Corpus Christi Times - October 10, 1980

Crowd favors Astros


Houston back home to face Phils


HOUSTON (AP) – The Houston Astros could have been named the cliff-dwellers — that's where they've lived throughout the 1980 National League regular season and they've curried the habit into the NL championship series against Philadelphia.


The Astros' style is to scratch and claw for a one-run lead and then cling to it as if they were about to ho pushed over the precipice. And the bigger the game the harder they hold on.


“We've been able to win the big games when we had to have them over the past month,” said Joe Niekro, the National League's only 20-game winner over the past two seasons. "We have lost some here and there but we've come through when we had to."


Niekro was scheduled to start against the Phils and Larry Christenson today in the third game of their best-of-five National League championship playoff series in the Astrodome.


The fourth game is scheduled Saturday afternoon and a fifth game, if necessary, would be Sunday night.


The Phils also have won the games they needed.


“We needed to win two of three games at Montreal and we got them,” Phils Manager Dallas Green said. "We seem to do pretty good in this ball park.”


The Phils beat the Astros in nine of 12 regular season games, including a 4-2 edge in the Astrodome. Even more impressive, Philadelphia won 21 of its lust 28 road games.


Although it takes strong-hearted fans to sit through an Astros game Manager Bill Virdon says that style of play may be helping in the playoffs.


"I think they are more relaxed in the playoffs," Virdon said. "That's been our style of play all year, so they are used to it. But that shouldn't be a factor. We still have to beat the team we're playing."


The Astros seldom had the ability during the regular season to put another team away but conversely, few teams blasted the Astros, hence, a season ol close games, close series and a close division race.


"I'd say that's the mark of a good ball club, probably a better club than most people give it credit for," Virdon said. "Our pitching keeps us in the game. We don't get that much hitting, so it takes us longer to score runs."


Since Virdon, along with General Manager Tal Smith, were instrumental in rebuilding the Astros from a laughable last place team to the division champions, obviously Virdon likes the nickel-and-dime offense, right?


“I'd much rather have five guys who hit 50 home runs and not worry about all this other stuff," Virdon laughed. "But it's great to win, no matter how you do it, and I think it's a credit to the players who have given a maximum production all year."


The Astros aren't the only team long on confidence, however.


"I'm not worried. Why should I worry?" asked Phils first baseman Pete Rose. "We've done pretty good in the Astrodome this year and we've got (Steve) Carlton to come buck with."


The Phils worked out in the Astrodome Thursday afternoon but Virdon gave the Astros the day off to recuperate from the long road trip that started last Friday when the team went to Los Angeles for the regular season-ending series.


Several Astros, including Enos Cabell and Art Howe, showed up for batting practice anyway.


"We've played this way for two years and I don't know how to explain it," said Cabell, referring to Houston's comeback ability. "That's why people keep counting us out but we keep coming back."


Friday's game in the Astrodome will be the first time in a week the Astros have played before a friendly crowd. After losing three straight to the Dodgers, Houston won a one-game playoff Sunday before going immediately to Philadelphia to begin the championship series.


"Most or the team is hoarse," Cabell said. "We had to cheer for ourselves."