Philadelphia Daily News - June 18, 1980
Nino Goes 4 Class-A Innings
Life In The Bushes By Stan Hochman
Last of two parts
SPARTANBURG. SC. – Nino Espinosa pitched four scoreless ininngs against the Macon Peaches. The badly bruised Macon Peaches, the last-place team in the South Atlantic Division of the South Atlantic League, with a 35-year-old Cuban refugee playing second base for $300 a month.
Nino Espinosa walked one, whiffed none, gave up one seeing-eye single. He threw 39 pitches in the gray-as-ashes twilight at beautiful Duncan Park.
The fuzzless Peaches were so eager, so awed, eight of ‘em swung at Nino's very first pitch.
Four scoreless innings against Macon in the twilight of a bush league ballpark doesn't sound like much. But it could have been four innings against Murderer's Row at Yankee Stadium.
IT WASN’T HOW Espinosa pitched that was important, it's how he felt when he finished pitching. And when Espinosa finished pitching, he smiled for the first time since last Sept. 20, which is the last time Espinosa pitched in a real ballgame in America.
"I felt good." he said, his right arm bundled in ice. "I popped a few fast balls.
"Those kids, they go up there hacking. The last guy I faced, I had to waste some pitches, just so I could get some more work.
"But the main thing was, I feel pretty good. I dont feel any pain."
Some wounds heal faster than others. Espinosa is still hurting from a recent Dallas Green tirade that suggested Espinosa and Warren Brusstar pitch or get off the spot.
"It's a funny thing." Espinosa said, "but that day I was upstairs in the minor league office, checking on my brother Julio.
"I saw Ruly and he asked me how I felt. I told him I felt good, that the pain was going away. And that I was anxious to get back into the rotation.
"He said. 'We need you. we want you back as soon as you can get back.'
"I told him I was looking forward to coming back, that this thing was driving me crazy. Then, I walk into the locker room and there's Pete Rose and (Larry) Bowa showing me a story and sayings Nino, check this out.’
"The headline said, 'Pitch or...' and I didn't like that. Like they were gonna release me.
"I ASKED DALLAS if he said it. Dallas said that he said every pitcher, in his life, has got to pitch with pain."
Espinosa, normally one of the sweeter-natured players in the game, turned sullen after that. The only thing, it turns out, that burns Espinosa up, is someone trying to light a fire under him.
"I look back," he said, tracing the history of -his shoulder trouble. "In 1978 I pitched 204 innings in the big leagues.
"Then I pitched 65 innings of winter ball, plus 16 in the playoffs, plus another 15 in. the Caribbean series.
"Plus 30-some in spring training. Then, 212 last season.
"So, starting in January of ‘79 I pitched almost 300 innings. "With the Mets, it was always with four days' rest. Even when they had Seaver, Matlack, Koosman, it was always with four days' rest.
"Rube Walker (pitching coach) thinks that way, but the whole organization feels that way. They treat pitchers like a baby-sitter.
“And then, when Lerch, Chnstenson and Ruthven got hurt I started pitching with three days' rest. It started hurting. I told 'em.
"Dr. (Phillip) Marone checked me, told me it was nothing serious. Said to take two aspirins before the game and I'd be all right.
"They took X-rays and said there was nothing wrong. Dr. Marone said to rest for two months and then start throwing.
"IN THE DOMINICAN, I took it easy, visited my farm, had some fun. And then, I tried to pitch twice. And it was no good."
"We got a call," Dr. Marone said from Philadelphia, picking up the narrative. "Nino was having trouble. He had what I felt to be bursitis, which is fairly common.
"We told him to stop pitching (in winter ball) and put him on an exercise program. He came to spring training still hurting.
"The findings were the same, pain in his shoulder when he goes to throw. We continued the exercise program, gave him anti-inflammatory medicine.
"He got to where he was without pain for six weeks. But never being able to pitch with the velocity you need in the major leagues.
"And at that point you’ve, got Dallas Green saying do it or else. From that point on he started to pitch like he should pitch.
"And the last time I saw him he did not complain of pain. Dallas cleared it with me. He asked if they (Espinosa and Brusstar) could hurt themselves if he pushed them.
"There comes a point in time when you have to do it. I am optimistic on Nino, not so optimistic on Brusstar. But I hope I'm wrong on Brusstar."
There is no gadget on the market to measure pain. Only the victim can describe it. Espinosa talks softly in the best of times.
"IT WAS DRIVING me crazy," he said. "I could hardly stay at the ballpark. I had to leave early, because there was nothing I could do. I only felt good around my family.
"I came with the Phillies and I thought I'd get a lot of runs. It didn't work that way.
"I got shut out six times. Three other times I got one run and I drove in two of those.
"But this year, this year I see them scoring five or six runs a game. You get me six runs a game, I'm gonna win a lot of games.”
He is eager to be a part of a pennant race, which is why he finally agreed to come to this grim little town to pitch for its Class A ballclub.
They are paying him a dollar a day just to satisfy the league requirements that he have a bona fide contract.
"They gonna take taxes out of that." he asked on the ride to the ballpark, trapped in a cab with a cheap cigar.
"The first day, the cab driver had a crippled hand. And when we were in the airport we passed a woman with a whole wooden arm. I wondered, am I gonna end up like that?"
A guy looking for omens will find them. The first hitter last night topped a ball down the third-base line. Espinosa scurried over, caught it barehanded, turned, and paused.
"FIRST GUY UP, I'm not loose, and I gotta make a play. I didnt really cut loose on the throw.
"But as it went along, t felt good. Threw some changeups, a few curves. No sliders. The slider is the pitch that hurts because it's a different motion.
"It's gonna take me a couple more outings. But I just hope this game is a start toward coming back to Philadelphia."
It took Espinosa 20 pitches to wobble through the first inning. But he whisked through the second inning on five pitches and the third inning on six.
Spartanburg Manager Tom Harmon thought three innings might suffice, but Espinosa wanted more work.
"He'll come back in five days, and we'll stretch him out a little each time," said Harmon, after his Traders had left the bases jammed in the ninth while losing, 6-4.
"I thought for not pitching since last September, he threw very welL The last inning, he threw two average major league fastballs. Which is as much as you can ask of him.
“I was pleased, and Philadelphia should be too."
Dave Harrigan, the kid who caught Espinosa, was pleased too. "It was quite an experience," he said. "I'm sure he knew he didn't have his best stuff.
"HE WAS TRYING to move the ball around. He knows where he wants to throw it and he can put it there almost every time. Which is, I guess, what makes a major league pitcher.
"Velocity? Well, he popped a couple pretty good the last inning."
Joe Reilly, a Philadelphia scout, was in the crowd of 586. "He looked loose." Reilly said.. "And that last inning, he threw a major league fastball. Before that he was throwing a 68, which is two points under that."
The crowd of 586 was 186 above the average. Espinosa wondered out loud if he should have asked for an attendance clause on that dollar-a-day contract.
"Maybe two bucks a day," he said.
One small joke for Nino, One giant step for the Phillies.
Noles Throws More than a Fit
By Bill Conlin
LOS ANGELES – Joe West blew the call at first base last night.
But Joe West did not have the benefit of two slow-motion replay angles when Pete Rose went into the hole to backhand a chopper by Reggie Smith with two outs in the sixth inning.
Off-baiance, Rose lobbed a feed over first base and waited for Dickie Noles to run under it. The righthander got his feet tangled a little as he caught the ball and poked at the bag.
West called Smith safe. The replay showed a puff of dust coming oft the side of the bag as Noles lunged with his foot, but human eyes probably wouldn't have picked that up, just as they never pick up the final two feet of a checked swing the slow-motion replays almost always verify as a full swing.
IN ANY CASE, it was not a thing for a pitcher to risk suspension over. And events after West's call put Dickie Noles' head squarely in a potential suspension noose.
He was clinging to a 3-2 lead when Steve Garvey jacked a 2-2 slider into the pavilion in left, a three-run homer which gave the Dodgers a 5-3 lead they would later blow in style to the surging Phillies.
But Dallas Green is starting pitcher poor at this time. He doesn't need a telegram from National League President Chub Feeney informing him a starter drafted from the bullpen has been levied a substantial suspension.
After Garvey's homer, Noles threw four angry inside pitches to walk Dusty Baker. Green was out of the dugout waving for Lerrin LaGrow. Noles left quietly enough, shooting just one angry glance in West's direction as the umpire edged toward him the way umpires do when they're showing everybody that they wont back down to an angry player.
Dickie disappeared into the dugout. That's when he started hollering invective at West, when his bat came cartwheeling out of the dugout, coming to rest about five feet to the foul-line side of the umpire. The righthander's batting helmet followed his bat.
WEST GAVE HIM the thumb and charged toward the dugout, followed closely by crew chief Billy Williams. There was some tense milling by the dugout railing before Noles was restrained and led to the clubhouse. In all likelihood. Williams will report to the league office today that Noles deliberately threw a bat at West. "It looks like he's gonna get a good one." Larry Bowa said. "Billy Williams told me he threw the bat at West and that he's got to report what he saw."
Noles said he was merely trying to attract West's attention when the umpire failed to react to his stream of vocal abuse.
"I didn’t throw the bat at him." Noles said. "I just threw it out there to get his attention when he wouldn't turn around. It may have looked like it."
It is 100 feet from the Phils' dugout to the foul line, an uphill throw worthy of Jay Johnstone at his bat-throwing best. Noles contrition may be sincere, but it will be tough to convince Williams or West that he rolled a bat 95 feet through heavy grass.
"I was hissed." Noles said. "I've got to get the next guy out and forget about the call. It wasn't the umpire's fault I threw a three-run homer, it was my fault. I shouldn't have lost my composure."
Green didn't see the bat and helmet come out of the dugout. He was on the mound waiting for LaGrow and didn't know anything was wrong until he saw Williams running toward the dugout.
"I DIDN'T KNOW what had happened until I heard Williams yelling, 'He threw the bat at him," Dallas said. "All I asked Billy when I got over there was to let me handle it, that we'd get him out of there without further incident.
"Dickie reacted in a fit of anger. They'll have to write it up, I'm sure. Dickie realizes he made a mistake. I don't condone that kind of stuff. When something doesn't go his way he's got to be able to control it and handle it. He made the pitch he wanted to make on Garvey the pitch before the homer, jammed the bleep out of him. But Steve fouled off a pitch he should have popped up, then Dickie got a breaking ball out over the plate. I honestly don't know if West blew the call or not. It was a tough call; Dickie certainly didn't make a pure-looking tag with his foot. It's the kind of call you're gonna get, not a flagrant call, but a tough one for an umpire to make."
Well, which ranks higher on the scale of sins against umpires, a glove in the face or a flung bat? At the minimum it will cost Noles $100 for thrown equipment.
And if that's all it costs him, he will be the luckiest pitcher alive.
Scroogie Stops L.A.
By Bill Conlin
LOS ANGELES – Maybe he had a better screwball in 1969, when the Miracle Mets were too amazing, too much of a surprise even to have a slogan. Casey Stengel called them The New Breed.
Maybe Tug McGraw had a better screwball in 1973, when the slogan was, "You Gotta Believe." He coined it.
A lot of John Jameson has gone over the dam since Tug McGraw pitched any better than he did last night in the Phillies' raucous, come-from-behind 6-5 victory over the Dodgers.
He owned the pitch once again, not that it ever had gone away completely. It darted and dipped. He started one at Davey Lopes' left shoulder and it suddenly moved to the outside corner on the knees. McGraw threw it hard, served it marshmallow soft. For two brilliant innings of relief he could have hollered to the hitters, "Here comes Scroogie."
IT WOULD NOT have helped.
He came in with the one-run lead the Phillies had ground out for him in the top of the eighth, the kind of scuffling inning Dallas Green said in Clearwater this team would have to put together when the home-run bats were not blazing – a bunt single by Larry Bowa, a soft single to left by Manny Trillo after the second baseman failed with two bunt attempts, a seeing-eye RBI single to right by slumping pinch-hitter Greg Gross, who fell rounding first and was run down. It was unlovely but effective, the kind of baseball a good team has to play 60 percent of the time if it wants to be a good team.
McGraw rode into the game on the good vibes left by Ron Reed, who waded out of a bases-loaded, one-out swamp in the sixth, striking out Reggie Smith with a paralyzing slider after popping up Davey Lopes. The Phils tied it in the seventh on an opposite-field double by Greg Luzinski and an infield out by Bob Boone, more proof that you don't always have to hit the ball 450 feet to score six runs.
Reed gave the baton to McGraw like a Villanova quarter-miler who had just unfurled a 45-second lap at the Penn Relays, striking out Dusty Baker and Ron Cey to end the seventh. And McGraw struck out the side in the eighth, screwing Bill Russell, Joe Ferguson and Pedro Guererro right into the ground. That was five straight punchouts by a bullpen which started the season with a worse reputation for reliability than a Chrysler Corporation auto.
HE POPPED UP Rudy Law for the first out in the ninth, caught Lopes looking at a screwball that dipped like the stock market on bad news and got Smith on a broken-bat liner to center.
"Tonight I felt like I could spot it, change speeds with it, do anything I wanted to do with it," Tug said afterward. "It's all in the way the bullpen is being used. You need tomorrow off when you haven’t pitched in a week, then have to go out and pitch two innings and stiffen up the next day. You need tomorrow off when you're up and down in the bullpen three days, don't get in and then go four innings when you finally do."
McGraw says pitching for Dallas Green is like being the bouncer at an Irish wedding – everybody stays busy.
"The more you throw the less rest you need," he said. "The screwball is a pitch that needs a lot of work to be sharp. It's like a hitter getting into a groove. The more he swings the bat the better he feels. The way Dallas is doing it, everybody gets equal time. God, it feels good to go out and strike out the side again, to know you have four pitches really going for you. Tonight, though, all I really needed was the screwball. When I got down to Reggie, he knew I had him set up for a screwball, so I have to kind of think with him. He's capable of hitting it out of the park if I make a mistake with it. So I went against what I was setting up and came inside with a slider. If I hang it and he hits it out of the park, then it's my fault. But I made a perfect pitch and he broke his bat on it."
THE MOMENTUM SWUNG wildly in a game that was almost as good as ' Monday night's 12-inning classic. The Phils scrounged a 3-0 early lead off righthander Dave Goltz, scoring one in the first and two in the second. The Dodgers roared back with home-run power. Ron Cey and Dusty Baker crushed solo shots off Dickie Noles and Steve Garvey touched off a war between first-base umpire Joe West and Noles with a three-run homer with two outs in the fifth.
"We had the momentum, they took it from us and we grabbed it back," said Green after the most exhilirating two games of his stewardship. "It was another great ballgame. Our guys were just super. I can't say enough about the way we battled."
Pete Rose played his long-standing Dodger Stadium role of Black Knight to the hilt, going 3-for-5 including a bunt single which started the two run seventh and a stolen base. He even had an angry argument with plate umpire John McSherry, who called a foul-tip strike on an eighth-inning pitch that hit him on the little finger of his right hand.
The 40,786 fans were still booing Rose as they filed out of Dodger Stadium before the bottom of the ninth with their heroes down by just one run in a dynamite ballgame.
After 22 seasons in the land of bilk and money, you'd think they'd learn something about watching a baseball game.
Ah, what the hell. Maybe being there is all that counts.
PHILUPS: Steve Carlton goes for No. 12 tonight in San Diego against Eric Rasmussen.
There were five winners last night in the Daily News Home Run Payoff contest. In the eighth inning of the Phillies-Dodgers game, Kyle Roller of Kutztown won $35 and four tickets to a Phillies game on an RBI single by Greg Gross. Bill Oransky of Richboro, Pa., and Lillian Battersby of West Chester won $10, plus tickets, on singles by Larry Bowa and Manny Trillo, respectively.
Winner of tickets were Darlene Small of Marple Shade and Anna M. Teti of Philadelphia.
So far the Daily News has paid out $5,285.
Today's entry coupon appears on this page.