Philadelphia Daily News - May 8, 1980

Niekro Escapes Phils’ Thunder


By Bill Conlin


Phil Niekro couldn't throw strikes with his knuckleball.


That's like Sir Laurence Olivier showing up for a Shakespeare Festival with laryngitis.


Niekro without his knuckleball is about as effective as the Libyan Alpine Ski team. He's not going to beat you throwing 3-1 fast balls.


It was a night when the Phillies were going to pound their nemesis without mercy, put a big whipping on him. They were going to strike while the iron was hot, the knuckler was in the dirt and Bob Horner and Gary Matthews were on the bench.


The Vet crowd knew it was going to be a special event when Bake McBride scored Pete Rose with a hit-and-run double in the first, when Greg Luzinski walked and Greg Gross made it 3-0 with a gapper to left-center, defeating a Braves defense which persists in playing him like a pull hitter, for crying out loud.


The Braves put runners on first and third against Larry Christenson in the top of the second and failed to score.


And then it rained... It should be pointed out that when rain hits the Vet, Bill Giles talks only to his weatherman, who talks only to God. The word from on high was that this rain would last just 30 minutes and when it stopped no more would fall for the balance of the evening. Fine, everybody would be home in time to watch the Sixers, after all.


TWO HOURS AND 19 minutes later, Ramon Aviles began the second by bouncing out to third. Rose singled with two outs, stole second and went to third when catcher Bruce Benedict threw the ball into center. But Niekro got McBride for the third out.


The Braves failed to score in the third and, with a steady rain beginning to fall, Mike Schmidt led off the Phils' half of the inning with a single to center. Just as Schmidt reached first. Bill Giles' weatherman was betrayed by a heavy downpour.


We knew the Phillies were eager to keep Niekro in town, but this was a farce. The tarp was off and Greg Luzinski was ready to hit about 45 minutes into the second delay when another monsoon swept down from the cloud which seems to hang over the ballpark when bad weather moves in. Paul Owens negotiated during the second delay. Would the Braves like to stay in town and play an afternoon game? No, thanks, he was told. The Braves are in a period of 19 days without an open date and exercised their right of refusal.


Finally, after delays of nearly three-and-a-half hours, the umpires tossed in a soggy sponge. Niekro had escaped the Phillies' thunder until another day.


"I got to give the umpires credit," Dallas Green said. "There's only so many times they can run out there while Bill Giles blows smokescreens at them. He had me waiting for the sun to break out.


"YOU HATE TO LOSE the game, especially against him," Green said of a man who is 23-13 lifetime against the Phillies. "There doesn't seem to be a lot of luck for this club against him, but tonight that wasn't all the runs we were going to get; we were going to score some more runs."


You can't blame Giles for trying to avoid a make-up double-header with a team that draws like a Ronald Reagan rally in South Boston. Tactically, the Braves are a team you want to play now if it means issuing life preservers.


"You like to play the Braves now," Green said, "with Horner and Matthews not playing. We're hot and when they come in next time, thev may have turned it around. I don't blame them for not wanting to stay over. Damned if I'd want to."


A year ago, the Phillies were on the coast, tearing up the National League. Hiding right around the corner was a decimating wave of injuries. If there is a trend to report at this point in the season it is that more players are dropping back in than there are dropping out.


Manny Trillo, first regular to fall last season, came off the disabled list last night, available for pinch-hitting duties at least. Garry Maddox will be in the starting lineup in Cincinnati tomorrow night against Charlie Leibrandt.


To make room for Trillo, the Phils placed Luis Aguayo on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to last Sunday.


"His injury (hip strain) was a little more serious than we thought it was when it happened," said Green. "Ramon Aviles will play until Manny's ready to go back in there. I don't want to sit there with two guys who aren't contributing at all because they're not ready to play."


PHILUPS: Rawly Eastwick and Doug Bird, part of Dallas Green's $1 million Good Friday massacre in Clearwater, have both signed with American League teams at the Triple A level. Eastwick belongs to Kansas City, Bird to the Yankees... Green says he isn't counting on an early return to pitching by Nino Espinosa, whose simulated game has been set back until Monday's open date in Atlanta... Randy Lerch vs. Charlie Leibrandt tomorrow night in Cincy, followed by a classic Saturday afternoon-national TV matchup, Steve Carlton vs. Tom Seaver.