Philadelphia Inquirer - October 10, 1980
Maddox quells his frustration
By Frank Dolson, Inquirer Sports Editor
In the first game of the National League Championship Series, Garry Maddox singled, stole a base and scored the run that wrapped up a 3-1 Phillies victory.
In the second game he came that close to being the night's big hero. With the game tied in the fourth inning, he lashed a Nolan Ryan breaking ball to left field for a go-ahead single. Then, in the eighth inning – with the Astros ahead, 3-2, he tied the game with another single and reached second – with the potential winning run – on the throw to the plate.
Later events Wednesday night took the game away from the Phillies and the headlines away from Maddox, but at least he was back where he belonged: playing center field. Life seemed almost normal again after a week that had driven him up a wall, a week that had aroused terrible anger in a man who is, by nature, gentle and thoughtful.
"For four or five days," Garry Maddox said, "I was as mad as I could be."
He was angry about some of the things that had been written after he lost a line drive in the Sunday afternoon glare at the Vet during a big game against the Expos.
He was angry at Dallas Green for benching him the following night against the Cubs.
And, as one event led to another, as circumstances made it appear that he simply didn't want to play, his anger grew until it dominated his every waking hour, at the ballpark and at home.
"Because I didn't play Monday and I didn't play Tuesday (against the Cubs), and because then I came up with the (bad) finger, it looked as if…
The sentence went unfinished. Even now, it was painful to put those thoughts into words. Nobody enjoys being called a malingerer, a $700,000-a-year ballplayer who lets injured feelings get in the way of a pennant drive.
"That's the way it came across," Maddox knew.
It came across that way because, after benching Maddox for two days, Green wrote his name on the lineup card, then crossed it off when he was informed that his centerfielder had a bad finger and couldn't swing a bat. The timing couldn't have been worse. But let Maddox explain....
"I went to get X-rays on my finger on my own," he said. "It was written like he (Green) didn't believe there was anything wrong with my finger, and he sent me to get X-rays and they were negative, which meant I was lying. Dallas didn't say that, but that's the way it was printed."
What followed had to be some of the most difficult days in the life of a man who has known his share of difficult days, not the least of which was a tour of duty in Vietnam.
"So I'm not playing," he said. "I'm sitting in the dugout and I'm hearing from the fans. 'Hey, Maddox, how's your finger?' Like it's a mystery injury or something like that. One thing led to another, and another. It came to a point where I said, 'I can't exist like this. I can't go home mad. I can't take this game home with me. So I'm going to just have to accept it.'"
Maybe it sounds simple, but it wasn't. Maddox is a complex man, a deeply sensitive man. He agonized for days over how to handle what had become an untenable situation.
"I could see I was going about handling it the wrong way," he said, "that being angry is no way to handle any situation. If I take it home with me, it affects my kids. It affects everything. To be a good baseball player I'm going to have to forget about it, but mainly to be a person, a human being I'm going to have to just keep that completely out of my mind. So I just decided, I'm not going to be angry about it anymore."
It was after the final game of the Cubs series, with the club heading for its weekend showdown in Montreal, that Maddox conquered his anger, his frustration, and prepared himself mentally for doing whatever was possible to help the team in whatever role Green chose for him.
"From the first thing," he reflected, "from talking about the fly ball (he lost in the sun) to everything else, it was just – Boom! – one big mistake, I think, on my part."
It takes a big man to admit that, but then Maddox has stood tall in difficult situations before – most dramatically the day that line drive popped out of his glove in Los Angeles and the Dodgers went on to score the winning run in the final game of the 1978 playoffs.
"When we went to Montreal," Maddox said, "I had it in my mind if he was going to play Del (Unser), I was still going to root for the team. If I was going to be put in in the latter innings, I was going to go ahead and give it my best. That's the way it was going to be."
And that's the way it was.
"My biggest mistake in the whole thing from day one was trying to explain (how he had come to lose that line drive in the sun) to someone that doesn't know what it's about, who's never been out there and can't understand. It's complicated. It's involved. I tried to say what had happened; but still it wasn't written the way I thought I explained it. That led to everything else that happened. Coincidence after coincidence. And it just compounded itself."
There was a misunderstanding about the sun glasses, a misunderstanding about the finger injury. "It's been a hard thing for me to go through," Maddox said. "Usually I like to think I'm mature enough that if a situation bothers me I'm able to handle it immediately. But this got to me and stayed wih me."
It got to him because, after all is said and done, he is a man who wants to play, who wants to help this team get into a World Series.
"My contract is set," he said. "I've got no-cut. I've got no-trade. What motivates me is playing. I could sit on the bench for five years, but they'd be the longest five years of my career...of my life."
Those four or five days last week were pretty long, too, but Garry Maddox is over that now. The anger is gone. The desire is back. If the Phillies go on to win this thing, he might turn out to be a hero yet.
Niekro set to knuckle down as Houston catches fever
By Larry Eichel, Inquirer Staff Writer
HOUSTON – Hundreds of the Astros faithful greeted their returning heroes at the airport at 4 o'clock yesterday morning. Thousands more attended a high school-style pep rally downtown at noon.
The governor declared "Houston Astros Day" all over the state. And the superintendent of schools here ordered all classes dismissed at 1:30 this afternoon because he figured everyone was going to watch the game whether he wanted them to or not.
This burgeoning oil town, now challenging Philadelphia for the right to call itself the nation's fourth largest city, is ready to host history of sorts – the first playoff game in Houston, the first in the subcontinent called Texas, the first ever played in the great indoors.
So is a fellow named Joe Niekro.
Niekro, a 35-year-old knuckleballer, will get the call to oppose the Phillies this afternoon under the Dome, the same Joe Niekro who, four days ago, stopped the Los Angeles Dodgers, 7-1, in a one-game playoff to abort the Astros' impending collapse and give them the National League Western Division title.
"I have the same kind of feeling now I had Monday in Los Angeles," Niekro said yesterday while he and-his teammates enjoyed a day away from baseball after having traveled 6,000 miles in the last six days while playing six games before 330,000 hostile fans.
Joe Niekro, known primarily as the younger brother of Atlanta's Phil Niekro, is, in fact, one of baseball's best-kept secrets. In the past two years, he has won more games (41) and received less publicity than any other quality righthander in either league. He was 21-11 last year, the runner-up in voting for the Cy Young Award. He was 20-12 this year and could well finish second in the balloting again.
The good news is that he was 0-2 against the Phillies in 1980 with both losses coming here. The bad news is that this is what you call your deceiving statistic. The Phillies have not exactly bloodied Joe Niekro.
"I thought I pitched pretty well against them," Niekro said.
The facts are these. The Phils beat him, 4-2, in May, the runs coming on a grounder by Larry Bowa and a three-run homer by, of all people, Larry Christenson. Christenson, who pitches today, hasn't hit one since.
In July, they beat him, 2-1. But he was even more effective on that occasion. The winning run scored when Bake McBride singled, stole second, moved to third on a single and scored on an infield out. The first run had come across when Bake singled, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on another wild pitch.
Wild pitches and passed balls, of course, are a staple of any Joe Niekro game.
"It's a tough pitch to master" said the Astros hurler, who along with his brother and Charlie Hough of Texas, is one of only three pitchers now throwing it. "If it were easy, more people would be using it. You've got to do two things. You've got to get the ball to stop spinning, which is tough. And you've got to get it over the plate, which is tough.
"I have no idea where it's going. I just kind of pick a zone from the shoulders to the knees, and if it does some kind of moving around in there, I'm OK. If not, I'm in trouble."
He's not the only one in trouble. His catcher, Alan Ashby, must share in the adventure.
"I've already got the jitters going," Ashby said when the subject of catching the knuckler was raised. "There are times, which you hope are rare, when you feel helpless behind the plate. The pitches are bouncing off your mask, your chest protector, your shin guards, your shoes. You can hear your teammates snickering in the dugout. You know that the fans are thinking their grandmother could do a better job. And you know they're probably right.
"His ball behaves so erratically. It's as if someone stood up there – he pointed to the first row of the top tier of the stands and – dropped a piece of paper down toward the field. The wind would catch it, "and it would start bobbing and weaving. It would dart up and down, in and out. And you're standing here on the field watching its every move. And you're supposed to catch the damn thing. That's what it's like."
If it isn't easy to catch, it's no picnic to hit, either. The Niekros, Phil particularly, have given the free-swinging Phillies fits over the years. If Joe doesn't get the win today, it will mark the first time since 1973 that the Phils haven't lost to one Niekro or the other at least once.
Of the Phillies, Joe lists Pete Rose as the best knuckleball hitter.
"You can't poke at the thing," Rose said. "You have to try to take your normal swing. All you can hope is that he gets behind you in the count and throws you a fastball or a knuckleball that doesn’t knuckle."
No place like Dome for Phils’ Christenson
By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer
HOUSTON – Some Phillies playoff losses are destined never to be forgotten. You know the ones.
Years pass. A thousand games fade away. And still you see the ball squirting out of Greg Luzinski's glove, Garry Maddox walking slowly in from center in L.A., Tommy John throwing nonstop ground balls as the rain kept coming.
Wednesday night's 7-4, 10-inning loss to the Astros has a chance to be that kind of game. In the mind, Bake McBride is still stopping at third, turning around, not scoring. The eight runners are still standing on base in the seventh, eighth and ninth. Dick Ruthven is still walking Nolan Ryan with two outs and nobody on.
It was a loss that evened the best-of-five series at a game apiece. Worse, it changed the entire complexion of the series, and certainly of Game 3 this afternoon.
"It makes this one a very pivotal game," said Luzinski yesterday. "No doubt about it."
Taking two of three in the Astrodome is what the Phillies must do now. And taking two of three is not as easy to contemplate as taking one of three.
One thing the Phillies cannot afford to do is let Wednesday's game stick in their guts like a bad taco. And sometimes teams can't avoid that. Bad losses can be like hangovers. You'd love to forget them, except your head won't stop pounding.
But there seemed to be evidence at yesterday's relaxed workout in the Astrodome that this was one classic loss the Phillies have been able to put behind them.
"I think if it had made us play a fifth game, if it was 2-2 (in games), it probably would have affected us," said Pete Rose. "But I really don't think it's worried us too" much. Personally, I like to play here."
"You can't let it stick with you in a short series like this," said Luzinski. "It's over with. You've just got to go from there. And I think everybody's ready."
If they are, if they really have forgotten, they are saying something very important. They are saying that they really are different than those other three playoff teams.
"I think maybe last night we were fill a little down," said Paul Owens after watching yesterday's workout. “But we got to the airport this morning (for the flight to Houston), and you could just see they'd accepted it OK.
"I think they know they hit. They had a lot of men on base. They did everything but win. And I think that's a better thing than being in a slump and wondering what's wrong.
"Tell you what, though," said Owens, smiling. "It sure made the next couple days a lot more interesting, didn't it?"
What it really made was a situation identical to the one the Phillies faced in Montreal one week ago. And that one didn't turn out too badly, which helps.
"It's the same exact thing," said Luzinski. "We went to Montreal, and they were 50-27 at home. Well, they're about the same thing here (55-26). But we've played well here this year (4-2). Maybe at one time we weren't comfortable playing here. But you know what changed that? Very simple. A few wins."
The Dome, however, is the Astros' kind of place. For the first time in their history, they have a team strategically tailored to play there. With those deep fences, speed and line drives and pitching are what it takes to win there. And that is the Astros formula.
Home runs don't make it, which is why Atlanta lost eight of nine in the Dome this year. But the Phillies hit exactly one home run in six games there this season (by tonight's pitcher, Larry Christenson), never scored more than four runs in any game and still took four of six.
They did it with good pitching, mostly. And Christenson is one guy who has been especially successful in the Dome. He beat his mound opponent today, Joe Niekro, there in May, 4-2. He beat J. R. Richard in August 1979, 1-0. His earned-run average in the Astrodome the last two seasons is 2.37.
"Three weeks ago, Christenson was about as likely a candidate to be pitching today as Angie Dickinson. Dallas Green had written him off for the year, and it was generally assumed his disablement would be Marty Bystrom's ticket to the playoffs.
But there probably is no better guarantee that Christenson will return and help than to write him off. If they gave out Comeback of the Month awards instead of Comeback of the Year, Christenson might win it two or three times a season.
He has thrown away his crutches to twirl a four-hitter so many times, you keep looking around the corner for Oral Roberts. But maybe that's why every time he does come back and pitch well, it doesn't shock anybody anymore.
"Hell, he's had to do it all his life," said Green. "I guess he's pretty used to it.
"But nothing's been wrong with his arm. He's been pain-free, arm-wise. And l think that’s actually helped him mentally. Before, he's had to pitch over arm problems and leg problems and back problems. But now all he's got to do is concentrate on one problem (a pulled groin)."
He was so busy concentrating on it yesterday that Green let him skip the workout. Niekro, meanwhile, showed up to do interviews even though the Astros weren't working out. But it seems to be Green's policy to keep distractions to a minimum this week.
One of those distractions is wives. In previous playoff years, players' wives were allowed to make the postseason trip on the team plane. But this time, Green wrote all the wives letters and told them they couldn't come until the World Series.
"I didn't particularly care to see them here," Green said. "We tried it the the other way three years running.... I felt the less on our minds the better. After all, the goal we've set (getting to the World Series) hasn't been reached. We've been here before as you writers have so aptly written."
Some things are just hard to forget. What this weekend will tell is whether Philadelphia gets to remember this playoff series for the right reason.
Green said Steve Carlton definitely will pitch tomorrow if the Phillies lose today. And Bystrom will go against Vern Ruhle in Game 4 if the Phillies win. So today's game is the one that will determine if the whole Bystrom-Espinosa-Lerch controversy meant anything.
Royals take 2-game lead over Yanks
By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Kansas City Royals held back a New York attack that featured an inside-the-park-home run by Graig Nettles and quashed an eighth-inning New York rally to beat the Yankees, 3-2, and take a 2-0 lead in the American League playoffs here last night.
Dennis Leonard, who won 20 games for Kansas City this year, pitched eight innings and gave up eight hits for the victory, while Rudy May took the loss for the Yankees.
Dan Quisenberry, the Kansas City relief ace who during the regular season saved 33 games, relieved Leonard in the ninth inning.
No team in American League playoff history has won the best-of-five series after losing the first two games.
As if to highlight the seriousness of the situation in terms of the Yankees' plight, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner a frequent critic of his own team paced restlessly in the New York clubhouse after the game, giving encouragement to his players, many of whom have been targets of his verbal blasts in the pace.
"C'mon, c'mon, let's hustle," he said to several of his players who still were involved in postgame interviews.
"We've gotta hustle out of here and get to bed, 'cause we're going to win this thing."
He was trying to instill an upbeat note in a dressing room that otherwise was marked by disappointment.
Tonight's game at Yankee Stadium (8:15, Channel 6) will feature Yankees lefthander Tommy John, on whose rebuilt left arm the hopes of another pennant fall.
Royals lefthander Paul Splittorff (14-11) will lead his Western Division champion teammates into a game that could give the Royals their first pennant and break a frustrating tradition of losses to the Yankees in championship series play.
The Yankees beat the Royals in the playoffs in 1976, 1977 and 1978.
If the Yankees are to pull a flag out this series, they will have to start pulling tonight. It will be up to John (22-9) to silence a cold and efficient Royals offense that, as was proved last night, is capable of slicing into pitchers with sudden swiftness.
And John will look for the Yankees offense to score enough runs for a lead – something the Yankees have failed to do in the first two games of the series.
Without a lead, the Yanks have not been able to bring savior Rich Gossage out of the bullpen, because he has had nothing to save.
The closest Gossage has come to entering a game was last night, when the Yankees came to within inches of tying the Royals at 3-3 in the eighth inning.
But Willie Randolph, who had singled his way aboard, was cut down at the plate on a play that turned out to be pivotal.
Randolph reached base with one out and watched as Bobby Murcer, the New York designated hitter, struck out.
Bob Watson stood in to face Leonard and, just as Watson connected with a Leonard pitch, Randolph slipped. It wasn't a big slip, but it was enough of a slip to doom him at the plate.
Watson's hit bounced off the bottom of the left-field wall, right into the hands of Willie Wilson.
"I was just trying to hold Randolph at third," an ebullient Wilson said.
"I overthrew (U. L. Washington), but luckily (George) Brett was standing right behind him and the throw hit him right in the chest."
Brett threw a perfect high strike to Darrell Porter, who was blocking the plate. Randolph hit him hard, but the ball stayed in Porter's glove, ending the inning.
Even a New York ninth that featured Reggie Jackson standing on second and Rick Cerone standing on first – both arriving there via singles with only one out – turned out to be futile, as Nettles hit into an inning-ending double play.
The Royals picked up all three of their runs in the third inning, breaking open what began as a tight, gut-churning pitching duel between the righthander Leonard and the lefthander May.
In fact, the Royals struck so fast in the third that many in the record-setting crowd of 42,633 could not have had much time to digest what had happened.
With one out, Porter picked up the first hit of the night off May with a single to right.
Frank White followed with a single to right, and Wilson stroked an in-an inside fastball to the right-field corner for a triple that scored both Porter and White.
Washington, not to be outdone, hit a May pitch deep to the gap in left-center for a double that easily scored Wilson. Washington was left on second, however, when Brett and Hal McRae flied to center.
New York's two runs came in the fifth, and featured the first inside-the-park home run of Nettles' professional playing career.
Nettles hit a deep fly to right, and, as rightfielder John Wathan climbed the wall to try to field it, the Ball struck his glove, hit the top of the padding on the wall and scooted toward center field.
By the time centerfielder Amos Otis could pump the ball back into the infield, Nettles was belly-flopping across the plate.