't even get the win.

 

He has been good to great in every start and practically unhittable in a few. Those numbers in that imaginary story from Montreal might seem unattainable. But if Carlton were to continue pitching at this pace, those are the mathematical projections for his final stats.

 

Not many people are around who vividly remember Carlton's 27-10 season in 1972. So it's tough to make comparisons.

 

"The only thing I remember about him that year," said Larry Bowa, "is it seems like those were the only games we won."

 

Carlton has a better supporting cast around him now. But, as Green sighed yesterday, "I'd hate to think of what our pitching staff would be like without him going out there every fourth day and giving us a comfortable seven, eight, nine innings."

 

It's not as if this is Carlton's first good year since 72. He did win his second Cy Young award in 1977. He has won 18 or more three times since 72. He has never had an ERA in the 4.00s. But never has he been this awesomely consistent, either.

 

"I think he's throwing now with as much velocity as I've ever seen him," said Bowa. "The last two years he didn't seem to be throwing quite as hard as he has this year. His velocity is incredible this year.

 

"Plus, his slider – I don't see how guys ever hit it. You ever seen so many guys swing at bad pitches? The ball must do some real moving when it gets to the plate."

 

But a lot of pitchers have great stuff. Carlton's success goes beyond the basics – grips and rotations and mixing up pitches. Ask people what his secret is, and they all talk about the world of the mind.

 

"I've never seen a guy who can totally concentrate like Carlton can," said Randy Lerch. "He'll go to sleep on the trainer's table before every game – lay down, close his eyes, lay there for an hour or so. He told me he pictures throwing to each guy in his head. He sees it all in his mind before he does it.

 

"Have I tried it? Yeah," laughed Lerch, who is 1-6. "Obviously, it hasn't worked too well."

 

"It's easy to just say the word 'concentration' but it's another thing to go out and do it," said Bowa. "Concentration's a very difficult thing to attain, even as a hitter. I know I can't do it. I'm concentrating defensively as well as offensively, and I'm just worn out.

 

"He probably just concentrates on pitching. He believes everything is in the mind. He knows exactly what he wants to do, and he does it."

 

It sure sounds simple. But if it were, every pitcher in baseball would be 9-2 right now, wouldn't they?

 

 

NOTES: Carlton won his ninth game last year in his 19th start. He is there in 12 this season.... Matchups in Pittsburgh: Lerch vs. Don Robinson tomorrow, Dick Ruthven vs. Buddy Jay Solomon on Tuesday, Carlton vs. John Candelaria on Wednesday.... Cubs starter Willie Hernandez was so pleased about being yanked in the fourth that he tipped his hat to a booing crowd, then hurled a catcher's chest protector out of the dugout. Cubs manager Preston Gomez was asked what Hernandez said to him. "I don't give a bleep what he says to me," Gomez snapped.... Bill Buckner had struck out only twice all year until Carlton got him yesterday.... Bob Walk vs. Dennis Lamp today.

Schmidt, Carlton crunch Cubs

 

2 homers, 9th win in 7-0 romp

 

By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer

 

CHICAGO – What modern-day love affair is more passionate than Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O'Neal? More unabashedly open than Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas? More everlasting than Sonny and Cher (not that that would take much)?

 

Why, it's Mike Schmidt and Wrigley Field, of course.

 

Put these two together, and they've got more magical chemistry than Tracy and Hepburn. If the National Enquirer ever hears about this, those Elvis-reincarnation stories will look like mere trivia.

 

On Friday, it appeared as though this romance might be off. It was Schmidt's first Chicago appearance of the 1980s, and Wrigley imported its finest four-homer breezes for the occasion. But Schmidt hardly gave them a furtive glance. Nary a home-run scare in four trips.

 

But yesterday, they couldn't help themselves. In the third inning of the Phillies' 7-0 victory over the Cubs, Schmidt muscled a Willie Hernandez fastball toward the wall in right.

 

"Just threw my bat at it," Schmidt shrugged. "On a normal day, I guess it might have been a double or something."

 

But hardly any day in Wrigley seems to be normal when Schmidt is in town. Conveniently, there was a breeze. More conveniently, that breeze was blowing out to right. So the baseball clanked off the screen in right, and Schmidt had his 16th homer of the year.

 

There is more to this Schmidt-Wrigley thing, however, than a simple gust of wind. On certain swings on certain days, it is bigger than the elements.

 

In the seventh inning yesterday, Bill Caudill tried to power his extremely hard fastball past Schmidt, up and in. Schmidt simply flicked those fluid hitter's wrists, and launched a laser-beam line drive that whooshed out to left before Schmidt was two steps out of the box. Elasped flight time was about 1.6 seconds.

 

"I couldn't believe a ball could be hit that hard," said Larry Bowa. "And he didn't have any help on that one. The wind helped on balls to right, but it was taking something off them if you hit it to left. He just ripped that ball right through it."

 

Steve Carlton (9-2) hardly needed anything more, including the two innings of relief he got from Dickie Noles. Over the first seven innings, Carlton scattered four very meager hits and fanned 11 for the fourth time this year. But Dallas Green didn't let him reel in his 45th career shutout. He pinch-hit for Carlton in the eighth, and Noles finished up. "

 

Stuff like shutouts doesn't bother me, and it doesn't bother Lefty," Green said. "He had pitched three very quick innings, but then in the seventh he struggled a little, and there's no point in making Steve Carlton struggle. Steal a couple innings from him here and there, and you keep him strong."

 

Carlton had close to no-hit stuff. Tim Blackwell got the first hit, with two outs in the third – a ground-ball single that Schmidt backhands routinely on Astroturf.

 

After that came a looping fifth-inning single by Steve Ontiveros that dropped in front of Greg Luzinski, a blooper to center by Lenny Randle in the sixth and Dave Kingman's seventh-inning leadoff double that landed square on the line in left.

 

Kingman was the only Cub to reach second all day. But Carlton firmly cemented him there. Garry Maddox made a picturesque running catch of Mike Vail’s liner to left for the first out of the inning. Then Carlton fanned Jerry Martin and Ontiveros on curveballs that looked as if they'd been dropped off the Hancock Building.

 

The hardest balls hit off Carlton all day were outs. But they wouldn't have been if anyone but Maddox had been playing center.

 

Nobody else gets to Vail's ball in the seventh. Nobody else comes from the alley in left to shoestring Kingman's bloop to straightaway center in the second. And nobody else goes 12 miles to catch Bill Buckner's screamer to right in the first, and barely avoids colliding with right-fielder Lonnie Smith two steps later.

 

"Garry's probably over there at his locker feeling sorry for himself because he didn't get any hits," said Schmidt. "But that catch on Buckner could have been as important as a home run or a couple RBIs. Those things don't show up in the box scores, do they? The only guys who know about those are us guys watching the game."

 

On the other hand, you could know what kind of year Schmidt is having by reading box scores in Tahiti. His two-run shot in the third gave the Phils a 3-0 lead. And, after a three-run fourth had put the game away, Schmidt's seventh-inning rocket finished the scoring.

 

Schmidt now has 16 homers, the most in baseball and the most he has ever had on June 1. He is 10 games ahead of his 45-homer pace of last year and would finish with 63 homers if he kept launching them at this rate. What might this man do if he played at Wrigley 81 times a year?

 

"Could he hit 60 here? I don't see why not," said Maddox, matter-of-factly. "How many did he hit last year 45? He'd have to be damn near flirting with 60. Heck, he's flirting with 60 anyway."

 

Schmidt now has five two-homer games in Wrigley and one legendary four-homer game. He has stung 24 lifetime here, but 19 of them have come since 1976.

 

"The big thing is, I've learned to relax here," Schmidt said. "I've learned to just try and hit the ball. My first couple years, I don't think I even got a hit off Ferguson Jenkins in this ball park. All he ever fed me was sliders on the corners outside. I'd try to hit everything to left field, and he'd have my number.

 

"But the last couple years I've learned you've got to hit a couple balls up the middle, hit those outside pitches to right, if you ever want to see a ball inside.

 

“I have no idea how many I'd hit if I played here all the time. I bet if you took a poll you'd find the wind blows in here most of the time. Of course, if it wants to blow out all the times we come to town, I wouldn't object. I'll have to do a wind dance or something."

 

Ah, love. Isn't it grand?

This Rose a perennial

 

By Bill Lyon

 

"My epitaph can be, 'Pete Rose: All he wanted to do was hit forever. '"

 

It was 3 hours and 22 minutes before game time, and The Man Who Wanted To Hit Forever was already in tun uniform, impatiently stalking the dugout.

 

The big cats in a circus walk that way just before feeding time, prowling back and forth, salivating, twitching their tails in anticipation.

 

Peter Edward Rose had a bat in his hands, and he twitched that instead. But then The Man Who Wanted To Hit Forever always has a bat in his hands.

 

"He even carries 'em on the plane with him, honest," said John Vukovich, a utility infielder with the Phillies.

 

The 39th summer of Pete Rose on this planet is about to begin, and it waits out there like the baking ovens of the Sahara, a boiling June, steamy July, a tar-bubbling August, and, finally, a strength-sapping September. And The Man Who Wanted To Hit Forever, while the other league leaders are cruising along in the .350's and .360's, is scuffling back in the pack, where even .290 seems a mirage.

 

He's durable

 

So the question seems inevitable: Is this, at last, the season when Pete Rose succumbs to age? If .290 is a struggle in the spring, will .260 be an effort in the summer? Will .240 drag him down, like an anchor, in the autumn?

 

He shakes that Prince Valiant shag hair, which is flecked with gray now, and he snorts.

 

"Last September, I got 51 hits, batted .421, was player of the month. September, that's when everyone is supposed to be tired. You know, I have never played a season yet when I lost weight. One year I played 163 games and gained three pounds.

 

"I got the highest games played per year average in baseball. You know how many games I've missed in the last 10 years? Nine. That's all, nine.

 

"If I go to bat 600 times this season, that'll be an all-time record... 14 seasons with 600 ABs, and 13 of 'em in a row. Those are the records I'm proudest of 'cause they mean you're a gamer, you were there all day, every day, and nights too. You were durable."

 

Legs still strong

 

He is right. He is durable, like concrete, but even concrete, after enough contraction and expansion, begins to crack.

 

So we begin to peer closely at Pete Rose, like a building inspector poking at a foundation. Like a landmark skyscraper, he has been standing tall for years, but has age started to erode the base?

 

"They say the legs are the first to go," he grins, "and I hope they're right. There's two things keep me playing every day, these (he taps a couple of thighs that have about as much give as bowling balls) and these (he nods at his forearms, which should have pine cones dangling from them). My legs never give out. And my arms, they keep the defense from playing me like a Punch and Judy hitter."

 

Pete Rose has a way of talking about himself that doesn't sound the least bit conceited. It is like listening to a doctor lecture an anatomy class. Pete Rose seems to detach himself from himself; it is as though he is over in a corner talking about a cadaver. This cadaver may be struggling to reach .290 now, but, its owner says, come September and the stretch, it'll be over .300 again and closing in on 200 hits, again.

 

Achilles' heel

 

And yet it can't go on forever. Sooner or later, The Man Who Wanted To Hit Forever no longer will.

 

"I know that," he snaps, peevishly. "But I don't let myself think about that. That would bother me."

 

That is his Achilles' heel, the day when he can no longer play. The thought is positively abhorrent to him, so he just shuts it out of his mind. He is a man chasing numbers now, first Stan Musial's all-time National League record for hits, and then, way off on the horizon, Ty Cobb's major league record. Sometime next year he should overtake Musial. It is further to Cobb, further than his contract with the Phillies. Would he consider being a designated hitter in the American League?

 

"Why not?" he answers, and it is so fast it is obvious he already has thought ahead to that eventuality.

 

 

The Man Who Wanted To Hit Forever scratches like an alley cat. He can convince you he'll still be batting when Social Security runs out. He may be the only person who ever got a street named after him and said: "They should have made it an alley instead."