Wilmington News Journal - May 18, 1980

Christenson proves point as Phillies beat Astros 4-2


By Hal Bodley, Sports Editor


HOUSTON - Larry Christenson has been fuming ever since last Tuesday in Atlanta. That was the night Dallas Green refused to let the right-hander start for the Phillies against the Braves because of stiffness in his elbow.


"He's cost me a bleeping start," snapped Christenson, who has been plagued by injuries this year and throughout his baseball career. "I could have gone out there. It (stiffness) wasn't that bad."


Green turned his back on Christenson and started Randy Lerch.


Christenson was still bitter about the incident last night when he stalked to the mound in the Astrodome.


"Sure, I guess I had a little something to prove," said Christenson later. "Above all, though, I wanted to have a good performance."


Good performance?


Larry Christenson was almost the whole show as the Phillies defeated Houston and Joe Niekro 4-2 for their third victory in a row and fourth in seven games on this road trip.


Christenson pitched five strong innings to gain his third triumph in as many decisions and aided his own cause with an awesome three-run homer to left field in the second inning when the Phils scored all their runs.


"In batting practice the ball wasn't carrying," said Christenson, who allowed seven hits and struck out five in his first official appearance since May 3. "Then, when I went up there I got all my bat on the ball. There was no doubt it was going out."


The homer was the 10th career blast for L.C. and his second against the Astros.


"Anytime you hit a home run in this place it has to be hit," said Manager Green. "L.C. got all of it."


The Phils, who can do no worse than finish with a .500 record on this road trip when they send Lerch against Nolan Ryan today, lost both decisions to Niekro last year and left him with a 5-6 lifetime record vs. them.


Greg Luzinski, who was 0-for-18 at the time, opened the second with a single to center. He moved up when Bob Boone walked. After Garry Maddox flied to center, Luzinski advanced to third when a Niekro knuckler got past catcher Alan Ashby for a wild pitch.


Larry Bowa then hit a bouncer to second baseman Joe Morgan. Boone kept Morgan busy making the tag as Luzinski scored the run. Manny Trillo then singled to right and Christenson followed, blasting a hanging knuckler to left field.


There was no doubt. Just about everyone in the crowd of 43,525 knew it was gone the minute it left the bat.


Cesar Cedeno's bases-loaded single with two out in the third gave the Astros their two runs and ended a scoreless string of 25 innings.


Green decided Christenson had had enough after the fifth and brought in Kevin Saucier. Two outstanding plays by Mike Schmidt pulled Saucier out of trouble. Joe Morgan doubled to right-center and continued on to third. Schmidt decoyed the runner, taking Trillo's relay throw just in time to tag Morgan, who did not think he had to slide.


Moments later Schmidt gloved Cedeno's sizzling liner down the third-base line and forced Jose Cruz, who had singled, at second for the final out of the inning.


Dickie Noles one-two-threed the Astros in tie ninth for his third save of the season.


"Funny thing," said Saucier. "With Cedeno coming up, Green came to the mound. He said he was going to replace me, but since Noles hadn't had enough time to warm up, he left me in."


"I am very pleased the way the pitching staff has stabilized on this trip," said Green. "We have gotten good games from Dick Ruthven and L.C, and of course, Steve Carlton. I said all along our pitching wasn't as bad as a lot of people thought it was."


"When you have a little bit of an injury you cannot afford not to pitch," said Christenson. "Every opportunity is so important. I wanted to go out there and win the ball game and not give in. You have to do that.


"I have had enough injuries and I am tired of them. I have a tender elbow and haven't pitched in 11 days. I was tired and a little stiff at the end, but I did not take myself out of the game; I could have continued. Tonight, I wasn't able to spot my fastball. Just about every hit they got was off a fastball over the plate."


EXTRA POINTS - Yesterday was the first-year anniversary of the 23-22, 10-inning Phils' victory over Chicago in Wrigley Field...Bake McBride has hit in 12 straight games, his high since coming to the Phillies.. from St. Louis...Christenson did pitch a few innings on May 7 against Atlanta in the game that was rained out...The Phils said the fact Niekro could not get his knuckler over with consistency cost him last night...Christenson picked Morgan off first base in the first inning and trapped Cruz off second in the third for the final out of the inning. ,.The Phils have shown some interest in Houston pitcher Joaquin Andujar, but cannot. supply the right-handed power hitter the Astros want.

Schmidt’s turnabout paying off at plate


By Hal Bodley, Sports Editor


HOUSTON – There was a time when Mike Schmidt felt the agony of off-season conditioning was for the birds.


He'd drop by Veterans Stadium in the dead of winter and wonder how the likes of Bob Boone and Larry Bowa could spend so much time lifting weights and torturing their bodies. But each season Michael Jack Schmidt would be hampered by a little nagging injury that usually interrupted that great groove he gets in each year.


"I finally decided the time had come for me to get involved in a program," said Schmidt. "I decided to lift weights and put on some weight. Of the 12 pounds I have gained, I think eight are from lifting weights.


Prior to last night's game against Houston and Joe Niekro, Schmidt had hit safely in 13 of 14 games. His nine homers lead the majors and he's second in runs batted in with 26. His .301 batting average is far above his lifetime mark of .255.


"I tried to get a little stronger so that maybe as many as 15 of those fly balls to the warning track make it over the fence," said Schmidt, who blasted 45 homers last year. "You never hit those just-miss balls well, so I figure with more strength I've got a chance to hit 'em out with sheer strength. What I'm talking about are the long, high fly balls that are caught."


Not very many of Schmidt's blasts this year have been of that variety. There has been little doubt when most of them left his bat.


His best streak was between May 2 and May ,10 when he hit five, including two on the night of May 5 against Atlanta's Rick Matula. On April 22, he blasted the fourth grand slam of his career, a shot off New York's John Pacella.


"I think working out during the off season at Veterans Stadium has helped me a lot," said the four-time Rawlings Gold Glove winner. "I concentrated on strengthening parts of my body where I have had injuries in the past. I think as you get older (Schmidt is 30) it is more and more important to do this."


Schmidt insists he's not in the kind of groove he is shooting for, but when this was mentioned to Manager Dallas Green, he shook his head and replied: "He's got a great swing right now. I wish I could box it and sell it."


A little over two years ago Manager Danny Ozark made Schmidt the team captain. It was strictly an appointment. It made several of the players unhappy, but Schmidt did his best to handle the role to Ozark's liking.


During this past off-season, he told Green he was giving up the title.


"I went to Dallas and said, 'Look, why don't we put this captain thing in limbo. You're the manager now. You should be able to decide whether or not you want a captain."


Green, who privately told people Schmidt was uncomfortable with the added responsibility, did not argue.


"Dallas said later on, maybe after the season gets well under way, he will ask the players if they want a captain," said Schmidt. "If they do, then an election will be held. It will not be an appointment like the way Ozark handled it."


During the past six seasons, Schmidt has averaged 36 homers and 101 runs batted in. Throw in an average of 104 runs scored and his 103 walks and you can see how important he is to the Phillies.


Last year, for example, he set a Phillies' home-run record with his 45 and led the league with 20 game-winning hits and 120 walks. He tied the National League record for most home runs in five consecutive games, seven. In games of July 6 and July 7, he blasted four consecutive homers.


But, there was the matter of the .253 batting average.


"You know, I get on base as much as any .300 hitter," he said. "I don't get many cheap hits so my .250 doesn't reflect many clinkers or flares. I think I could change my particular style and hit for higher average, wait on the ball as long as Dave Parker does. I don't think I would hit nearly as many homers. I used to feel I could hit .320 and still hit 40 homers. I've changed my mind on that some."


This year, a healthy and well-conditioned Luzinski batting behind him has helped. Last year, with the Bull hurting and in a horrible slump most of the time, the pitchers were able to go right at Schmidt because they were not too fearful of Luzinski.


"You can check the records," said Schmidt. "Not very often do you have two guys on this team having two bad years in a row. I think Greg is proving this season a lot of things went wrong for him last year. I have never seen anybody so dedicated.


"Personally, I don't see how I can ever forget last season. We got off to a great start, then we got all the injuries. We started scuffling, then Ozark was fired. So much was said, so much was written about us. Everybody had a different opinion about what we needed, but in the end nobody had the answers."


Schmidt, like most of the other Phillies, feel the team is finally on the right track. But the dark cloud of a strike midnight Thursday hangs over their heads.


Schmidt had very little to say about that. Deep down, he knows he is off to one of his finest starts and would hate to see that interrupted – or cancelled.