Syracuse Herald-Journal - October 11, 1980

Thin Astros Keep Winning


By Joe Goddard, Chicago Sun-Times News


HOUSTON — If the Astros win, if they march right through the National League playoffs and World Series, all they'll have left at the end are the drummer, fife player and flag bearer.


They lost another of their stars, Cesar Cedeno, in Friday's 11-inning, 1-0 victory over the Phillies, giving the Astros a two-games-to-one edge and forcing the Phillies to come back with 24-game winner Steve Carlton Saturday against Vern Ruble.


Cedeno suffered a compound dislocation of his right ankle in the sixth inning and was undergoing an operation in the llth when his good buddy, Joe Morgan, tripled as leadoff man off over-used Tug McGraw.


Cedeno didn't know until late Friday night that McGraw had to intentionally walk Jose Cruz and pinch-hitter Art Howe to load the bases for a force-anywhere situation.


He learned in the recovery room that Dennis Walling, who had not started in 15 days, scored pinch runner Rafael Landestoy with a sacrifice fly to medium left where Greg Luzinski threw so weakly that third baseman Mike Schmidt had to cut it off for an equally limp relay.


Not even close


No chance. Landestoy already was across the plate and at the dugout, giving high-five hand slaps to teammates as 44,443 fans gave each other traditional shakes.


Morgan, the hero of so many games with the Reds — his bloop single in the seventh game of the 1975 Series beat the Red Sox — was shaken by the loss of Cedeno, who followed J.R. Richard (stroke) to the sidelines.


"We had a saying on this team when we needed a run: 'Cesar, go get it for us.' It seemed like 90 percent of the time he would," Morgan said.


That's how Cedeno went down and out — trying to get the Astros a run they needed. In the sixth inning with runners on second and first, he hit into a short-to-second double play. He looked like hurdler Ron Milburn with his last, long stride to the bag. He slammed down on it, the ligaments tearing in his right ankle.


"It's going to hurt us against left-handed pitching,' Morgan said of the .309-hitting center fielder, "but this team has overcome so much adversity already. I think we're strong enough to go all the way without him, but it'll hurt us not to have him.


"Personally, I feel very badly about it. We worked out together and I know how badly he wanted to play in the World Series.


"We've got a job to do and now we have one less player to do it with. We lost the best pitcher (Richard) in the league and still won."


The next best pitcher is Joe Niekro. The Astros own him, too. The knuckleballer worked the first 10 innings before yielding the llth to winner Dave Smith, who had to strike Del Unser out with two on in the 11th to preserve the shutout.


Niekro said his knuckler was not as effective as Monday when he beat the Dodgers 7-1 in the West Division sudden-death playoff. "But this is my ball park and I kept 'em in it."


Walling joined a long list of Astro heroes this season with his sacrifice fly, but almost faced a fine for being late to the park. "My little girl has been sick and I arrived only 10 minutes before we (the reserves) are supposed to be on the field. But when I saw my name in the lineup, it gave me more time to relax and get ready." he said.


No previous factor


"Walling had been no factor until the 13th. He reached base once — an intentional walk by Larry Christenson, who had a three-hitter for six innings until going out for a pinch hitter.


"I had 15 guys tell me to look for something to drive," Walling said. "I was trying for a hit, but I'll settle for what happened."


Nothing was happening until Morgan tripled, the ball striking the right-field wall where Bake McBride leaped in vain. "A scorecard came down, but that didn't affect the play. I thought it was out," McBride said. Added Phillie manager Dallas Green, "A left-hander may have had a better chance."


The Phillies' last chance may he Saturday with Carlton, who has pitched with three days' rest 14 times this season.


"I'll try to find all the right-handed hitters I can." Houston manager Bill Virdon said. But, said Niekro, "We'll have to score more runs than we did today."


The Astros can't add a player for Cedeno in the playoffs. Virdon wasn't certain about the World Series, "but if we get that far, we'll plea and pray to get someone else on," he said,


NL NOTES — Phillie manager Dallas Green predicted Larry Christenson, Friday's starter, would miss the rest of the season with a groin injury. When Christenson read that, he immediately healed. ... Green did not want the players' wives on the charter flight, or even in Houston. His reason: "To eliminate the carnival atmosphere." ... ABC-TV World Series producer Dennis Lewin said the coverage "stunk" in 1976, the first year ABC took over from NBC, "but I think we're way ahead of them now in the booth. Their approach is more a couple of old ballplayers coming into your living room and chatting about the game and throwing in a couple of anecdotes for kicks," he told the Houston Post. "Our approach is to personalize as much as wo can." ... A pig-tailed man wearing a Phillie T-shirt is on the field before playoff games. He once was a promising prospect. He was asked what happened to his career. "This," said Hank McGraw, brother of Phillie relief ace Tug, throwing the pigtail over his shoulder. ... The last time Houston won a championship was 1957 — in the Texas League.