Atlanta Constitution - May 14, 1980
New-Look Braves Flatten Phillies
Cox Goes With Power Lineup, Starts Murphy In Center
By Ken Picking, Constitution Staff Writer
The opponents' starting pitcher was left-handed and 0-4. Atlanta manager Bob Cox looked at his right-handed hitters like starving Dobermans and, in effect, said "meat."
Putting aside trades and turmoil for three hours Tuesday night the Braves trotted out a power lineup that should make the rest of the National League a little less anxious to visit Fulton County Stadium. The Braves stunned Randy Lerch early and won their third of four home games 7-3 over Philadelphia.
Belittled Bob Horner, naturally, was booed like he was Bucky Woy, but the sulking slugger ended an 0-for-21 slump and drove in his first run of the decade. Ted Turner even stood and cheered his favorite bad boy.
Jeff Burroughs, Dale Murphy and Gary Matthews, Atlanta's new designated outfield against left-handed pitchers, accounted for five hits, three runs and Chris Clutch... er, Chambliss added his usual 2-for-4 with two RBI.
"Against left-handed pitching we have one of the best lineups in baseball to this park," boasted Manager Bob Cox, whose word will be put to the supreme test Wednesday when the Phillies start the National League's premier left-hander, Steve Carlton. "We have lots of power with the new outfield, and the defense isn't that bad. I've eaten a lot of crow about this club, but I still like it. We played the first 10 games like rookies but now we are going to be playing like the club we have been talking about."
By winning for the 11th time In the last 19 games, Atlanta stands 11-16, and two games ahead of sixth-place San Francisco. The Phillies fell back below .500, 12-13.
In addition to the explosive offense with Horner and Matthews back in the lineup, the Braves' defense has improved steadily, and Tuesday, shortstop Luis Gomez and second baseman Jerry Royster saved pitchers Doyle Alexander and Rick Camp with three splendid double plays that the Phillies usually only see Larry Bowa and Manny Trillo make. Gomez, gaining respect with every game, started one from the seat of his pants and Royster eluded thundering 203-pound Mike Schmidt to complete a key double play in the eighth.
Alexander, unrewarded after five impressive starts, tantalized the free-swinging Phils for seven innings with his sinker and assortment of changeups to win his first National League game since 1971. With the Braves scoring four times in the first two innings off Randy Lerch, the 29-year-old Alexander was in complete command and allowed four hits while striking out five before a crowd of 10,146.
"The key to holding the Phillies down is to keep people off the baser in front of (Mike) Schmidt and (Greg) Luzinski," Alexander said. "No club can do without its top two hitters from the year before, like we were when Horner and Matthews were out, and play people who are supposed to be better than you are. We definitely have a more awesome attack with them in the lineup. When we jump on a team early like this, it gives the pitcher so much more room to work."
Catcher Brace Benedict said Alexander kept the Phillies guessing with his unpredictable change-up, which left the Phils' heavy-hitters leaning helplessly over the plate.
"Doyle was able to get his change-up over when behind in the count and that took away a lot of Philadelphia's aggressiveness," Benedict said. "We could go to it almost any time he needed it, and that was the key because this team can drive a fastball almost anytime they want to."
The Phillies, who beat Atlanta in two games last week in Philadelphia, were putting the heat on late but the Braves merely turned on the juice in the eighth for three insurance runs lot Camp, who survived the eighth and ninth with the help of two double plays.
Matthews singled and scored on Chambliss' triple and then the ex-Yankee scored on the same play when the Phils let the baseball roll through the infield like the Braves did once upon a time. Murphy's opposite field homer, his fifth, put the lid on.
Chambliss, the left-handed relief in Atlanta's right-handed militia, regained the team batting lead with a .327 average followed by Burroughs at .323. Chambliss and Burroughs also lead the Braves in RBI with 15 and 12, respectively.
"One night doesn't make a season," Royster said cautiously. "If we go bad tomorrow, everybody will be down on us again. With this kind of hitting and pitching, if our defense remains stable we can win. But then we said that before all hell broke loose."
Like Monday night in Richmond for an exhibition game, Horner was booed every time him came into focus at the plate or in the field. Like always, Horner sticks his chin out and plows through the adversity.
“I’ll say the boos weren't as bad as they were in Richmond," Horner said. "I think two guys cheered for me this time. You sure get tired of making outs. That's the best thing about finally getting a hit."
Two Braves' errors in the first inning allowed the Phillies an early 1-0 lead before the new Atlanta lineup got a chance at Lerch.
Between the second and eighth – when reliever Lerrin LaGrow came on – Lerch held the Braves hitless. But a vicious line drive by Matthews that was interpreted as a two-base error and consecutive doubles by Chambliss and Burroughs scored two runs in the first, and four singles by Alexander, Royster, Horner and Matthews added two in the second.
The Phillies hated to let the Braves out of Philadelphia last week on a rainout with Horner and Matthews on the bench. But Manager Dallas Green refused to admit Atlanta assumes a drastically different appearance when playing full force.
"You decide that," Green said curtly.
Actually, Steve Carlton will provide the real answer Wednesday.
NOTES - Larry Bowa was the first Phillie ejected this season when home plate umpire Steve Fields gave the shortstop the thumb in the seventh inning after a heated exchange… Cox said he will juggle Burroughs, Matthews, Murphy and Briaa Asselstine in the outfield, "depending on who's pitching, what park, and who's hot and who's not"… Biff Pocoroba visits the doctor Wednesday about his injured right forearm muscles. His availability for this season is in extreme doubt. Cox laughed at reports that Pocoroba will be tried at second base, "I said he could work out there, that's all," Cox said...
Schmidt: A Steady Standout
By Glenn Sheeley, Constitution Staff Writer
WHEN MANAGER Dallas Green brought the Philadelphia Phillies to spring training, it was learned most quickly that very little would carry over from the Danny Ozark regime. Most importantly, Green wanted to erase the memory of a fourth-place finish in 1979, and he figured that conditioning was a good place to start.
The Phillies ran more, practiced longer and sweated more than they had in recent springs because a) Green, the Phillies' former director of player personnel, knew such talent had no business finishing fourth in the National League East and b) because Green implies that if a championship is not produced very soon, the Phillie stars might have passed their most useful years.
“I think we're going to give it one more chance," Green was saying outside the batting cage Tuesday night before the Atlanta Braves beat the Phils 7-3 at the Stadium. "If we don't do it this year – all you have to do is look at the ages of some of our guys – I think well have to make a few adjustments."
A championship or not no adjustment would be expected at third base, where Mike Schmidt has developed into one of baseball's most-feared hitters, has won four straight Gold Gloves and has done more than anyone to give hope to the demanding Philadelphia fans. Certainly Schmidt, who came into Tuesday's game as baseball's leading home-run hitter with nine, was not one who complained when Green made the wind sprint as crucial as the double-play pivot.
Schmidt needed conditioning about as much as Bob Horner needs more publicity. Schmidt, in fact, added 10 pounds, across his upper body in the off-season, working out daily at Veterans Stadium. Green knew how little Schmidt would be panting, because he was in the same training room sweating with him.
"I don't think people realize what kind of an athlete he is," Green said. “I’m sure he could be a star professionally in golf, tennis, football – anything."
Spitting between his teeth in between questions as he sat in the dugout waiting for batting practice, Schmidt did not give the impression he will relax should a player strike interrupt the season.
“I’m 30 years old, and if I want to accomplish what I want, I'm going to have to avoid injuries," he said. "When I leave the game, I want to say I gave it my all. My body just feels better when I'm working out. If I don't, I eat, go to bed and feel sluggish all the next day."
As pitchers so well know, sluggishness has not been a part of the Schmidt act. Power hitting at nearly his exact pace of 1979, he has nine homers, 24 RBI and 22 runs scored. The bonus is an average slightly above .300, much better than his .255 lifetime mark and the .265 at this time last season.
"But I'm not going to lie to you," said Schmidt "Every year I become less obsessed with hitting .300. Hitting .300 or , .310 I've always been led to believe my home runs would go up, but I really don't think I'd get the ball up in the air as often."
Every bitter wishes he had such problems, but Schmidt said, "I get the fat part of the bat on the ball too often. I think sometimes I try to hit the home run too much and end up striking out or popping up."
Green is not complaining. It was Schmidt who set a major-league mark in 1978 with 11 home runs in April. It was Schmidt who set a Philadelphia record for home runs last year with 45 and cleared fences in every park.
As Green knows, telling Mike Schmidt to worry about his average when his bat is doing so much when it connects would be like telling Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to produce more free throws.
Said Green, "Smitty has not yet, in my opinion, reached his potential. I think he has a chance to be one of the greatest hitters to ever play this game."
An additional aid to Schmidt has been the resurgence of Greg Luzinski. Luzinski, who after hitting a piddly .252 in 1979 with only 18 home runs, is seeing the ball much better, having traded in his contact lenses for glasses and swinging better with 22 pounds sweated away. With Schmidt hitting third and The Bull at cleanup, Schmidt has only nine walks to last year's 18 at this point.
"Without question it has helped me," Schmidt said.
Offered Green, "Now there's really nobody they can pitch wound."
But as much as Schmidt would like to see Green's hitting prediction become fact he would savor equally the championship which has eluded the Phillies despite divisional titles in 1976, 1977 and 1978. Living with this fact, the Phillie image has been one of turbulence and recurring clubhouse bickering.
"Look," Schmidt said, "when you have the potential we have and you're not walking around with championship rings, there's going to be a lot of conflict."
There is also turbulence from the outside. The Philadelphia fans, long regarded as the most fickle in baseball, are enthusiastic and discriminating.
"We teased them a few years," Schmidt said, "but we really don't have a tradition at all in Philadelphia. The image that has kind of followed us is that we're good during the season and then don't do it in the playoffs. People don't give us a lot of credit for winning the division because they said we were supposed to win it. The Philadelphia fans are professional fans, and they've had that image for a long time. They're pretty strict."
Now more than ever there is pressure from the city. The Flyers and 76ers, who have won titles, are in the finals of their respective leagues.
“Let me tell you, there's pressure on us to do something every year," he said. "I think the four newspapers and all the call-in shows make it that way. If the fans didn't look for us to win a division and the press didn't write it that way, people would just come to the ballpark to have a good time. I think then maybe there would be a little more tolerance. But the press said the Phillies were the best team around and the most highly paid."
While Phillies such as Steve Carlton and Larry Bowa have never been fans of the Philadelphia media, Schmidt admits to having been treated fairly and has escaped conflict.
"Actually I may be more of a front-runner," he said with a laugh. "When I don't play well, I don't read them, and when I play well, I read them all.”
A Phillies title in 1980 is still an unsafe bet. It’s a safer bet that Mike Schmidt will be well-read.