Wilmington News Journal - October 11, 1980
Boxed-in Phillies not giving in to Astros
Carlton gets call to even series at 2-2 today
By Ray Finocchiaro, Staff Correspondent
HOUSTON – The Phillies' backs are pressed so far back against the wall you could mistake them for a coat of cheap paint that's about to peel.
The Phillies admit they're in trouble. Denny Walling's bases-loaded sacrifice fly that scored Rafael Landestoy to give the ' Houston Astros a 1-0 victory in 11 artistic innings yesterday, at the Astrodome was enough to convince them of that.
But nobody's throwing in the towel – or the pennant – even though the Astros need only one more win in this best-of-five National League Championship Series to make the World Series their next stop.
"We hit with them and we pitched with them and having the last at-bat – and luck – was the only reason they won," said Phils third baseman Mike Schmidt, the MVP candidate the Astros have effectively muffled so far in this series.
"They still have to beat the best pitcher in baseball (Steve Carlton) and keep us from scoring another nine innings.
"If they do that, they deserve to go to the World Series and they’re the best team. But I still think we're the best team until they do it."
Walling, who lofted a weak fly to Greg Luzinski in medium left field after loser Tug McGraw had intentionally walked two batters to fill the bases after Joe Morgan's leadoff triple, had mixed emotions about his contribution.
"I didn't hit it well," said the reluctant hero. "I tried to get a base hit but I hit a fly ball. Morgan got the triple and' Landestoy scored the run. All I did was hit the fly, ball."
"I knew the ball wasn't going to be deep," said Houston Manager Bill Virdon. "I thought it would be close at the plate and I was just hoping he'd get in there. I was almost afraid to look."
But Luzinski's throw was far off-line and, realistically, few outfielders could've gotten Landestoy, even with a perfect throw.
The Phillies' clubhouse was expectedly somber. Joe Niekro and winner Dave Smith had held them to seven hits over 11 innings. Five of those hits came in the first four innings. Manny Trillo's infield hit in the sixth and Garry Maddox's double with two out in the 11th were the Phils' only hits over the last seven innings.
"We only got seven hits," said a sullen Dallas Green. "You can do a helluva lot with that."
The Phils' manager admitted the Phils' situation was critical when he moved Carlton into today's 4:15 p.m. start. Green had hoped to save Carlton for a fifth game – or the World Series. Instead, Carlton is the Phils last thread of hope in their fourth playoff series in five years. And nobody had to remind Green of the three previous disasters.
"We're in trouble," Green said, forcing a weak smile. "Naturally, we feel let down right now but we're going to get ready for tomorrow. We're just not getting any offense right now."
And if that offensive drought continues one more game, the season is over.
Though Dave Smith got the victory with one inning of relief, it was knuckleballer Niekro who threw the Phils' bats into mothballs all afternoon.
"I can't find the words to tell you what Niekro's done the last month or six weeks," said Virdon, who let a smile creep over his dour face several times during the post-game interview. And Niekro's name brought out a Cheshire-cat special.
"Joe's been unbeatable," Virdon said. "He throws that knuckler and nobody was scoring any runs off him. Joe's background is he improves as the game goes on. He overthrows at first but he just gets better."
That was the problem. He just got too good... and a lot better than Green expected.
"I don't think Joe had great stuff," Green said. "His knuckleball was good, but that's why I thought we'd get him. I thought he'd lose control of it in the later innings, but he just stayed with it. He made the pitches when he had to. I thought we'd get the run off him when we got the opportunity."
The Phils' best opportunity came in the third inning and, anywhere but the Astrodome, they'd have come out with three runs.
But Luzinski, who saw his 13-game playoff hitting streak snapped with an 0-for-5, watched as left fielder Jose Cruz caught the Bull's 390-foot shot at the wall.
"This is the only park that's gonna hold it," said a red-eyed, seemingly shell-shocked Luzinski after it ended. "I hit it 390 feet and he catches it with his back against the wall. I hit the ball hard, Schmidty hit the ball hard – a couple of breaks and it's a different ball game."
"That ball had a chance," sighed Green, "but he hit it down on the end of the bat. It was no contest in our ballpark – the power alley is 371 feet but we're not playing there."
Which 44,443 fans were happy to notice yesterday.
There was little more Phillies' offense to speak of. Maddox got as far as second in both the ninth and 11th innings, both times with two out and both times dying there.
In the ninth, Maddox was hit in the wrist by a Niekro knuckler. After Maddox stole second, Larry Bowa was intentionally walked and Bob Boone lined to the gap in left, with Cruz tracking the ball down.
In the 11th, Maddox doubled with two out and Bowa was again walked. This time Green brought in pinch-hitter Del Unser to face rookie Dave Smith and Smith struck him out.
"The reason I brought in Del in the second situation and not the first," explained Green, "was a different kind of pitcher. Smith's a hard-baller, though we know he has a forkball. He threw good today, better than he did in our park (in Game Two)."
And Unser proved no match to the baby-faced right-hander who finished the season with 16⅓ consecutive scoreless innings.
Houston didn't do much with Phils starter Larry Christenson, either. They got just three hits off the righthander before Green lifted him for a two-out, nobody-on pinch hitter in the seventh, only to watch George Vukovich pop out.
"Larry's groin pull stiffened up just a bit and he was getting himself into jams," said Green. "Because of that, and the stiffness, I took him out."
Terry Puhl opened the game with a double against Christenson but just got to third. Cruz tripled with one out in the fourth but got no farther. Cesar Cedeno's double-play ball, on which the fleet outfielder dislocated his right ankle and wound up on the operating table, ended a sixth-inning jam. And that was all for Christenson.
McGraw was spared immediate problems relieving Dickie Noles in the eighth when Maddox ran down Morgan's liner in right center with Puhl on second base.
But once the Astros pushed the game into the 11th, McGraw was in his fourth inning and running out of gas. Morgan's triple on a high fastball was the proof, but Green ordered two intentional walks to fill the bases, just in case one bit of magic remained in Scroogie's elastic arm.
Cruz received his third consecutive intentional walk and Virdon sent up Art Howe, whose homer helped the Astros win the NL West title in Monday's playoff with the Dodgers, to bat for Dave Bergman.
"I thought they would walk Howe," said Virdon, "but I wasn't certain they'd walk Bergman. And I wanted the bases loaded."
And Dennv Walling knew what to do then, even if he couldn't quite get the hit he wanted.
Which leaves it up to Steve Carlton today and, if there's a fifth game tomorrow night, rookie Marty Bystrom or possibly Dick Ruthven, who has a tender elbow.
Carlton will pitch with three days' rest, something he's done 14 times this season. And he is 11-1 in those starts with abbreviated rest. For further assurance, Green need only remember that Carlton chalked up 14 of his 24 regular-season victories the game after a Phillies' loss. And Lefty has beaten the Astros seven straight times, including Game One of these playoffs in which he was less than Super Steve.
Virdon supplied the clincher.
"If I had Carlton and had to win one game to stay in it, I'd pitch Carlton, too," said the Houston manager, managing one more tepid smile before he disappeared.
"It'd be fun to come back and win this thing," mused Dallas Green. "That just might be a possibility. Lefty yanks 'em tomorrow and you don't know where the pressure is."
It was quiet enough in the room to hear the paint dry.
EXTRA INNINGS - Rose as hit in 12 straight playoff games... Luzinski failed to hit safely for the first time in 14 playoff games... The Phils have stranded 25 baserunners in their two extra-inning losses... Vern Ruhle will pitch for Houston today with either Nolan Ryan or Ken Forsch if needed tomorrow night.
By Hal Bodley, Sports Editor
HOUSTON – For nearly five months Joe Morgan kept a low profile. He sat quietly in the clubhouse and instead of yelling and shouting, watched his new Houston teammates carefully.
By mid-August, he was ready. During a team meeting in San Diego, Joe Morgan stood up and took charge.
"You had to be there," said shortstop Craig Reynolds. "He said some very important things about the team, about the way we were playing. We listened closely because we all respect Joe Morgan."
Yesterday, during a tense scoreless struggle with Philadelphia that looked like it was going to last forever, Morgan again took charge.
The spunky little second baseman opened the 11th inning with a booming triple and a few uneasy moments later, his pinch runner, Rafael Landestoy, streaked across home plate on a sacrifice fly to give the Astros a 1-0 victory over Tug McGraw and the Phillies.
Now, the team dotted with anonymous players, is one step from landing in the World Series and sending the Phillies to their fourth disappointment in five years. A victory today over Steve Carlton will accomplish that for the Astros.
It seemed only fitting that Joe Leonard Morgan would deliver the kayo punch in the Astrodome yesterday. After all, when Houston plucked the 37-year-old Morgan from the bottom of the free-agent grab bag in January, they were looking to him for that kind of leadership on and off the field.
“In the beginning it was difficult," said Morgan, who just completed his 16th season in the majors. "I knew why they gave me a contract; they wanted me to drive in some big runs and play second base. The first part of the season, I did very little. It was almost a copy of last year in Cincinnati. I just couldn't come up with a key hit with runners in scoring position .You know how it is, when you get in situations like that, you tend to try too hard and that's what I was doing."
Morgan refuses to admit it, but the pressure of playing out his option with the Reds after eight seasons in 1979, weighed heavily on him. He hit just .250, and after going through the re-entry draft in November, it appeared nobody wanted him.
The Dodgers and Giants both showed interest in the beginning, but after they signed their quota, Morgan was out in the cold. That's when Houston, which didn't even select him in the first place, got in a bidding war with the New York Mets. Finally, on Jan. 31, the Astros gave him $255,000 for one year, a far cry from the $400,000 he was earning with the Reds and far under the $600,000 he sought.
Morgan batted only .243 in 141 games, had only 11 homers and drove in 49 runs.
But Joe Morgan knew how to handle the pressure of a pennant race and just when it appeared the Reds and Dodgers might take charge in National League West, Morgan returned to form.
"He delivered as many key hits as anyone on the team the last five weeks," said Houston Manager Bill Virdon above the cautious celebration in the Astros' dressing room. "Sure, he was quiet when he first came here, but I think that's only natural. He really helped our younger players, especially the last part of the season."
"First of all, the media was not supposed to know about that meeting in San Diego," said Morgan as reporters jammed around his locker. “But, it leaked out. After I was here for a few months, I got to know the guys better and knew what I could say and what I couldn't say. I certainly didn't come in here in the beginning, saying, 'Follow me.' During that meeting I thought a lot of things should be straightened out. After it was over, they gave me a lot of credit, but if they hadn't listened to me, it meant nothing."
Morgan refused to even hint about what was said, other than to agree that the team came on strong after that.
Yesterday, they were looking for someone to burst the bubble and Morgan felt that burden was on his shoulders.
"When I came up in the eighth inning, Pete Rose yelled at me," said Morgan. "He said, 'How about a pop-up?' I said, 'No way, I'm going to hit a liner."'
It took a brilliant running catch by Garry Maddox to haul in Morgan's liner and in the 10th, Morgan was at the plate when Enos Cabell was caught stealing for the third out.
Now, it was the 11th. Morgan jumped on a 1-1 pitch and it took off to right.
"At first, I thought it might go out," said Morgan, who was the National League's Most Valuable Player in 1975 and 1976. "But I've seen too many balls die in this park. For a moment, it looked like Bake McBride might catch it. After it bounced away, I thought I had a chance to go all the way around, but the third-base coach held me."
"I came closer to catching it than I thought I would," said McBride. "I just couldn't get my glove there. I hit the wall so hard I have a sprained wrist and a hip pointer. I don't know if I'll be OK tomorrow or not."
Morgan, who has been suffering from an injured left leg, said he didn't even feel the pain as he dashed to third. "It wasn't hurting at all when I saw the ball bounce off. the wall. Actually, it's not a matter of pain. It's just a matter of strength; I can deal with the pain," said Morgan.
"Actually, I'm swinging the bat a lot better right now than people realize. Maybe I surprised some people and I'm sure this team has. We've been confident all along. For. the last two months, we felt we would win. So, we are no more confident now, but obviously we are a step closer. We realize we're going against the best pitcher in the league on Saturday in Steve Carlton. But our pitching staff has not been getting beat up by anyone either."
Joe Morgan played with Houston the year after it entered the National League in 1962. In 1964, he arrived for good and stayed until he was traded to the Reds after the 1971 season.
People say he became a catalyst with Cincinnati, helping the Reds win division titles five times and land in the World Series three times.
"My biggest thrill was winning the world championship in 1975," he said. "If we can do it here, that will be my second biggest thrill."
Cedeno dislocated ankle, out for remainder of year
By Ray Finocchiaro, Staff Correspondent
HOUSTON – Cesar Cedeno's season – and World Series aspirations – ended in a heap here yesterday.
The Houston Astros' fleet center fielder tripped over first base while running out a double-play ball in the sixth inning of Houston's 1-0 Astrodome victory and wound up on the operating table at Methodist Hospital for a compound dislocation of his right ankle.
"This will hurt us a lot," said Joe Morgan, the Astros' hero yesterday, "but this team has overcome so much adversity already. I think we're strong enough to go the rest of the way without him, but it'll hurt us not to have him.
"Personally, I feel very bad about it. Cesar and I were very close this season and I know he wanted to play in the World Series so badly."
But this year, the year the Astros may actually achieve that pinnacle for the first time in their 19-year, history, Cedeno will be a spectator.
First the Astros lost fireballer J.R. Richard with a stroke and the doomsayers said they were finished. Now it's Cedeno.
"Everybody is concerned and upset about what happened," said Houston manager Bill Virdon. "But this is a better club, with more intestinal fortitude, than a lot of people give us credit for. They'll keep it together for the next one or two days."
Enos Cabell opened the sixth inning with a single off Larry Christenson and moved to second on Morgan's grounder to first baseman Rose.
Phillie Manager Dallas Green ordered an intentional walk, the first of three, to Jose Cruz, bringing up Cedeno. Cesar hit a sharp grounder to short that forced Cruz. Manny Trillo's relay beat Cedeno to first and Cedeno tripped over Rose's foot, landing heavily about 10 feet beyond the bag.
There was no doubt the injury was serious and Cedeno was taken off the field on a stretcher and sent immediately to the hospital where team physician Dr. Harold Brelsford made plans for surgery before the game ended.
"It's a shame that's the way it's got to be," said Green quietly. "Just a shame."