Camden Courier-Post - October 11, 1980
Astros slip by Phillies in 11-inning struggle
By Bob Kenney, Courier-Post Sports Editor
HOUSTON – The Philadelphia Phillies came up a run short here yesterday in the Astrodome, and the Cinderella Astros are now within one game of the National League Championship.
The Phillies played as well as they could in the third game of the best-of-five playoff but dropped a 1-0 thriller in 11 innings. Now they must win today and tomorrow – or their season is over.
"We're down a bit," admitted Manager Dallas Green. "But we'll be ready."
They have to be. Houston is getting the pitching and defense and Manager Bill Virdon is making the right moves. Not even a season-ending ankle dislocation to Cesar Cedeno could dampen the Astro's spirits.
"We're going against the best pitcher in the league," Astro second baseman Joe Morgan said of Steve Carlton, the scheduled pitcher in this afternoon's match.
"But the pressure is on them," said Morgan, who set up the deciding run with a triple to open the 11th inning. "They have to win. Twice."
Carlton, who won the first game in Philadelphia on Tuesday, usually has no trouble with the Astros, and the Phillies are counting upon him to even the series at 2-2.
If he does, Green will send rookie Marty Bystrom into the pressure cooker in the decisive game Sunday night here.
For six innings yesterday, Larry Christenson and Joe Niekro took turns pitching out of trouble. Christenson left for a pinch-hitter in the seventh and Tug McGraw came on.
Meanwhile, Niekro mixed a sharp fast ball with his dancing knuckler, and the Phillies failed to score on him in 10 tries. He, too, left for a pinch-hitter, and rookie Dennis Smith blanked the Phillies in the 11th.
Defensive gems by center fielder Garry Maddox and third baseman Mike Schmidt helped keep Houston off the board. Astro left fielder Jose Cruz pulled down several long drives, including a third-inning smash by Greg Luzinski, which would have been a three-run homer at the Vet.
McGraw, who blanked the Astros for three innings, ran into trouble in the 11th. The 37-year-old Morgan opened the inning with a triple that hit the right field fence and bounced away from outfielders Bake McBride and Maddox.
The Astros sent in Rafael Landestoy to run for Morgan, and the Phillies walked both Cruz and Art Howe to set up a potential force at home.
But Dennis Walling lifted a fly into short left and Luzinski's throw to the plate was off the line as the speedy Landestoy scored the game's only run.
"It was our kind of game," said Howe. "We don't beat ourselves."
Astros’ win puts Phils on ropes
Triple by Morgan sets up Houston victory in 11th
By Bob Kenney, Courier-Post Sports Editor
HOUSTON – Joe Morgan, the free agent nobody wanted last winter, tripled to set up the only run of the game in the 11th inning here yesterday, and rags-to-riches Houston is just one win away from the National League pennant and participation in its first World Series.
The 1-0 victory gave the Astros a 2-1 edge over the Phillies in the best-of-five playoffs.
It was a well-played, tense yet exciting contest.
Overpowering pitching by starters Joe Niekro and Larry Christenson was backed by brilliant defensive plays on both sides.
There were seven intentional walks in the strategy-filled game.
With 44,443 Astrodome fans screaming from start to finish, the Phillies missed on eight tries with runners in scoring position and the Astros failed nine times before Denny Walling lofted a soft sacrifice fly to left win it.
"It was a helluva game," Philadelphia Manager Dallas Green said. "But we're in trouble."
The 36-year-old Morgan put Houston in the driver's seat when he ripped a 1-1 pitch from reliever Tug McGraw off the right-centerfield fence and raced all the way to third when the ball bounced away from converging Bake McBride, who barely missed the catch, and Garry Maddox.
"I saw the ball bounce away and I was running for home," said Morgan, who is hampered by a sprained ankle. "When I saw it bounce, I stopped hurting."
Morgan was not even picked by Houston in the free agent draft, but was signed by his old club when no other team would sign him in a move many baseball men considered a public relations gesture. But he has helped the Astros and has been swinging a hot bat the past month of the season.
"I don't even know what I hit," Morgan said. Tm seeing the ball real good. I don't worry about what it is if I can hit it."
Morgan was replaced on third by pinch-runner Rafael Landestoy, and Green ordered McGraw to walk both Jose Cruz and pinch-hitter Art Howe to load the bases and set up a force at the plate.
"That was their only move," said Walling, a lefty who has been all but forgotten by Virdon the past two weeks. "I hoped they would let me bat and I could get something I could drive."
Virdon let him bat, and it worked out well, although the game-winner wasn't much as hard-hit balls go. It was a sliced fly to relatively short left field, and Greg Luzinski's throw home was way up the line and the game was over.
Landestoy, one of baseball's fastest runners, said he knew it was over when the ball went into the air.
"Soon as I see ball go up, I knew I could score," he said, "It was deep enough. They have to catch the ball and make perfect throw to the plate."
Green admitted he thought of using Greg Gross, a better defensive player, in left after the triple, but thought better of it. "I knew if the ball was hit shallow enough, Bull could handle it," he said.
"This was our kind of ball game," Howe said. "If you don't get to us early, you have a problem. We have pitching and defense, we didn't beat ourselves."
The Phillies had some early chances against Niekro but the 20-game winner lived up to his advance billing.
He mixed a blazing fast ball with his dancing knuckleball, and the Phillies were handcuffed.
Bob Boone caught a fast ball flush but Jose Cruz leaped to pull it down in left to end a second inning opened by a Manny Trillo double.
And Cruz went to the wall, 390 feet away, to pull down a Greg Luzinski drive after singles by Pete Rose and McBride in the third.
"We hit the ball hard the entire game," Green said. "We had opportunities to score but didn't."
Cruz pulled down another drive by Boone to end a two-on rally in the ninth, and third baseman Enos Cabell made a super grab and throw to turn a Pete Rose bunt into a force at second in the 10th.
Philadelphia's last bid came in the 11th.
Niekro had finally left for a pinch-hitter an inning earlier and, with two out, reliever Dave Smith served up a double to Maddox. Manager Bill Virdon ordered Larry Bowa walked intentionally, and Del Unser came up for Boone.
The Houston rookie was up to the challenge, however, and fanned the veteran.
"You can't follow an act like Niekro's," Smith v said. , "I just wanted to throw strikes and hold them best I could."
The Phillies also got solid pitching and even better defense.
Twice Bowa started key double-plays behind Christenson, who allowed only three hits in the six innings he worked.
The first came after Terry Puhl doubled to open the game and Morgan walked with one out. Bowa turned a sharp grounder from Cruz into an inning-ending twin kill.
In the sixth, Cabell singled and, after a brilliant play by Rose robbed Morgan, the Phillies issued the first of three intentional walks to Cruz.
The move worked when Cesar Cedeno's hard grounder went straight to Bowa, who relayed to Manny Trillo and on to first.
Cedeno hit the bag with the side of his foot and was carried off the field on a stretcher. The veteran center-fielder suffered a compound dislocation of his right ankle, and underwent surgery.
"We'll miss him," Morgan said. "It is a great loss. But this team has overcome so much this year, we'll be okay.
"I just feel sorry for Cesar. He got himself mentally prepared for this season, he worked so hard. He came through so many times. He really wanted a chance to play in a World Series to show people what he could do."
Houston lost a scoring bid in the fourth when third baseman Mike Schmidt fielded a Luis Pujols bouncer on the short hop and Rose dug out a low throw to end the inning after Cruz had tripled.
In the eighth, Maddox sprinted 40 yards to overtake a Morgan drive into the right-center gap with Puht on second.
And in the 10th, Boone gunned down the speedy Cabell attempting" to steal.
The Phillies will send ace Steve Carlton to the mound today in an attempt to stay alive. The Astros" will counter with Vern Ruhle.
Phils look to Carlton to keep hopes alive
By Ray W. Kelly of the Courier-Post
HOUSTON – There is only one pitcher in the National League who can totally intimidate the Phillies. It's a good thing he's on their side.
Steve Carlton, who will take the Astrodome mound today, fully expecting to put an end to the hypnotic trance that the Astros have induced upon the Phils in this playoff sleepwalk, is not the kind of person to descend to excuses.
Not that the Phils, who are one more defeat away from elimination, have been offering up alibis. They know that for the want of two sacrifice fly balls, they would be riding in open convertibles down Broad Street, trying to shake a champagne hangover.
But, like they say, if ifs and bats were candy and nuts, what a wonderful Christmas we would have. Speculating about what might have been is still the job of the media at this point.
If the Phils are thinking about anything on this execution eve, it's not of past possibilities, but what Carlton might do if they continue to strand more people than the winter snows.
It's one thing to go 11 innings without scoring a run's worth of support for Larry Christenson, Dickie Noles and Tug McGraw – as they did in yesterday's 1-0 loss to the mystery team from the Western Division – and I quote another to leave King Kung Fa high and dry.
"When Steve comes of f the mound in a scoreless game and starts talking about needing runs, guys listen up," said one member of the Phils. "He's one guy nobody wants to get mad."
Right now, the Phils are in a surprisingly pensive mood that almost borders on confidence. Carlton, a 24-game winning tramp card to the reason for that.
They figure the big lefthander will even the series at two games apiece. They'll gladly take their chances in tomorrow night's matchup between Dick Ruthven and Houston's Ken Forsch.
"Of course," added Manager Dallas Green. "When you're one win away from clinching the pennant like Houston is, I'd have to say, yes, they are to the driver's seat."
Up to that point, the Phils had offset their scoreboard boycott with a dazzling array of defensive gems by Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose and Garry Maddox.
For those entertaining the notion the defensive bailout might have continued if Bake McBride had more fully challenged the right field wall on Morgan's triple, or if someone other than Luzinski had been in left field when pinchrunner Rafael Landestoy revved up his engine and burned rubber to the plate on Walling's fly ball, consider what the Phils had to say.
"I gave it a good shot," said McBride. "I must have missed catching Morgan's ball all by about five or six inches. I hit the wall about the same time as the ball. And I hit it good. Sprained my wrist and got a hip pointer. They're going to take X-rays."
Green had the sound of a broken record after the record-setting string of goose eggs (for the playoffs), was ruined by Astro Joe Mor Morgan's 11th-inning triple off the right field wall and Denny Walling's sacrifice fly to Philly leftfielder Greg Luzinski.
Green admitted that once Morgan reached third base, he considered installing Greg Gross' arm in left field as opposed to Luzinski's arm, which will never be registered as a lethal weapon.
"Once they pinch ran Landestoy for Morgan... well, if Larry Bowa can't throw him out at the plate from 50, 60-feet, whatever it was, then Bull's not going to throw him out, either."
Gross, the logical choice to replace Bull, wasn't exactly thrilled with his chances in such a speculation game. "The outfielders are playing in close," he explained. "Once Greg has to take a few steps backward to catch Walling's ball, it means he's going to have to throw flat-footed. And only a guy with a cannon arm, making a perfect throw, could have thrown out Landestoy in that situation.
"Anyway, the fly ball wasn't that shallow. It just looks that way because the park is so big. No, everything would have had to be perfect to get him."
There is always the perfectly good second guess that Green, who was hoping for a ground ball or a strikeout rather than a fly ball, might have ended up in a situation where he really did wish he had Gross in the game.
But, the manager also knows the reason his team isn't winning. Which is why he must have muttered the words, "little things" a dozen times after the defeat.
A sacrifice fly ball off the bat of Manny Trillo Wednesday evening instead of a bases-loaded strikeout... a fly ball, or even a grounder to the shortstop or second baseman with runners on second and third yesterday (with Schmidt at bat) and the Phils end up winning the last two games instead of losing both in extra innings.
But, that's speculation. Steve Carlton won't settle for that. His teammates know it. And, that's where there is hope.
It’s possible the Astros do belong
By Rusty Pray of the Courier-Post
HOUSTON – Maybe everybody has been wrong all along. Maybe the Houston Astros really belong in this National League Championship Series with the Phillies.
The Astros were characterized – with some justification – as a team that approached the playoffs more with a sigh of relief than a declaration of optimism.
They had somehow managed to back into their first West Division championship by blowing a three-game lead to the Dodgers in the final three games of the regular season. Indeed, it would have surprised no one if Los Angeles had won the extra game it had forced.
But that's the Astros, the National League's answer to Rodney Dangerfield. They impress absolutely no one with their hitting, but somehow they muddle through and win.
"I know," infielder Art Howe was saying yesterday, "that we belonged here. The pressure was all on the Phillies. They were supposed to win because they have a lot of experience and a lot of talent. But in a short series, well, we want this bad. It's going to be hard to beat us."
After the Astros lost the first game of this best-of-five series to the Phillies, people shook their heads knowingly. The Phils, with three previous playoffs under their belt and a point to prove, would carve up Houston and feed it to the also-rans. The only question was whether it would take three games or four.
Instead, the gracious Phillies handed the
Astros a win in the second game. And yesterday, before 44,443 believing fans in the Astrodome, the Astros squeezed out a 1-0 win in 11 innings. The game, featuring pitching and defense, was
"They're a good ballclub," said Pete Rose, the only member of the Phillies to even approach home-plate from anywhere except the on-deck circle. "Any team that wins a division has to be a good ballclub.
"But I don't think they're a better club than we are. I certainly wouldn't trade our starting eight for their starting eight. But they win…”
And it is the Astros, not the Phillies, who can clinch the National League pennant today. It is the Astros, not the Phillies, who can afford to split the next two games.
"This is," said Houston Manager Bill Virdon, "a better ballclub, with more intestinal fortitude, than a lot of people may give us credit for."
But now, the character of this Astro team is beyond reproach. It has been given so many chances to fold this season. First, they lost J.R. Richard, the most dominant right-hander in the game, to a stroke. Then they nearly blew the division by losing three straight to the Dodgers. And in the sixth inning , yesterday, they lost their best all-around player, centerfielder Cesar Cedeno. Cedeno dislocated his right ankle attempting to beat out a double-play ground ball. He underwent surgery to repair ligament damage last night and will be unavailable for whatever remains of the season.
"It (the loss of Cedeno) will hurt us a lot," said Joe Morgan, who opened the decisive 11th with a triple off Tug McGraw. "But this team has overcome so much adversity already. I think we're strong enough to go the rest of the way without him."
If there is a reason why the Astros were never taken seriously as a World Series candidate (John Anderson is their political equivalent), it is the Dome itself. They have no sluggers, no Mike. Schmidts or Greg Luzinskis, because they are a team tailored to the vastness of its park.
"You put the Phillies in here," said third baseman Enos Cabell, "and they might score a few more runs than we did, but not many, because the park dominates."
Morgan echoed Cabell's words. "Most of the players on this team are underrated. And this ballpark is the reason we have bad (offensive) stats. If you put Cincinnati or Los Angeles or Philadelphia in here for 81 games, they wouldn't look like hitters, either."
Perhaps Howe, the bald, oft-injured utilityman, best described his team with these words, "pitching and defense."
Neither attracts much attention. But both win an awful lot of ballgames.