Camden Courier-Post - October 10, 1980

Phillies lose psychological edge


By Ray W. Kelly of the Courier-Post


HOUSTON – The Phillies lost more than a ballgame Wednesday night. They lost the psychological edge in the National League playoffs.


The series resumes today here in the Astrodome with the two teams, tied at one win each. But the Astros, with a day off to regroup after their wild stretch run in the Western Division, are beginning to swagger like winners.


"You decide who is in trouble," said Joe Morgan, the Houston elder statesman who also contributes as the regular second baseman. "Philly now has to beat us two out of three in our park."


ALL THE Phillies had to do to wrap up this competition was to win the second game, the one they gave away in 10 innings by stranding a playoff record 14 baserunners.


"There would have been tremendous pressure if we had lost both games," said reliever Frank LaCorte, who got credit for Wednesday's victory. "But right now we're the most relaxed ball club in the history of baseball.”


Coming in, Manager Bill Virdon and his Western Division champions would have settled for the thrill of competing. The Astros had ended 19 years of frustration and it would have been a great season just making it into the playoffs.


The Phillies felt the same way in 1976 when they won the East and rolled over and played dead for the powerful Cincinnati Reds. It wasn't until the next year the Phillies even thought championship series.


HOUSTON CAME in to these playoffs with all kinds of potential excuses. Their ace pitcher, Joe Niekro, was used Monday to win the mini-playoff game that eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers. The team was exhausted mentally and physically from that four-game showdown.


Then there was the overnight jet trip into Philadelphia and injuries to Morgan and pitcher Vera Ruhle. This was the team that nobody expected to win after J.R. Richard went out in August.


It was Ali in the ring with Holmes and all the big guy had to do was land the knockout pitch. Houston would haye packed up and gone home to enjoy the winter and Philadelphia finally would have moved into the World Series.


Instead, the Astros sense an upset. The little kids on the block see the opportunity to gain some recognition,


THESE GUYS aren't even household names down here. In a town where football is king, the Astros won a division title with a lineup of offensive linemen.


Until Morgan arrived this season, the Astros never really had a name player in the lineup. And, at 36, Morgan was considered washed up around the league. He came to Houston from Cincinnati as a free agent nobody wanted.


Houston didn't win in the West. The Dodgers and the Reds lost.


Terry Puhl led the club in home runs with 13. That's a pretty good month for Mike Schmidt.


DEFENSIVELY, the left side of the Houston infield struggles. But it looks solid compared to the guys who cover between first and second. When the Astros make a double play, it's considered an upset.


“Let's face it," said Craig Reynolds, the regular shortstop who hit a soft .226. "We don't scare too many teams.


"Around the country people don't know who we are except some papers have cut us up pretty good. We'd like to show them we're for real.”


Enos Cabell, the third baseman who has developed into a team leader, agrees. "People count us out all the time because we don't score many runs," he said.


"FOR SOMEBODY who don't hit the ball," volunteered Cesar Cedeno, the flashy center fielder, "we do a pretty good job."


Rodney Dangerfield may get more respect from outsiders, but the Astros are a self-confident bunch. "We're hoarse from cheering for ourselves," said Cabell.


Houston had the built-in excuse, said Cabell, but never bowed down to Schmidt or his Philly teammates, who won nine of the 12 games the two teams played this season. The Astros came out swinging from the start, even testing mighty Steve Carlton in the opener they lost Tuesday.


ON PAPER, Houston can't match the Phillies in any department until it comes to the depth of the bullpen. Once Manager Dallas Green uses Tug McGraw it's all over.


Virdon can call on Joaquin Andujar, Joe Sambito, Dave Smith and LaCorte out of the pen. Together they've saved 42 games for the Astros.


The manager needed all four to keep the Phillies in check in Game two. They did. Now Niekro, the 20-game winner who always gives the Phillies trouble with his knuckle ball, is rested and ready.


Niekro goes against Larry Christenson and it is advantage Houston. "We're in great shape," LaCorte said. "We know now we can win. We have to be confident at the Dome."


"Wait until you hear that crowd here," predicted Morgan. "This is a football town but they love winners. They're behind us now and when we win this thing, we're taking over the town."

Phillies must shine beneath Astrodome


By Ray W. Kelly of the Courier-Post


HOUSTON – When the National League playoffs began, it appeared as if the biggest problem facing the powerful Phillies was what to say to the Houston Astros when they came around in their little rainbow uniforms asking for autographs.


It wasn't that the Western Division representatives were that bad. But, let's face it, who would you rather have leading the charge up World Series Hill, John Wayne or Gomer Pyle?


Yet, gol-lee Sergeant Carter, here we are bivouacked at the Astrodome with the best-of-five maneuvers tied at one victory apiece and the Phils looking like they just heard the rumbling of enemy tanks.


If Manager Dallas Green's crack troops are beginning to wonder if they wandered into a mine field by losing Wednesday night's game, they might also consider the court-martial that awaits them if they run up the white flag in another playoff.


Losing to the blitzkrieg of the Big Red Machine in 1976 was one thing. And, just as the snow undid Napoleon in Russia, so did the rains of 1977 undo the Phillies against the Dodgers.


That defeat left the Phils slightly shell-shocked, which might explain why, when the Dodgers came back the following autumn hugging and kissing each other like a bunch of hippy kamikazes and claiming it was an honor to die for Frank Sinatra and the Big Dodger in the Sky, the Phils meekly bit into their cyanide pill.


The Astros, however, are another matter entirely. If they were an army, they'd be called Salvation. They don't bombard enemy pitchers. They surrender for seven innings and then send out a squad of fine relief pitchers to negotiate a settlement.


For the Phillies to take a team that has winners or candidates for the Cy Young Award, Home run Crown, Fireman of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year and Captain Clutch (Pete Rose) Trophy and somehow lose to a team that makes its home in a closet is unthinkable.


Shoot, Houston is the only playoff town where the vendors at the ball-park shout, "You can't tell the players with a scorecard!"


When the Phillies take the field, it sounds like a public reading from the baseball social register. Houston comes out and you wonder if this is what Abbott and Costello were thinking about when they did their famous, "Who's on First?" routine.


The Phils have so many Golden Gloves, the equipment manager drives an armored car. While, the Astros reportedly got their gloves at a Tupperware Party.


After the Astros all but fainted coming down the home stretch of the season, and literally tumbled over the finish line ahead of the limping Dodgers, the Vegas bookies made it 10-to-1 that Houston would call in sick.


Yet, here we are again, that time of year when the grass turns brown, the leaves turn red and the Phillies turn blew.


It can't happen. The Phils are going too good for people to end up remembering 1980 as the year the Saratoga docked in Philly.


The Astros, a team with a proud history of idiotic trades, not only win by simply playing basically sound baseball, they also behave in a very common manner.


Like yesterday afternoon. Houston had the day off. Yet, tonight’s starting pitcher, Joe Niekro, took a ride out to the Astrodome to spend a few hours chatting with reporters while the Phillies worked out.


Larry Christenson, the Phils', starting pitcher? He wasn't around. Which is how a member of the team with the bluest of blood should act.


It's absurd to think that such a star-studded team like the one from Philly could be heckled off the stage by a few Texas hardhats, who, compared to the Phils, are so totally nameless, they even take their American Express cards to the plate.


Unfortunately, this isn't a swap-meet for bubblegum cards. It's a battle for the pennant. And, the Phillies had better not go home without it.

Phils-Astros Facts, Figures


•  Phillies and Astros meet today in the third game of the National League Championship playoff series. The fourth game is tomorrow at 4:15 p.m., with a fifth game, if necessary to be played Sunday at 8 p m.


•  The Phillies and Astros are tied in the best-of-five series, the Phils winning the first game Tuesday night at Veterans Stadium, 3-1, and the Astros taking Wednesday night's game, 7-4, in 10 innings to knot the series.


•  Winner advances to the World Series against the American League champion.


•  The Houston Astrodome is site of today's game and for the remainder of the series.


•  Game time is 3 p.m. with the, game to be televised on Channels 6 and 17 with radio broadcasts on KYW, 1060.


•  Larry Christenson, 5-1, starts for the Phillies against the Astros' Joe Nickro, 20-12.


•  The Phillies are batting .314 for the first two games, while the Astros are at .221. The Astros, however, have the edge in pitching with a 3.00 earned run average to the Phils' 3.79.