Corpus Christi Caller-Times - October 11, 1980

World stops in Houston for Astros


By The Associated Press


HOUSTON – By noon Friday downtown Houston was empty.


The traffic jams expected in the late afternoons developed by 11 a.m.


Workers headed home, to the Astrodome, or to hundreds of parties to watch the Houston Astros play the Philadelphia Phillies of the National League championship series.


And they weren't disappointed. The Astros won 1-0.


Ernie, a bartender at a popular downtown Houston restaurant, said, "We always open at 11 a.m. and we look for the big crowd between noon and one. When I got the door open this morning, there was a line a block long. They were drinking early and eating early and taking out."


The manager of another downtown cafe said that after noon, “We should have closed shop. Everybody's gone somewhere and so I'll sit around with the waiters and watch the game on television.”


During the morning hours representatives at the Texas Commerce Bank were handing all passers-by orange suckers the color of the Astro uniforms.


Several people walking the downtown streets before noon were wearing orange corsages, orange caps and orange socks.


Construction of a 75-story building downtown stopped as workers headed for a nearby bar to watch the game.


The Brilab trial of Texas House Speaker' Billy Clayton and two Austin attorneys ended at noon so the seven-women, five-man jury, at its request, could either go to the Astrodome or watch television.


Two other trials in the federal courthouse also shut down at noon so jurors, judges and attorneys could see how their hometown favorites did in their first playoffs in 19 years of existence.


An official of a major Houston oil company said, “We didn't tell the employees they could take off for the day, but to be honest, there isn't anyone here but me. We won't worry about that now.”


At a large Houston shopping center hundreds of people gathered around television sets displayed by various stores and others crowded into the posh bars.


Houston, the fourth largest city in the nation, is generally considered a football town, but the Astros have captured their imagination.


One elderly man, using a cane to hobble down the street, said he was heading for his hotel room and bypassing his general afternoon drink to watch the game.


"I've been here a long time," he said. "And I've seen a lot of things. This is the best thing that ever happened to Houston.”

Astros close on date with Royals


By Ed Spaulding, Caller Sports Editor


The ball's in your court, Mike Schmidt. You're playing defense, it's the bottom of the 11th inning of a tie game and the leadoff man rips a triple. What are you thinking?


"All we need," Schmidt said late yesterday afternoon, "is two walks and three miracles." Two walks the Phillies got. Three miracles, or even one, they didn't as the Houston Astros captured a 1-0 11th-inning thriller from Philadelphia to move within one game of the World Series. Yes sports fans, the World Series.


You expected maybe an 11-7 slugfest? Not hardly. These are the Houston Astros we’re talking about. Extra innings are the norm. One-run wins are expected. A big inning is one that includes two hits to the outfield and a couple of stolen bases.


The Astros' win yesterday was pure Houston. Good pitching, strong defense, not enough offense to register on the most sensitive seismograph. Not enough offense, in fact, to win 99 out of 100 baseball games. But this was the 100th, the longest scoreless contest in National League Championship Series history and certainly one of the most interesting, if not the most thrilling.


To recreate the setting the Phillies' Schmidt was describing: Joe Morgan opens the last of the 11th with one of the few well-struck drives of the day. Morgan, gimpy knee and all, manages an easy triple.


The Phillie braintrust meets at the mound for a while and opts for standard baseball strategy, that being to walk the next two Astros — Jose Cruz and pinch hitter Art Howe — and go for the three miracles.


Denny Walling undid any such plans with a game-ending sacrifice fly to left field. No, Walling's swat did not threaten to be a grand slam homer. It did not threaten to be a blast to the wall or even a hit. Like everything else these Astros do, it was enough and nothing more.


Walling's fly came down in Greg Luzinski’s glove and Rafael Landestoy, running for Morgan ,came down and in easily ahead of Luzinski's throw home for the game's only run.


So much for offense. Joe Niekro was brilliant for the second time this week, and rookie reliever Dave Smith was effective in the top of the 11th and the Astros had the go-ahead win in this best-of-five series for the National League championship.


Niekro worked 10 innings this time, just four days after his complete-game effort lifted the Astros to the NL West title in a one-game playoff with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He retired nine Phillies in a row and 16 of 17 at one stretch and ended his long chore having allowed eight baserunners in 10 innings.


"I don't know how you can get any better than he's been," Manager Bill Virdon said. “For the last five or six weeks, he has been something. He throws that knuckleball and nobody has been scoring any runs off him.”


For 10 innings, that was the story for both teams. The Phillies' Larry Christenson, Dickie Notes and Tug McGraw matched Niekro out for out The Astros threatened in the first, fourth, sixth and eighth innings. The Phils had scoring chances in the second, third and ninth innings.


But until Morgan ripped one of McGraw's offerings to the right-field wall to start the last of the 11th, everything came up zeroes.


"Tug threw me every pitch in his bag,” Morgan said. "I'm not sure what I hit. It was either a fast ball tailing in or a slider. I knew it wasn't a home run because this is the Astrodome and it wasn't hit high enough. When I saw the ball bounce away, I was going for home. It was up to the coach to stop me."


Don Leppert wisely did that. Landestoy came on for Morgan's aging, injured legs at third, and Cruz and Howe were passed intentionally. Walling got two quick strikes and lofted his winning fly to left.


"I didn't hit it very well," he said. "It was a high fast ball and I just tried to extend my arms. I didn't hit it far enough to avoid a play at the plate."


But that play was meaningless. Luzinski, hardly the world's greatest thrower, had an outside shot at the speedy Landestoy but not with his off-line, high heave that never gave catcher Keith Moreland a chance to make a tag.


"He (Luzinski) was just waiting for the ball," said Landestoy. "He had nothing on the throw"


"We talked about it before the ball was hit," said Leppert. "Unless the outfielder had to come in, he was going."


Simply stated Luzinski wasn't and Landestoy was and the Astros are: One victory away from the World Series. 

Cedeno out for playoffs


HOUSTON – The Astros’ victory over Philadelphia yesterday did not come cheap since the Houston ballclub will be without the services of standout center fielder Cesar Cedeno for the remainder of the playoffs. Cedeno suffered a severe dislocation of his right ankle while trying to beat out a double play ball in the sixth inning of yesterday's game.


Cedeno landed on the side of the first base bag, collapsed in a heap and was carried off on a stretcher. Surgery was performed on his ankle last night. Teammates on the scene said there was no question as to the severity of the injury. Manager Bill Vlrdon said Terry Puhl will move to center field and Gary Woods and Denny Walling will share right field duties in Cedeno's absence.

Bad knee, coach held up Morgan


By The Associated Press


HOUSTON – Joe Morgan's spirit was willing, but his knee was weak Friday afternoon. "I thought it might be an inside-the-park home run." Morgan Friday after his 11th-inning triple set up the only run in third game of the National League playoffs against the Philadelphia Phillies.


Morgan scored moments later on a sacrifice fly by Denny Walling that gave the Astros a 1-0 victory and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series.


Morgan got the big hit off Phillies' ace reliever Tug McGraw.


"He threw me every pitch in the book the two times I faced him,” said Morgan of McGraw.


Morgan wasn't sure what he hit for the triple.


"I think it was either a fastball tailing in or a slider," Morgan said.


"I'm swinging good now and I don't try to detect what the pitch is — I just swing.


"When I saw the ball bounce away (from right fielder Bake McBride) I was headed for home plate which is the way you have to run bases in this ballpark. I felt if I got a shot at it I'd better take it. But the coach stopped me."


Morgan explained his thinking.


"Just because you've got a man on third base with nobody out is no sign you're going to score,” Morgan said. "I was going to keep running until somebody stopped me."


And maybe nobody would have had it not been for Morgan's gimpy knee, which reduced his speed to a running limp.


Walling said of his game-winning sacrifice fly. "I didn't hit it really well. I thought there might be a play at the plate.”


Houston Manager Bill Virdon, of course, was upset by the loss of center fielder Caesar Cedeno, who suffered a fractured right ankle while running in the sixth inning.


"But this club has more intestinal fortitude than a lot of people give us credit for," said Virdon. "They'll keep it together for the next one or two days.”


Virdon said he plans to stack his lineup with right-handed hitters Saturday as the Phillies try to stay alive by pitching their ace Steve Carlton, whose 24 victories were the most in the National League this year. He will be working with three days rest for the 15th time this season.


"If I had Carlton and had to win one game to stay in it, I'd pitch Carlon too," said Virdon.

Old Dome tops ‘em all for Astros


By Red Spaulding, Caller Sports Editor


HOUSTON – The poets laureate of sports have been known to describe Wimbledon as “that grand old lady of tennis.” The Masters gives up birdies with the willingness of the Ayatollah doing a good deed. The Steelers lose playoff games as grudgingly as the Mob sends in a late payment. And the Houston Astrodome gives up runs like they were parking spaces close to the store on Dec. 23.


Time was when the highest praise a home run hitter could receive was the label, “He can hit ’em out of any park including Yellowstone.” That was B.A. Now, it's, "He can hit 'em out of any park and maybe reach the Astrodome fences on one hop."


This is some tough old lady His Honor, Judge Hofheinz, created 15 years back. It's easier to sneak beefsteak past a hungry lion than to go downtown here. You might never have heard of Hank Aaron if he'd been an Astro. Babe Ruth would be just another funny name if he'd played in Houston.


Like any good trap, the Dome is well disguised. The scoreboard has lights aplenty and displays and seems like fun for all. The arena is clean and attractive, and the playing surface uniform and the atmosphere electric. But home run hitters are advised to apply for work at Fenway, Wrigley, the Met, the Vet, the Kingdome, the Superdome, the Capitol Dome — anywhere but the Astrodome.


Not only are the fences deep and high and the power alleys only slightly nearer than Wyoming, the ball doesn't carry and the resident outfit, something called the Astros, has been fiendish enough to fortify itself with more strong arms than a weight lifters' competition.


Analyst Joe Morgan says, "If I had been anywhere else this year, I'd have had 25 home runs (He hit 11). We have a good team and nobody knows it. They look at statistics and we don't have any. This ballpark limits our statistics."


True. You won't find any Ruths or Aarons wearing Houston orange. You also don't need three of them to win ballgames under the bubble. You can't get the ball out of here but neither can the other guy. Fact is, he can't even get it by the Astros because, schemers that they are, they've loaded the roster with defensive demons. They fit in nicely with those strong pitchers and the spacious geography under this roof.


Houston could easily have lost yesterday's third game of the National League Championship Series. The score could have been 3-0 or 1-0 or 6-4, if this ballyard were like most. But the combination of distant fences and strong-legged outfielders and a couple of those strong arms teamed up to shut out the Philadelphia Phillies.


Starting pitcher Joe Niekro said, "The best thing for me today was pitching here and not in Veterans Stadium. Our outfielders have a lot of speed. They chase down a lot of mistakes. And a lot of them couldn't be chased down anywhere but here."


The Bullish one, Greg Luzinski, gored one in the third inning that had 'tater time written all over it. Anywhere but Houston and Yankee Stadium, it's a 3-0 game.


"I thought maybe it might have a chance,” said Astros' Manager Bill Virdon. "But it didn't sound like he really crushed it. And you have to crush it here."


With two outs in the top of the ninth, the Phillies' Bob Boone drilled a line drive that appeared headed for extra bases. As with Luzinski s drive, left fielder Jose Cruz ran it down.


"I sweated that one out, too," Virdon said.


"I was shaking my head out there," said center fielder Terry Puhl. "I knew I couldn't get it. Jose came out of nowhere. He must have gotten a great jump on the ball."


That happens often under this tough old lady. Especially it happens often for the Astros, a team created for the open spaces of the Dome. Home run privileges are extended to very few. Big scores are reserved for the Houston Cougars (though not this year). Those big numbers that make all-stars, superstars, well-known names in the sport of baseball can't be produced here. Which may be why the TV types keep referring to them as the "no-name" Astros. Defense can't be measured the way batting numbers can.


But that's the nature of this hooded monster in the swamplands. Pitch hard, field well and score twice a month. It's a hard combination to figure out. It's also a hard combination to beat.