Philadelphia Daily News - May 17, 1980
Phils’ Ruthven Impressive in 5-Hit Shutout
By Bill Conlin
HOUSTON – In four starts, each of them progressively better. Dick Ruthven's pitching act went from Oh, God to Oh, Boy.
Suddenly, the Phillies are just one-and-a-half pitchers away from having a helluva four-man rotation. It is no longer the Steve Carlton Show followed by three days of praying for Randy Lerch to survive the first two innings and for the offense to score him some runs. It is no longer Steve Carlton followed by three days of wondering what new notation will be made on Larry Christenson's medical chart.
"Some of you media guys were ready to bury him." Dallas Green said last night after Ruthven beat J. R. Richard and the punchless Astros, 3-0, with a brilliant five-hitter.
IT WAS A STRANGE thing for the manager to say. Anybody who tried to bury him was handed his shovel by Dallas Green.
Well, Ruthven showed us, crepe mangers and optimists alike. He was as tough an interview as he was a pitcher. In fact, the print media didn't even get a swing at him. Guys do tend to get a little peevish in the final week of the season. (And if I read the latest labor bulletins correctly, this season is a week from becoming history.)
Give Green credit for being smarter than a treeful of Blue Hens, tough. He did his homework on a rainy day in Oklahoma City and accepted some advice from advance scout Hugh Alexander. Forewarned = forearmed.
"Hugh and I talked quite a while,” Green said after the Phillies evened their trip record at 3-1 "He said he felt left-handed hitters might give him (Richard) a little more trouble than right-handed hitters."
So Dallas sat down slumping Greg Luzinski and Garry Maddox, whose convalescing ankle could use the rest. He played Frick. Del Unser in center, and Frack, Greg Gross, in left. If Tony Randall and Jack Klugman were the Odd Couple, Unser and Gross are The Even Couple, two close friends enough alike in personality, appearance and outlook to be brothers.
It turned into a two-run move – the run the Philies scored and one run the Astros didn’t.
Astrodome games are decided by millimeters. Scoring runs there is ie baseball equivalent of digging a ditch with a plastic spoon.
THE ASTROS. WHO haven’t scored in their last 22 innings, were looking good when shortstop Craig Reynolds led off the third with a triple over first which rattled to the right-field corner. Reynolds stayed put on Richard's bouncer back to the mound. Leadoff man Danny Walling lofted a fly to left into the twilight zone where a third-base coach might send very fast runner against a weak-armed outfielder and hold anybody else. Gross has a quick release and an accurate arm. Reynolds is a good runner. He came home. Gross made a professional throw to Bob Boone on one long bounce and Reynolds was an easy out.
With one out in the fourth. Unser tripled to center and Mike Schmidt scored him with a sacrifice fly.
"In this park, historically, you're not going to see many explosive innings unless you do something to create them." Green said. "I'm looking to get a run and I don't care how I do it. If 1 can get a run on J R. they have to get two and that hasn't been easy for them in this park lately."
Ruthven protected the lead superbly, getting Jose Cruz and Cesar Cedeno with two on and one out in the sixth, the first two in a string of 11 straight hitters he mowed down in a strong finish.
Green played it close to the vest in the eighth after Larry Bowa reached on an error by Reynolds and Manny Tnllo moved him to third with a hit-and-run single to left. Ruthven. bunting all the way. advanced Trillo to second with a two-strike sacrifice, conservative strategy with the infield playing up. Pitching cautiously with first base open, Richard walked Pete Rose.
BAKE Mc BRIDE, who has been devastating with men on base this trip, put the game away with a two-run line-drive single to right. "I don't think there's a pitcher around who can throw the ball past Bake." Green said. "JR. finessed him his first two at-bats."
The big story though, was the apparent return to peak form of Ruthven, who three weeks ago lacked velocity, location and arm strength.
"He was actually getting better as he went along," Boone said. "He had good pop on his fastball, excellent movement, a good change, a good enough breaking ball to start hitters off with it. That's the real Dick Ruthven. That was fun."
Unser certainly enjoyed it from his vantage point in center. "From center field he was masterful to watch, the kind of pitcher we know Dick can be when he's right. The first few innings, J.R. was awesome, but he seemed to lose just a little in the late innings."
Green had one word for Ruthven's resurrection.
"Patience." he said, which is another word for no choice in the matter. "The only mechanical changes we made were in his stretch move."
Ruthven is 4-2. not bad for a pitcher who at one time last month appeared headed for a sabbatical in Oklahoma City.
PHILUPS: The players are starting to get jumpy over the May 23 strike. They will get jumpier... Larry Christenson, held out of his scheduled turn in Atlanta Tuesday night because of a swollen right elbow, will go against Joe Niekro tonight.
Payoff Contest Has 3 Winners
There were three winners last night in the Daily News Home Run Payoff contest. In the third inning of the Phillies-Astros game, Ernest Comegys of Philadelphia won $10 plus four tickets on a single by Dick Ruthven.
Lettie Tyree and Nerease E. Kyle, both of Philadelphia, each won four tickets to a Phillies game.
So far the Daily News has paid out $3,505.
Today's entry coupon appears on this page.