Allentown Morning Call - October 10, 1980

One play could haunt the Phillies


By Ted Meixell, Call Sports Writer


HOUSTON –b If the Philadelphia Phillies, heaven forbid, do not win two of three games against the Astros this weekend here in the Astrodome, one play will haunt the memories of Phillie fans for years to come. And, sadly, one man – third base coach Lee Elia – will stand out amid those memories. 


And doesn't it always seem to be that way when the Phils lose League Championship Series? The Phils have won the National League East four of the last five years, and in only one of the first three – the 1976 three-game-and-outer with Cincinnati – did Philly fail to produce someone to wear the goat horns. 


The 76 Phils, awed at their mere presence in the playoffs, were simply blown out by the "Big Red Machine," which had a guy named Rose at third base hit .429 in the blowout. 


But remember '77? The Phils split two games in L A. and held a 5-3 lead over the Dodgers with two out in the top of the ninth inning in Game Three at the Vet. Aging pinch hitter Manny Mota bopped a long fly to left and GregLuzinski, after a hard chase, leaped and got his glove on the ball, only to see it bounce off the wall before settling back into his glove. 


A lot more happened before the Dodgers won that game 6-5 and closed out the series with a 4-1 victory in weather only National League President Chub Feeney thought was appropriate for baseball. But the play that sticks in everyone's mind was Luzinski's. (Manager Danny Ozark shared the horns with The Bull for not inserting Jerry Martin in left as he usually did with a late-inning lead.)


Then, in 1978, it was Garry Mad-dox's turn in Game Four at Chavez Ravine. He dropped an easy fly ball in the 10th inning to bring that LCS to an unhappy close. 


Which brings us back to the unfortunate Elia, although it's wise to point out that there's absolutely no reason to assume the Phils can't bounce back to win the pennant here. 


The Phils, in a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game Two, had Bake McBride at second base, Mike Schmidt at first, rookie sensation Lonnie Smith at bat and only one out. Had the Phils scored, they'd have taken a 2-0 lead to Houston, secure in the knowledge no team has ever lost the first two games of an LCS and come back to win. A Smith hit, in short, would put the Astros in a stranglehold. Or so it seemed. 


Smith did produce the hit – a line single to right after slapping a half-dozen fouls with a 3-2 count. But, alas and alack, McBride did not score. As Smith's shot dived to the turf in front of Astro rightf ielder Terry Puhl, McBride, who was steaming into third, pulled up, started again and finally stayed put.


Manny Trillo struck out, Maddox popped up and Houston – "The Orange Phenomenon," as the Astros are called here down Texas way – scored four times in the 10th to win 7-4. And, at the time, a veritable horde of writers, had McBride in mind for the horns. 


Bake was having none of it, however, saying, "I knew the ball was going to drop. He (Elia) was telling me to stop." So he stopped. He also told the writers there was "no way" he could have returned to second in time to avoid a double play even if the ball hadn 't dropped, since he was almost to third by the time he first picked up Elia's signals. McBride soon tired of the inquisition and terminated it by walking away. 


So the crowd cornered Elia in the coaches' dressing room. And the 43-year-old coach, who managed at Oklahoma City last year before Dallas Green promoted him, made no attempt to redirect the blame. "I screwed it up," he said. 


"It looked to me like Bake took his normal lead. Then he came. I just went like this...," Elia said, making what can best be described as a confusing signal.


"I just screwed up. The ball's caught, he wouldn't have a chance to get back, anyway. I should've taken a chance and sent him. But I held him up momentarily and, when I tried to get him to go again, it was too late. 


"It was a reflex action thing. My hands just went up. What can I tell you, fellas? It kills me as much as it kills the guys on this club." 


Green, by the way, with no time to get his stories straight with his distraught third base coach, told it somewhat differently in the postgame interview room. "That's a very difficult situation for a runner," he said, "especially with two out. We don't want him to run us out of the inning but we want the run, too." 


Green was asked if Elia should have sent McBride home. "I'm not the third base coach, that's not my job. It's entirely up to the runner, but it's one of those outhouse or castle kind of deals." 


The Astrodome is no castle – it's a dome. Two Astro wins, and it's an outhouse.

Helas!  Les Montreal Expos


By James J. Kilpatrick, of the Washington Star


MONTREAL – J. Taliaferro Spelvin, my friend and fellow countryman from Rappahannock County, Va., turned up the other day in Montreal. I encountered him just as he returned from a crucial baseball game; he had been reading the Canadian papers: and he was pleasantly bemused, as always, by the follies, passions and misfortunes of mankind.


I had last seen my peripatetic neighbor in Paris, almost a year ago. Despite the disasters of the evening, he was characteristically filled with good cheer. We embraced with cries of "tiens!" and "alors!" and repaired to a bar of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, where he doffed his damp beret and ordered a dram to ward off the chill. 


"Helas!" he said, "les pauvres Expos!" J.T., as he is best known, speaks French with a Virginia accent. He was thus superbly equipped to speak the French they speak in Quebec. "Helas! " he cried again. "Six to four in 11 innings, we lost to les Phillies de Philadelphie. All is perdu! The season est fini." 


And so it was. For the first time since it obtained a National League franchise, the Montreal club had made a run for the division title. A few days earlier the Expos had performed brilliantly in sweeping a series with les Cards de St. Louis, but les Phillies de Philadelphie had kept pace by sweeping their own series with les Cubs de Chicago. Now the Phillies and the Expos were matched head to head. On this rainy Saturday afternoon, but one team could survive. Considering the kind of baseball they had just played, J.T. observed, neither one of them deserved to survive. Yet they both had earned acclaim. 


"It was the worst game I ever saw, and maybe the best game I ever saw. and if there is a lesson to be learned from the debacle," said J.T., "it is that there is no such thing as a bad ball game. The Phillies made five errors, more or less. The Expos made six. I think. The base running was adapted from the Keystone Kops. Even the umpiring was lousy. We didn't get started until almost 5 o'clock, three hours late, and le Bon Dieu alone knows what time it is now. The seat of my pants is wet. I think I have the pneumonia. But I wouldn't have missed this match for the world." 


The important thing, said my friend, waxing philosophical, is that both teams played their hearts out. The errors were errors of the hand, but they were mainly errors of the heart. The players were trying too hard. The lanceurs, as the pitchers are known, threw with everything they had, and the frappeurs swung for all their might, and nobody gave up and nobody went home early. 


The Expos were defeated, not disgraced. It was nothing but a ball game, but in its own microcosmic way, coming down to the last day of the season, it was Appomattox for the Expos. Magnifique, said J.T., as he lifted his glass to the Phillies' reliever. Tug McGraw. "Voila!" 


What of the city of Montreal? My friend had found it delightful. The city is said to have 5,000 restaurants. He had sampled 12 of them and found them excellent. He and Mrs. Spelvin had gone by train to Quebec City and back, and they had rediscovered the pleasures of seeing the world at eye level. 


J.T., who fancies himself a Virginia constitutionalist, had become engrossed in the controversy over a new, homemade constitution for Canada. He was prepared to support the conservatives' objections, as soon as he could figure out what they were. 


He kept coming back to the ball game, this "petit guerre." I thought he was talking about a little railway station, but his metaphor had to do with a little war. J.T.'s French, as I say, is long on enthusiasm but short on accent. The Phillies' second baseman. Manny Trillo. had dropped an easy ballon – which is to say, a fly ball – and this was like Ronald Reagan's fumble over the Ku Klux Klan. 


In war, politics and baseball we make mistakes, but we keep taking the champs, and we come up au baton, and maybe in the top of the 11th Mike Schmidt looks at a fat 2-0 pitch and frappes it over the wall. Un circuit! The good men play every inning at 10-10th of their capacity, right to the edge of endurance, and that, said J.T., is the way to win elections, constitutions and ball games.