Philadelphia Inquirer - May 10, 1980
Reds top Phillies by 5-2
Leibrandt beats Lerch on 7-hitter
By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer
CINCINNATI – For six straight starts, Randy Lerch has muddled through the National League jungle without winning a baseball game.
In some he's been great. In some he's been horrid. In some he's been Steve Carlton Jr. one inning, a veritable Mickey Mahler clone the next.
But there's one thing for sure. "With the stuff he's got," said pitching coach Herm Starrette, "there's no way he should be 0-4."
Lerch lasted 4-1/3 innings in the Phillies' 5-2 loss to the Reds last night. In the course of them, he performed the usual assortment of wonderful deeds that make you wonder why he doesn't win more. He also let himself get beat by such things as walks to leadoff hitters and three-run triples by guys with .217 career averages.
"If I could understand that," said Dallas Green, "I'd straighten it put.' But I'm not really sure why he does it myself."
Long, long ago
In the eons since Lerch last won, (Sept. 20, 1979, to be exact), the Eagles have come and gone, Richard Nixon has switched coasts and the prime lending rate has jumped or dropped about 178 times.
Those eight-month winless droughts always do wonders for a pitcher's frame of mind, of course. But if Lerch is using frustration as an excuse, Green isn't buying.
"You can keep searching for why Randy has not pitched well," the manager said. "Everybody's just great about looking for excuses. You keep looking for excuses, sure you'll find them. Hell, you can always find reasons why you don't win.
"But pitchers that win make the pitches they have to when they have to do it. And Randy Lerch hasn't done it."
Lerch marched to the mound in the first last night with a 1-0 lead, courtesy of a Bob Boone RBI double. It was only the second time Lerch has led in a game all year.
But Lerch also went out there with a free-spirit fastball, an uncontrollable monster that sailed just about everywhere but where be was aiming it.
Tail of woe
"His ball was moving a lot, and he didn't have good control of it," said Boone. "He'd try and hit the outside corner with it, and it would tail one time, straighten out the next."
Lerch fought it all the way. He launched a jam-filled evening by walking Dave Collins, the leadoff hitter in the first. Then Ramon Aviles threw a double-play relay away for an error, Dave Concepcion (2-for-his-previous-34) singled, and Johnny Bench made it 1-1 with a sacrifice fly. Bench has all of five RBIs in the '80s.
Then Lerch walked two more guys, survived to face the second and proceeded to find more trouble.
Collins stroked a two-out double that skipped between a Pete Rose sprawl and the line. Then Ken Griffey bounced one past the mound, where Lerch missed a stab at it. It hopped up the middle, and it was 2-1.
It never got any easier. Lerch popped up Bench with two on to end the second. He fanned Sam Mejias with a man on in the third. And he even wriggled out of the fourth despite a leadoff triple by Reds pitcher Charlie Leibrandt.
"The way he pitched out of the jams showed how good he can pitch on occasion." Green said. "I'll tell you, it's frustrating for him and it's frustrating for me."
But he was still trying to find a way to direct that fastball someplace. It ran him into a two-season high for walks (six). And Green finally said he told him, "Just throw it down the middle of the plate, and let it take care of himself."
He heeded that advice a little too well in the fifth, the inning that turned the game. Bench led off with a single and stole second, his 10th stolen base in four seasons. Then Lerch walked Junior Kennedy to pitch to the lefthanded-hitting Dan Driessen and wound up walking Driessen with four straight fastballs inside.
"We were just trying to get him out," Boone said. "We'd had some luck with him the first time up with fastballs in. We got him to swing at them then. He just took them this time."
That loaded the bases for Mejias, who has a career average of .217 and came to the plate with exactly 17 big-league RBIs in nearly three full seasons. Lerch got behind him, 1-and-0, then got a fastball up and away. Mejias ripped it to the alley in right-center for a three-run triple.
Five runs was plenty for Leibrandt, a rookie lefthander who now has made six big-league starts and allowed three runs or fewer in all of them.
Leibrandt, 23, is a nibbler with a tough straight changeup and a unique-for-his-age ability to throw his breaking stuff for strikes.
With the four-run lead, he just cheerfully pecked at the corners. And all the Phillies got off him after the first was a seventh-inning run forged by a looping double by Lonnie Smith and an infield single by Bake McBride.
"A four-run lead and a good changeup is all he showed me," said Mike Schmidt. "He had nothing a close ball game wouldn't cure."
But Randy Lerch wasn't in his keep-it-close groove. And Lerch's pre-July record the last three seasons now is 7-16. Trouble is that this year Ray Grebey willing, Lerch might not have a post-July to bail himself out.
NOTES: Garry Maddox was back in the lineup after missing only three games. Maddox sprained his right ankle last Saturday. Manny Trillo remained out, however.... For the Reds, George Foster missed his 10th straight game because of a strained muscle in his left side, Foster is expected back today.... In the latest National League statistics, including games through Monday, the Phillies were leading the league in runs scored (5.5 per game). They also had the fewest walks and strikeouts of any team in the league. And they were second to the Cubs in, fewest runners stranded.... On the negative side, they were tied with Chicago for last in the league in sacrifices. And they were 11th in stolen bases. . . . Tom Seaver, who is 1-1, 3.55, matches up with Steve Carlton today on national TV.