Chicago Tribune - October 11, 1980

Houston drives Phillies up against the wall


By Dave Nightingale, Chicago Tribune News Service


HOUSTON – A sickening sound reverberated around the Astrodome in the sixth inning Friday when Houston center fielder Cesar Cedeno severely wrenched his right ankle, causing a dislocation and ligament damage.


But the sound that sickened the Philadelphia Phillies was the ball meeting Joe Morgan's bat in the 11th inning, then rebounding off the right-field wall for a leadoff triple.


If they get to the World Series, the Astros may be in trouble without Cedeno, who was injured in a desperate attempt to beat out a double-play ball.


"But we're in trouble now," said Phils Manager Dallas Green after watching Morgan's triple lead to the 1-0 victory that sent Houston ahead two games to one in the best-of-five National League Championship Series.


THE PHILLIES have been in this position before – in 1977 and '78 against the Dodgers. And both times they quietly expired after four games. That could happen to them again unless their bats awaken against right hander Vern Ruhle, who is coming back from a split finger to start Game 4 for the Astros.


"We won't go quietly this time – not with Lefty Steve Carlton, 24-9 pitching for us Saturday," Green vowed.


But the hype clearly belonged to the Astros, who got 11 innings of brilliant pitching from Joe Niekro and winner Dave Smith before they finally could get the cork out of the popgun they call an offense.


Morgan led off the Astro 11th against Tug McGraw, the otherwise peerless reliever who had not been effective against Joe. Morgan doubled off Tug Wednesday night in Philly and hit a hard liner off him in the eighth Friday.


"HE THREW ME everything he had in his bag today... screwball, slider, curve, fastball and change-up... so I wasn't looking for any one pitch," said Morgan, who hit a high fastball toward the fence in right-center.


"In any other park, that's a homer," Morgan added. "This is the Astrodome."


But 44,443 partisans watched in glee as the ball hit high on the wall near the 390-foot mark, then bounced back toward the infield as both Bake McBride and Garry Maddox crashed into the fence.


"When I saw the ball coming back, I was thinking homer, but the third-base coach Don Leppert stopped me," said Morgan, who flew around the bases despite the ligament damage in his left knee.


McGRAW THEN issued an intentional walk to Jose Cruz, the Astros' best clutch hitter, who received three such freebees Friday. But would the Phils' lefty also walk left-handed hitting Dave Bergman, the Astros' reserve first baseman?


"I wasn't sure, but I didn't want to leave anything to chance," said Houston Manager Bill Virdon, who sent up right-handed Art Howe. That forced the Phils to give another free pass, loading the bases but setting up a possible force at the plate.


Would Virdon let lefty Denny Walling swing against McGraw? "I figured he would, because he has let me hit against left handers in four or five crucial situations this year," said Walling.


Would Green shore up his outfield by inserting an arm [Greg Gross] for a bat [Greg Luzinski] in left field. "I thought about it, but I figured The Bull could throw somebody out, considering he would be playing shallow," said Green.


WALLING CAME to the plate with a definite set of instructions. "At least 15 of my teammates told me to look for a pitch I could drive," he said.


After two deliveries from McGraw, Walling still was looking... and had an 0-and-2 count.


The next serve was a high fastball, and Walling went with the pitch, poking a fly to medium left. Luzinski made the catch, but Rafael Landestoy, the pinch runner for Morgan, easily scooted home ahead of the throw to end the long defensive struggle.


The run was only the 27th scored by BOTH teams in the seven times the Phils and Astros have played here this year.


“The pitchers really were something today – both Niekro and our guys [Larry Christenson, Dickie Noles, and McGraw]," said Green. "When they can negate the offense of both clubs, they had to be doing something right."


BOTH TEAMS HAD numerous chances to win before overtime. "We didn't pick up on our opportunities to score early, and we didn't move our runners around late in the game," said Green.


The Astrodome dimensions saved Houston in the third when Luzinski hit a 385-foot blast to left-center with two men on. The fence, however, is 390 feet from home, and Cruz made the catch. He also made a fine running grab of a Bob Boone liner with two out and two on in the ninth.


McGraw was safe on Bergman's error to lead off the 10th, but Pete Rose, McBride, and Mike Schmidt couldn't do anything about it. And Smith blunted the last Phils' bid, striking out Del Unser on three pitches with two out and two on in the 11th. Smith took over after Niekro had allowed only six hits in 10 innings.


“I can't begin to find words to tell what Niekro has done for this team in the last six weeks," said Virdon. "He has been throwing strikes with that knuckler of his, and nobody has been scoring off him."


THE ASTROS BLEW early scoring chances when Terry Puhl and Cruz reached third with one out – in the first and fourth, respectively – and were stranded there.


Houston had runners on first and second with one down in the sixth when Cedeno hit his season-ending double-play grounder. He made a final lunge In an effort to beat the relay, caught his foot on the bag, and pitched forward on his face.


The Astro center fielder was carried off on a stretcher and immediately taken to Methodist Hospital, where the dislocation was diagnosed and surgery performed.


"Our players naturally are upset about the loss of Cedeno for the rest of the season," said Virdon. "But we've come back from a lot of [injury] losses to win this season. Our players have more intestinal fortitude than most people give them credit for."


The Astros aren't allowed to add a roster replacement for Cedeno during the playoffs, but they undoubtedly will be given such permission for the World Series – if they get there.

Morgan keeps his promise to Astros


By Bob Verdi, Chicago Tribune News Service


HOUSTON – Joe Morgan bat been a winner before, and he's been a member of the Houston Astros before. But never has he been both at the same time, and that is why Saturday can't come soon enough.


"I owe this club something," he says. "A long time ago, when I was 5-foot-7 and weighed 140 pounds, not top many people were knocking on Joe Morgan's door. Not too many major league teams wanted a second baseman that size. Not too many teams wanted anything that size.


"But this organization gave me the chance. They gave this scared kid a chance, and you don't forget that.They traded me away in 1971 to Cincinnati, and it turned out to be good for me. But – and you can look it up – when they traded me, I said that some day I'd come back here and help the Houston Astros win a championship. Well, we're almost there."


Joe Morgan crushed a leadoff triple in the 11th inning Friday to help the Astros beat the Phillies 1-0. It was the big hit that led to the big run that meant the Astros were one victory away from the National League pennant Joe Morgan had promised them.


BUT MORGAN HAS been a big bit here all season, and never you mind that .243 batting average. Never mind, either, that – to the nation – the Astros are a bunch of faces to be named later. If we didn't know they were good all along, that's fine with them, because they did. What they didn't know was how good, and that's where Morgan came in. They had been close to oil for some time; he taught them what to do when they find the gusher.


It's a tenuous business, leadership is. Pete Rose, who dropped into the Phillies as a guest celebrity, went through a similar experience. You don't just put on the new uniform and go straight to the podium. Talk before your teammates are ready to listen, and it's curtains. You don't issue an acceptance speech before being accepted. So Rose, for all he had accomplished, accomplished even more.


"I had to become one of the best first basemen in baseball," says Rose, "and I did. Then I could yell at them."


Morgan's contribution to the Astros has been more esoteric. Unlike the Phillies, the Astros didn't need to be kicked, but rather kissed. They are efficient and orderly. As kids, they must have all cleaned their plates at dinner. But, in Morgan, they seem to have gotten that one extra ounce of bravado, of common resolve, they once lacked.


"If we believed all the predictions about where we were going to finish, we wouldn't be here," says Morgan, "because everybody thought we would finish third. I tried to tell them, and it isn't always easy. You have to get a feel of a situation before you speak, unless you like getting your head chopped off. In the end, though, I shouldn't get the credit for talking; they should get the credit for listening."


MORGAN, WHO JOINED the Astros on only a one-year contract, showed his interest early. In spring training, when the Players Association called a work stoppage, it was this 37-year-old warhorse who ran around the airport when he heard that some teammates were leaving Florida to go home. That was no way to win, Morgan said, and they listened.


Again in August, when the Astros fell from first place, Joe asserted himself by calling a team meeting to explain why, as an opponent in Cincinnati, he had never worried about catching Houston. The Astros, he said, had lots of instinct, but not the killer instinct.


"I had a great feeling after that session, great vibes," recalls Morgan. "And it didn't hurt that, after we hashed things out, we went out and won 10 games in a row."


Obviously, Morgan's mates detected that leadership is like class. Easy to spot but difficult to define. And certainly it was to Morgan's credit that he took the stand when he himself was batting in the .220s. That underscored his message: Sacrifice.


"IN THE LAST year and a half, I got Into a lot of bad habits," says Morgan, "and it took a while to realize what they were. I had been hurt, so my front side was collapsing. To compensate, I held my hands up, and further back. As a result, my swing was too long, and even after I got healthy again, I didn't change.


"Finally, I watched myself on tape and brought my hands forward more. Overnight, I started doing what I do best. Drive through the ball. Did I ever think that maybe I was finished? Heck, yes. After you keep making outs for a year and a half, you think a lot of things."


After last season, Morgan parted with the Reds – as did Rose, one of his best friends, a year before. The Los Angeles Dodgers had Morgan all but signed to play second base, but then Davey Lopes rejected the idea. Morgan looked elsewhere for a contender, and the Astros were the perfect answer.


"There comes a time when you need a change, in any job," says Morgan. "Nothing will ever be as exciting to me as the first pennant we won with the Reds, or the first World Series, or the first time I won the MVPt But it was time to move on, and, believe me, this is pretty exciting right here.


"WE DONT HAVE a lot of spectacular players, but we have a lot of good players. People may not know about Jose Cruz now, but they will. One of the best hitters in baseball. They say we don't score a lot of runs, and we don't That ball I hit for the triple today, that's out in any other park. I wouldn't have to limp to third on this bad knee of mine. I trot home.


"The ball just hangs here. It doesn't jump. Take any other team in our league and put them in here for 81 games and I guarantee they won't score any more runs than us. Don't sell us short. People sold us short after we lost three straight in Los Angeles. But I told our guys, look, we earned the right to lose those three and still be able to win the pennant."


The Houston Astros listened to Joe Morgan then, and still are.

Playoff notes (excerpt)


Here’s the pitch


Rookie Marty Bystrom, the subject of controversey earlier this week when the Phils were allowed to put him on the roster even though he wasn't on the 25-mari roster as of Sept. 1, will pitch the fifth NL playoff game [if there is one]. Houston has the option of using either Nolan Ryan.with 3 days rest or Ken Forsch with 4. "It'll probably be Ryan because Forsch is used to relieving and Nolan isn't," said Virdon.


A couple of streaks


Greg Luzinski's playoff hitting streak came to an end after 12 games Friday when he went 0-for-5 against Joe Niekro and Dave Smith. But the Phils' Pete Rose extended his playoff hitting streak to 12 with a third-inning single off Niekro.