Philadelphia Daily News - May 29, 1980

Lerch Learns to Mean Business

 

By Gary Smith

 

Dallas Green says there wasn't enough mean in Randy Lerch's demeanor. He wanted to see Randy Lerch mistreat a resin bag or at least abuse a few dirt clods every now and then.

 

He wanted to see Randy Lerch's eyes go gun-metal cold when he had an 0-2 count, stare the man down and then blitz one in on his fingernails. He wanted to see Lerch attack a hitter, run him through with the bayonet and stomp off the hill.

 

A good sneer or a well-timed raised fist would have been greatly appreciated by a manager who likes to know that his players taste victory and defeat with the same biased tongue that he does.

 

"The thing I was concerned with was his lack of enthusiasm for pitching and lack of demeanor on the mound," disclosed Dallas Green last night "There's a certain demeanor I like to see on the mound. He was reticent out there... not as aggressive as he should have been. Other teams (notice that and jump on it."

 

IT IS THE SAME rap Mike Schmidt has had to answer to his whole career, the only difference being that Lerch stands 60 feet from a man with a piece of a forest in his hands who is close enough to sense when a pitcher has stopped attacking him and started groping. Intensity and intimidation are two tools that the pitcher needs more than a third baseman.

 

So Green watched Lerch stand there stonefaced as his record skidded to 0-6 and his ERA puffed to 5.14. and then he banished The Blade to the bullpen to smolder. Lerch did just that for 10 days, then walked to the mound last night and vented his steam on the world champions for eight innings.

 

What was the difference in the Randy Lerch who scattered the Bucs last night and the one who was getting his ears cuffed the first month and a half of the season? Did this one have more growl in him, more enthusiasm?

 

"Enthusiasm is a horsebleep word," flared Lerch after registering his first win since last September. "It's a lot easier to watch the game from where he (Green) is. I'm gonna be myself. I dont care what anybody Randy Lerch reaches back to put something extra on his fastball during says. I'm not gonna go out acting like Al Hrabosky. If that's not good enough, they'll have to get somebody else.

 

"I'm the type that tries to force things. When I get in trouble I try to throw too hard and my ball straightens out. So I try to really relax and Dallas says I wasn't trying. So I asked him, 'What do you want me to do?" He says, 'Get 'em out.' I don't know what he wants."

 

SOUND LIKE A communications gap between The Blade and The Joily Green Giant? Lerch says it's nothing compared to the wrong number he kept dialing with Danny Ozark.

 

"I've got no gripes against Dallas," insisted Lerch. "I'd have thrown half as many innings right now if Ozark was still here. I never knew what he was thinking.

 

"But enthusiasm just isn't the right word. Aggressive is a better word. I was a little more aggressive tonight. Instead of trying to make a perfect pitch, worrying about getting in trouble, I went out saying you're not gonna get in trouble."

 

The Blade saw trouble only twice last night and he macheted through it the first time like he had no plans of returning to Dallas Green's jungle. The Pirates had stationed runners on second and third with none out in the eighth, Phils up, 5-1. and Randy was certain Green would hand him a bar of soap and a tube of Prell any second now.

 

Instead, Green sent out Herm Starrette's hand to pat The Blade's rump and then watched to see how smooth the lefty went for his holster. Lerch promptly put away Tim Foli with a ground ball to third, muffled Dave Parker with a one-hopper to the box and then blew away Bill Robinson with a 1-2 fastball that hurt the air.

 

HE WOULD FINALLY exit in the ninth, after allowing a leadoff double and Lee Lacy's second home run, but not before laying down a suicide squeeze bunt in the eighth, fielding his position with animal reflexes, spacing out 10 hits and giving the Phillies the kind of starting effort they were gasping for.

 

"They hit a lotta line drives at people," observed Randy. "I've pitched better against the Mets and the Cardinals this season.

 

"But I was a little bleeped off, you might say. I got skipped out of the rotation and when Larry (Christenson) got hurt, I thought I should be pitching. I guess Dallas' strategy worked."

 

Lerch had not pitched since May 18, a 3-0 loss to Houston. Then Green rubbed the lefty's nose in it by sending out Dan Larson to start Saturday and Bob Walk to start Monday. Lerch never got so much as a phone call in the bullpen during his exile, even after 11 when the rate is cheaper.

 

"We simply let him think about the fact that we'd left him out," explained Green. "It was our way of trying to settle him down and get the frustration out of him."

 

Out of him? Lerch felt it pushing against his teeth on Monday and finally went to Green to find out just where he stood. Or sat.

 

"I THOUGHT I'D been forgotten," said Lerch. "On Monday I asked when I'd pitch and he said, 'I don't know. Just throw on the side.' What if you didn't know where your career. stood and your boss said, go mosey on the street and see if you can find a story? I'd been a starter here for four years.

 

"I never found out until Tuesday night that I was starting tonight. I don't wanna get in a habit of being told today that I'll pitch tomorrow."

 

He went out anyway, with Keith Moreland his director instead of Bob Boone, and felt the same good vibes he always feels against the Pirates. He is 5-4 lifetime against Pittsburgh, including the 10-8 win that clinched the division title in 1978 and the 2-1 win last September that was his last visit with victory until last night.

 

The fact that he is lefthanded and usually a little off the plate makes him the perfect thorn against a team loaded with lefties who will swipe at anything that flies by, as long as there are no stewardesses aboard. He will no doubt get the ball again next week when the Phils play in Pittsburgh and he swears he won't do a thing different.

 

"I'm not gonna change," he vowed. "That was me tonight."

 

Last night Randy Lerch's fastball scowled and his slider sneered. His face did not.

Schmidt to the Rescue

 

By Bill Conlin

 

Nah, Mike Schmidt wasn't trying to lift that King Kong-sized monkey off Randy Lerch's back with one first-inning swing.

 

It's a good angle, though: Schmidt Homer Takes Pressure Off Struggling Lerch. Or, "I Hit It for Randy," Schmidt Says.

 

Schmidt figures it's tough enough to hit in the National League without shouldering somebody else's burden.

 

"Who knows what us scoring three runs in the first did for Randy?" Schmidt said after his two-run homer, No. 14, helped carry Lerch to his first victory of the season, a 6-3 decision over the Pirates which put the Phillies back into first place by percentage points. "Who's to say if we don't score a run he doesn't rare back and shut them out until we do? It's reasonable to say that most nights we put six runs on the scoreboard we win no matter who's pitching.

 

"I don't think anybody in the lineup felt we had to go out and get an early lead for Randy to win. Hey, that works both ways. He went out and pitched a one-two-three first inning which he hasn't done too often and maybe that picked us up."

 

NINETY PERCENT OF this game is half mental, as either Yogi Berra, Casey Stengel, Danny Ozark, Wes Westrum or all of the above once said. And if all victories are created equal when they add up the standings in October, this one was infinitely more equal than almost any of the Phillies' previous 21.

 

Let the record show that Larry Christenson is probably lost for the remainder of the season following right elbow surgery yesterday. Dallas Green is into the portion of the schedule where a plethora of open dates has become a paucity. The Phillies have just three scheduled between now and the All-Star break. It is time for the manager to go to a five-pitcher rotation and Randy Lerch must be an integral part of that rotation because the south end of it currently consists of Dan Larson and rookie Bob Walk, recent call-ups from Triple-A.

 

If Lerch had come out of last night's outing 0-7 there would have been serious misgivings about this club's ability to survive over the long haul. But Green says he isn't planning to celebrate Lerch's good outing. He'd like to see more evidence of consistency from the talented lefthander.

 

"It's not important unless we back it up," Dallas said. "And Randy looks like he can do that. I'm never over-awed by instant success."

 

Instant success? A 1-6 record looks more like George Willig scaling El Capitan with sneakers and a clothesline than instant success.

 

BUT IT’S A GIANT step in the right direction. Randy needed a win and he needed a lead. Pitching well and losing will carry a young man only so far. The Creator hasn't made a pitcher yet who would prefer losing, 1-0, to winning, 7-6. What Schmidt did was make pitching well and winning a helluva lot easier.

 

"I think Schmitty's homer was a helluva edge," Green said. "It enabled Randy to relax even more. The key to the whole game, though, was Randy coming back to get (Omar) Moreno after he was behind in the count 3-0. That to me was a key to Randy."

 

Randy was not exactly wearing thumb screws in the situation which impressed Green so much. The Pirates had two outs, trailed, 5-1. and the baserunner was pitcher Don Robinson, who legged out a single to deep short. But it was the kind of deceptively minor trouble where a pitcher with Joe Bstlfk tendencies might walk Moreno, throw a base hit to Tim Foli and a gapper to Dave Parker. He'd be standing there in the shower trying to figure out what the hell went wrong.

 

It was the kind of situation only a manager who once pitched can understand. Against a lineup as potent as Pittsburgh's, the road to the clubhouse is paved with good intentions and small mistakes. Moreno flied to center and the crowd of 30,209 gave Lerch mild applause. They were much more vocal when the Bucs put runners on second and third in the eighth with nobody out. Randy pitched out of that certified jam with an elan which earned him a standing ovation. But that was the eighth and a 5-1 lead in the eighth with the short relievers cranking in the bullpen is infinitely better than a 5-1 lead in the fifth.

 

NO MATTER HOW much he distrusts labels like streak, tear or hot hands, Schmidt is streaking, tearing and hitting with hot hands.

 

“Can't anybody just write that I'm a pretty good hitter right now?" Schmidt said. "I'm not going 4-for-4 or 4-for-5 out there every night. That's a streak. A guy like Keith Hernandez wins the batting title because he stayed in a streak all year. All I'm doing now is putting a pretty good swing on the ball. I'm hitting it hard once or twice a game."

 

Other guys hit the ball once or twice a game and they might hit a couple of singles and doubles. They might hit into a couple of hard outs. Pete Rose, who has hit the ball consistently hard all year, went 3-for-5 with two doubles and a single. He has hit the ball as well and gone 0-for-5.

 

Schmidt is hitting into very little tough luck this season, however, because it is impossible to station a fielder at the 400 level. And when Schmidt hits the ball hard, it invariably goes 400-plus feet. His homer last night screamed off the facade of the 500 level. He worked all winter to build up the strength in his upper body so some of his long fly balls might carry an extra 15 feet or so. He wasn’t counting on them carrying an extra 50.

 

"I'll admit that." he said. "If I was playing in the Astrodome, San Diego Stadium, wherever, I'd still probably have 13 homers. Maybe the line drive I hit in the ninth last night would have been off the fence in the Dome or San Diego. But most of the ones I've hit would have been homers in any park in baseball."

 

People are so preoccupied with Rose's offensive stats – he passed Hank Aaron last night to take sixth place on the all-time list with 625 doubles and is 12th with 1,774 runs scored – they are overlooking his marvelous play at first base. Rose has become one of baseball's better gloves at the position. He began his long career as an adequate second baseman, became an adequate outfielder and a scuffling but efficient third baseman. First base is the only position he has played where he is in the top half of the fielding class.

 

"I WASNT A GREAT third baseman in Cincy. but I played with a Gold Glover at short, at second, behind the plate, in center. When you surround yourself with Gold Glove players you want to field good yourself. I'm an offensive-minded player. But I've always enjoyed hell out of defense. I'm not out there thinking about my next at-bat."

 

He handles the underrated 3-1 play with a delicate understanding of the different speeds and skills of the pitchers scurrying over to take his feeds. And Rose combined with Ron Reed on two pretty 3-1s in the ninth after Lee Lacy chased Lerch with a two-run homer. Lacy also homered in the second and drove in all three Pirate runs.

 

"Ronnie's got that big, basketball player's stride," Rose said. "You've got to really lead him or he can stride right past the ball. Lefty (Steve Carlton) doesn't get there real quick so you've gotta cheat more with him, try to take it yourself unless you've got no shot. Randy's a real good athlete and he gets there in a hurry. I never knew there was so much to do at first until I came over there. It's the most fun position I've played in the big leagues. You're really involved in the game."

 

Randy Lerch won his first game of the season and a good time was had by all. Manny Trillo continued to play the startling brand of second base he has played since coming off the DL. Garry Maddox took extra bases away from Lacy in the seventh.

 

Dick Ruthven concludes the successful home stand today and Dallas Green won't have to worry about the perils of Wrigley Field until tomorrow.

The Long and Short of Shortstops

 

By Stan Hochman

 

In the '60s, you could count the number of outstanding shortstops on one hand. Which was ironic, because when it came to shortstopping, you weren't supposed to do anything with one hand.

 

"Somebody says that to kids when they're little," Ruben Amaro theorized. "'You've gotta get in front of the ball.' Maybe it goes back to the days when they had gloves so bad you couldn't catch the ball one-handed.

 

"Well, Gene Mauch had the idea, if you have good hands, there's no reason not to use just your glove hand.

 

"I always used to tell people, I don't understand why you have to use two hands. Every time you have a tough chance, you've got to use just one hand, just to keep your balance right.

 

"Bobby Wine, he played almost everything off to the side. He was a one-handed shortstop."

 

AMARO HAD BALLET moves, buttery hands. Wine was stiffer, played deeper, had the stronger arm. Neither one of them could outrun a fat man, but if you had a dollar for every ball they backhanded in "the hole" between short and third, you could buy a very nice motorcycle.

 

Whatever became of the nifty ankle-high, back-handed grab, the pirouette and blue-dart throw across the diamond?

 

Well, it has gone the way of leather shoes, 48-cent gas and natural grass.

 

"On AstroTurf," Wine said, "it's hard to make plays in the hole because you can't stop. It takes you two more steps to get your footing back.

 

"On grass, you could plant and throw."

 

Which brings us into the '80s, with Amaro and Wine as coaches, and enough terrific shortstops around to count on both hands.

 

The list includes Cincinnati's Dave Concepcion, who has come up with the intentional one-bounce throw from deep shortstop, sacrificing sizzle for quick release.

 

"Momentum," Larry Bowa explained. "If you take that extra step and stop, the runner is taking three steps. "Davey gets it away, throws it on a bounce and does it good. There's an art to it.

 

"Bounce it too close (to the first baseman) and it will hit the dirt, maybe a seam. Bounce it too far out and it won't get there.

 

"POSITIONING IS still the key. When I first started, I remember Dal Maxvill. Every play, no matter whether it was Greg Luzinski running, or the fastest guy in the league, was bang-bang at first base.

 

"Me, in the minors. Bob Wellman was my manager. I was throwing guys out by four steps. Wellman told me, 'You're not gonna be able to throw in five years.' You have to know who's running and make the play accordingly.

 

"Right now, every team has a good shortstop," Bowa continued. "It's a key to winning games. You have to be strong up the middle.

 

"Especially on AstroTurf. If you have defense and pitching, you're gonna win some games. Look at St. Louis, they've got six guys in the Top 10 hitters, and they're around 11 games under .500.

 

"Garry Templeton has more tools than any of us. He's the best athlete of all the shortstops. He does everything with tremendous ability.

 

"But I've never seen anybody make the spectacular plays he does, and then take a routine ground ball and try to throw it through Keith Hernandez.

 

"It's unfair to say who's the best in the league. Dave Concepcion is a good offensive player. But the people in Cincy don't get to see a Templeton or an Ozzie Smith day in and day out.

 

"In the other league, I'm impressed with Rick Burleson in Boston. Maybe because he reminds me of me.

 

"BUCKY DENT IS steady. Roy Smalley impresses the hell out of me offensively. And Paul Molitor, he can fly, he throws, he can hit, he can steal bases.

 

"In the 70s and '80s, shortstop is a key position. Short, second, center field, catcher, check the most successful teams.

 

"A guy like Tim Foli, he's underrated. He doesn't have a lot of speed, but he has great reflexes and his first step is unbelievable.

 

"Now, Tim is getting raves, because of the team he's playing on."

 

Foli is 29. You could look it up. He was only 19 when he first broke in with the Mets, a volcano looking to erupt.

 

"What you have to do is go out and do it consistently, every day," Foli said. "Bowa has been able to do it. Concepcion has been able to do it.

 

"To me, that kind of guy is best. If Templeton gets his consistency, he can be as good as anybody. Consistency, that's what wins ballgames.

 

"I'm the same shortstop I've always been. The only difference now is the run I used to save eight or 10 years ago used to be for nothing.

 

"We'd lose, 7-2, and I'd save the eighth run. You get on a great club like the Pirates and every run might mean the game, the pennant, the World Series. I'm the same player doing the same thing."

 

And because the Pirates have already played 18 one-run ballgames in this young, hectic season, Foli gets noticed.

 

TUESDAY NIGHT he was involved in four double plays, the last one snuffing out a late-inning Phillies rally. That's the night Bowa committed his fifth error of the season, one short of his 1979 total.

 

"When Bowa makes an error," Wine said, "everybody goes into a fit and can't believe it.

 

"Hey, he catches more bad hops than anybody I've ever seen. He makes the easy plays and occasionally makes the super play. The idea is to make all the routine plays and he does."

 

Bad hops? On AstroTurf? Say it ain't so, Bo.

 

"This is the worst AstroTurf in the league," Bowa said bluntly. "It's like a runway. There's no texture to the rug anymore.

 

"Cincinnati put theirs down the same year and it still has a lot of bounce. There, they use only small machines in the infield. Here, they run the Zamboni over the surface.

 

"I don't see how guys like Bill Bergey can play football on this without getting killed.

 

"The ball jumps at the last second. There's nothing for the ball to grab onto. The last year of the old surface, it was like marbles in bathtub.

 

"The other day against Houston, I made a play I thought was super and nobody said anything. Infield in, man on third, Joe Morgan hit a shot that jumped at my face."

 

BOWA ADJUSTED, snatched the bad hop, and threw the runner out at home plate. Perhaps the fans have grown accustomed to Bowa's face, his pace, his grace?

 

"You're around this long, you get taken for granted," he said.

 

"You could tell the fans that Larry Bowa drives in 35 runs but he saves 135. And they'd rather have a Garry Templeton who hits .330 and makes 30 errors and lets in a bundle of runs."

 

Bowa talks that way, part-swagger, part-grumble. Is that a characteristic of the position?

 

"Ahhh, if you see shortstops," Bowa suggested, "as long as they're not in a cast, they're gonna go out there.

 

"They know it's an important position and they'll play hurt. If 1 played only when I felt good, I'd play in maybe 40 or 50 games."

‘Double’ $75 Winners

 

There were six winners last night in the Daily News Home Runs Payoff contest. In the fourth inning of the Phillies-Pirates game, Len Stango of Philadelphia and John J. DeCostanza of Wilmington each won $75 (and four tickets to a Phillies game) when Pete Rose and Garry Maddox connected on back-to-back doubles and RBI. John Martelli of North Wildwood won $10 and tickets on a single by Manny Trillo.

 

Mack Leach, Jr. of Philadelphia, Lon Johnson of Magnolia, and Susan McField of Haverford, each won tickets.

 

 

So far the Daily News has paid out $4,855. Today's entry coupon appears on Page 61.