Philadelphia Daily News - June 12, 1980
Lerch in the Doghouse
By Bill Conlin
No matter how many times Dallas Green watches an aimless, early-inning pitching shambles created by Randy Lerch, the manager finds himself grinding his teeth and balling his fists.
lt is like the shower scene from the film classic “Psycho." No matter how many times you've watched that butcher knife come slashing through the shower curtain it will raise you six inches off your seat every time. It's called a conditioned reflex. Too bad Pavlov's dog can't pitch.
Green thought he could see a sliver of light at the end of the pitching tunnel, but last night Lerch gave the Phillies another Metroliner-sized disappointment.
His record is 2-8. his ERA 5.01. Randy has allowed a staggering 85 hits in 70 innings of work.
AFTER LERCH gave the shabby Giants four runs, six hits and eight base runners in 2⅓ innings of a disquieting 7-4 loss. Green took off the kid gloves. It turns out he was wearing brass knuckles underneath.
"Maybe we've been too nice," Dallas said during a long, sincere and sober look at where his team has been and where it appears to be going. "Eventually a pitcher gets this way and it's up to him. You can teach, cajole, hope and pray. But it comes down to he's got to screw his hat on tighter and go. Instead of getting hissed off in the clubhouse and tearing the clubhouse up, maybe he's got to get hissed off on the mound, show some of that fire and ginegar out there."
Ginegar? Now there's a new Scrabble entry. But maybe Green thinks Lerch needs a cross between ginger and vinegar out there.
The manager yanked him out of the rotation last month. Randy didn't like it one bit. but Green felt it was an appropriate dose of shock therapy. The 25-year-old lefthander got off an 0-6 Schneider with a victory over the Pirates, and anybody who can crank one up that good against the defending world champions should be able to hold his own against a team floundering in sixth place.
"They are not a team you expect to. win a pennant," Green said.
So what's next, frontal lobotomy? Green's options are limited to pitch Lerch, trade him, option him to the minors or release him.
"I guess persevere is a good word," Dallas said. "There's only one form of shock treatment left and I don't think I can afford that at this time."
IT WAS THE manager's way of saying he would like the luxury of sending Lerch to Oklahoma City, where he could sort things out in a more forgiving environment. But the Phillies rotation is held together with chewing gum and paper clips as it is. They aren't about to swap one problem for another raw recruit. Which is why the machinery for Plan B is already in motion. The Phillies will probably ask Warren Brusstar and Nino Espinosa to volunteer for 20 days of pitching in the minors when the club leaves-for the West Coast Sunday night. Under the basic agreement a disabled-list player who agrees to continue his rehabilitation in the minors receives full pension credit and other fringe benefits. It does not affect his option status and the club must bring him back up in 20 days.
"We feel they're both ready for game action," said pitching coach Herm Starrette. "The last two times Nino threw he had as good a stuff as he had his last five starts last season. Bru is ready to throw, too, but they've been doing it on the side and need to get some live innings under their belts."
Lerch has had games this season where he's had great stuff and been burned by mistakes, others where he overthrew the ball early and settled down with good results. But this time Green found himself watching a pitcher who Starrette says had excellent stuff warming up and who left all of it on the sideline.
Rookie first baseman Rich Murray pounded a two-run homer, his first in the majors, off a hanging first-innmg breaking ball. After Darrell Evans made the first out in the third, Jack Clark jacked a double and Murray and Larry Herndon singled. Green charged to the mound and he did not deliver a soothing message or a reassuring fanny-pat.
"I WAS MAD." Dallas said. "I tried to use some toughness and told him where he was. I told him only he could pop his fastball and snap his breaking ball. I couldn't do it for him. Then he walked Rennie Stennett and I got him out of there. He wasnt throwing anything I could see that was going to get anybody out. If I had seen a fastball out there, maybe we would have had something to work off. We've talked about character, demeanor on the mound and approach to the game. It's hard for our guys to stay juiced up out there when a guy's out there hanging his head."
Whenever Lerch is having problems getting his pitching act together, the suggestion invariably surfaces that he is adversely influenced by Steve Carlton. That theory is insulting to both athletes. Carlton walks his own singular path rand asks for no imitators.
"I've heard that stuff," Green said. "In fact, I probably had that opinion myself when I took over last season. But I found it to be totally without foundation. Steve and I have talked about this. Sure, the kid looks up to him and hangs around him, but Lefty can’t pitch for him. And you don’t see Steve drop his head or get nervous about what's going on when he pitches. He just gets the ball and goes on with his job."
At this stage of their careers, the only thing Carlton and Lerch have in common between the white lines is lefthandedness.
ED WHTTSON, A righthander who has been shut out three times this season and had to pitch shutouts in his two previous victories, blanked the Phils until the seventh, when Bob Boone doubled home Pete Rose and scored when leftfielder Larry Herndon entertained the picnic area fans with a long-dribbling exhibition. The runs cut the deficit to 4-2, but San Francisco scored a pair off Kevin Saucier and Dickie Noles in the seventh.
Greg Luzinski's 14th homer, a two-run shot in the eighth, made it 6-4. Greg Minton relieved Whitson and the Giants added a ninth-inning insurance run on Clark's homer off Tug McGraw.
Losing two of three to a team as bad as the Giants will put a manager in a blue funk every time. But Green is not as close to the ragged edge of anger as he sometimes sounds. He gets it out of his system and he won’t say anything behind a player's back that he wont repeat to his face.
If some of his starting athletes don’t start taking infield practice more seriously, though, one of these days promises to be a stormy one.
The eruption of Mt. Green may be just a missed cutoff man away.
PHILUPS: Greg Luzinski's homer was the 218th of his career and moved him into fourth place on the Phillies all-time list... Jack Clark had a double, triple and homer for the Giants and Rich Murray drove in four runs. The kid won’t forget the Vet, scene of his first big-league hit, run scored, RBI, extra-base hit and homer... Paul Owens is still keeping a low profile on a trade for pitching. Green doesn't think one will happen, though, and remains opposed to dealing away the club's future. "I've seen it happen too many times," he said. "We're three games above .500 and a team above .500 can make a pretty quick move in this division. I'm a positive guy and a lot of positive things have been happening, but I can't ignore some of the negatives that have been happening."... Phils are off today, then the Padres come in for the weekend with Randy Jones, 4-5 and the author of three straight shutouts earlier in the season (San Diego's only complete games), going against Dick Ruthven tomorrow night.
Rookie Murray a Major Success
By Bill Conlin
Rich Murray reported to the big leagues on Thursday and got shoved in front of the machine guns on Saturday. Joe Niekro his first game. Nolan Ryan his second, Steve Carlton his third.
It was like shoving a baby duckling into white water before the mother had licked the film from its eyes. He went hit less against Niekro. swatting at a knuckleball that was fluttering more than his stomach. He went hitless against Ryan. listening to a fastball that moved like a rumor.
Then came Carlton, with the slider like an angry wasp. He struck out the first two times and then punched his first major league hit to center out of self-defense.
WHEN THE CHAMBERMAID rapped on his hotel door Tuesday, he half-expected Tom Seaver. He went downstairs and bought a newspaper, leafed to the starting pitchers for that night, put his hand over his eyes and finally sneaked a glance through one of the slits. Crover Cleveland Alexander reincarnated, maybe?
Hot damn, it was Bob Walk! Having just left the minor leagues five days before, Eddie Murray's younger brother suddenly felt right at home. He doubled off Walk his first at-bat.
Last night, for the second straight evening, he proved he can hit minor-league pitching. He ripped Randy Lerch for a two-run homer in the first and a run-scoring single in the third, and then added an RBI single off Dickie Noles in the seventh. Three-for-five. two runs scored, four RBI and six in the last two nights suddenly the bigs didn’t seem like a death sentence for the Giants' new first baseman.
Afterward a crowd of reporters camped out around the kid's locker, hoping to record the first golly-gee of a rookie following his first smash night in the majors. Rich kept them waiting for 10 minutes, returned for a murmur or two and stalked off to the shower, adapting to his new environment with the swiftness of a chameleon. Finally he walked back to his stall like a cow being led to the slaughterhouse.
IF HE WAS any more thrilled, someone would have had to slap him awake. Wouldn't Philadelphia be engraved in his memory as the site of his first big-league hit. first home run and first RBI?
"I’ll remember it." he said. "I guess so."
Describe those first three hellish games in the bigs, kid, tell us how it felt to be spoon-fed with hydrochloric acid.
"I don’t even remember." he said. "Just another game. heck. Anybody's a big difference after facing Nolan Ryan. Lerch just hung a curve ball on the home run."
If he saves the bat that produced that first home run, he'll have to make sure it doesn’t get used as kindling in the fireplace. Murray broke one bat on the ball he hit out and broke another one on his second single.
Actually. Murray's first home run might have been smacked out of sibling jealousy. His brother, the Baltimore Orioles first baseman, had homered in an afternoon game at Oakland yesterday and Rich Murray has spent his entire life panting to keep up with the rest of the family. All five Murray brothers played professional baseball, although Eddie and Rich were the only ones to survive the minors, and life has been one long battle of one-upmanship.
"That's how you got better you had to out-do the other one," said the 22-year-old Murray "We played whiffle ball all the time. That was our main game. We still play basketball and try to beat each other.
"IF I ESTABLISH myself to Eddie's caliber, I'll be OK. He didn't teach me. We taught each other."
Across the room from Murray. Willie McCovey sat in a chair feeling the anvil of time on his shoulders. Twenty-one years ago he had gone 4-for-4 against Phillies pitcher Robin Roberts in his National League debut and now, perhaps, he was at last coming face-to-face with the heir to his position.
"You can't judge a player in five, six games," said McCovey, whose .200 average has apparently doomed him to fade away from baseball on the Giant bench. "I'm not that much of a prophet. We've known a long time he's a good prospect. It was just a matter of time.
"He hasn't had the best of attitude when he's come to spring training. He had the idea there was no chance for him. I remember telling him one day that I was faced with that situation once myself. I arrived in the middle of the (‘59) season and there was Orlando Cepeda coming off Rookie of the Year and Bill White coming off arm surgery. The prospects didn't look too good for me. Just goes to show, you never know."
Rich Murray went back to Triple-A muttering after 79 camp, wondering if McCovey would ever act his age and certain that Mike Ivie was the first-base heir anyway. He hit just .263. "They felt like I needed the time down there." he said. "I didn't. Nobody wants to spend a lifetime in the minor leagues."
Last week, however, Ivie was placed on the disabled list and the Giants decided to sound the trumpet note of the future instead of the cobwebbed Victrola of the past. Murray figured he had been called to mop up in the late innings for McCovey and was surprised to find himself starting at first.
Ivie might be swallowing a little hard himself when he picks up this morning's box score. He was coming off hand surgery and a bad ankle, depressed over his health and his .233 average. The Giants placed him on the disabled list for "mental exhaustion" and called up Rich Murray.
Murray has as many RBI in 19 at-bats as Ivie did in 103. He has suffered through the best the National League can throw at him and feasted off the worst, all in the span of five days.
A few more Bob Walks and Randy Lerches, and they will be asking Eddie Murray what it's like to be Rich Murray's brother.
There were five winners last night in the Daily News Home Run Payoff contest In the third inning of the Phillies-Giants game, Geo. Keller of Camp Hill and Dee Cope stick of Philadelphia each won $10 plus four tickets to a Phillies game, on singles by Lerrin LaGrow and Lonnie Smith, respectively. Lisa Samuel of Cherry Hill, Brian Cotter of Atlantic City, and Mike Mullen of Drexel Hill, each won tickets.
So far the Daily News has paid out $5,220.
Today's entry coupon appears on Page 63.