Philadelphia Inquirer - May 8, 1980

Rain dunks Phils, Braves


By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer


The Phillies jumped to a 3-0 first-inning lead on Phil Niekro last night. And everybody knows that happens about as often as Jerry Brown wins a presidential primary.


"And that wasn't all we were gonna score," said Dallas Green. "He wasn't throwing that good, plus this is just a time when you like to play the Braves. They don't have (Bob) Horner or (Gary) Matthews in there. You just want to play them now."


Much as the Phillies wanted to, however, Mother Nature, or whoever was in charge of heavenly forces, didn't.


After a four-hour puddle festival that included three rain delays – and, oh yeah, 2½ innings of baseball – the Phils' game with Niekro and the Braves was rained out last night. It will be replayed as part of a twi-night doubleheader Friday, July 25.


"I really hate to have this one rained out, especially against a guy like him (Niekro)," Green said. "We haven't seemed to have a lot of luck against him.


"And we've been building momentum. We've been playing like the Phillies can play. Naturally, you want to keep going. Every win right now is an important win, let's face it."


Especially if it's against Mr. Knuckler. Niekro, lest we forget, is 7-1 against the Phils since Aug. 31, 1977.


But he came in here last night at 1-4 on the year. And he figured to be 1-5 in the pre-rain period.


He began the game by walking Pete Rose. Rose may be hitting ,229, but he has now been on base in 21 of 22 games this year.


One pitch later, the Phillies played hit-and-run, a gambit that has its advantages and disadvantages when there's a knuckleballer out there. The disadvantage is, the odds aren't real good of the hitter hitting it. The advantage is, the knuckler takes a week to get to the plate and is tough to catch and throw once it gets there.


But Bruce Benedict never had to catch it, because Bake McBride ripped it for an RBI double to right-center, and it ws 1-0.


Then Niekro walked Greg Luzinski. And Greg Gross scored both McBride and Luzinski with one of his patented doubles up the alley in left-center.


So it was 3-0 in a hurry, and the next sound you heard was Larry Christenson salivating over the chance to get his third win in three decisions.


But stopping the Braves was never the challenge last night. Stopping the rain long enough to play a half-inning or so was.


Before the first rain delay, Christenson threw an uneventful first inning. But in the second, Jeff Burroughs led off with a double.


Then Christenson got a fastball up, and Brian Asselstine roped a single to right. So it was first and third, nobody out.


But then came the bottom of the Braves order. Benedict (lifetime average .230) lined to Bowa. Luis Gomez (lifetime average .216) took a third strike. And Niekro, who might be the best hitter in the bunch, flied deep to center.


By that time, however, the rain had entered, stage up. Just as they were announcing Ramon Aviles as the first hitter in the bottom of the second, home-plate ump Bob Engel waved his arms and stopped it at 8:03 p.m. That got to be a familiar scene before the night was over.


The first delay lasted 2 hours, 19 minutes. Niekro and Christenson were trying to stay loose, and somehow, both managed to come back and pitch after all that time.


"Hell, Larry had only thrown 31 pitches," Green said. "I was even thinking about starting him tomorrow (tonight) if we'd have played."


After rain delay No. 1, they got through one more inning. Niekro survived it despite a two-out single by Rose, a stolen base and a throwing error by Benedict that got Rose to third. Christenson survived with the help of great defensive plays by Larry Bowa and Gross.


Then Mike Schmidt opened the Phillies third with a single through the middle. But Luzinski hadn't even reached the batter's box when Engel stopped things for another 20 minutes.


Then Christenson and Niekro came out again. Luzinski again approached the batter's box. And again it started to pour. Engel took off his mask, slammed it to the turf, and they stopped again – for good.


Green wanted to play as badly as did team vice-president Bill Giles, who takes each Vet rainout as a per sonal affront.


"Give the umps credit," Green said, chuckling. "There's only so many times they can keep coming out there and have Giles throw smoke screens at them. He had me – geez, I was looking for the sun to break out again."


The Phillies attempted to get the, game rescheduled for tonight. But the Braves hadn't had a day off in 19 days, so they had the right to veto a game tonight. And they did.


"I can't really blame them," Green said, "with the condition of their ball club."