Chicago Tribune - October 12, 1980

It was no way to win a pennant – fortunately

 

By Bob Verdi

 

Chicago Tribune Press Service

 

HOUSTON – By beating the Houston Astros Saturday, the Philadelphia Phillies not only saved themselves a long, uncomfortable winter of humiliation, embarrassment, and scrutiny.

 

The Philadelphia Phillies saved the National League, too.

 

For a pennant to be won, or lost, the way it might have been, and almost was, Saturday would have been more than unfortunate.  It would have been blasphemous.

 

A lot of bizarre things unfolded in the Astrodome.  Great plays, bad plays, plays you’ve never seen before, plays you wouldn’t want to see again.

 

“It was like going through an art museum on a Honda,” summarized Tug McGraw, the Phillies’ whimsical relief pitcher.  “Things go so fast, you can’t focus on any of the pictures.”

 

But two scenes would not have been so fleeting had not the Phillies managed an incredible 5-3 triumph in 10 innings to ensure a tomorrow.  One was in the top of the fourth, one was in the top of the eighth; neither did Philadelphia any favors, either could have lived in infamy.

 

“I’M GLAD IT ENDED the way it did, and I don’t think I’m the only one,” said Mike Schmidt.  “As it is, we’ll both have champagne in our locker rooms tomorrow, and only one of us will feel like drinking it.  That’s the way it should be.  Any other way would have been a shame.”

 

The shame of the fourth inning occurred after Bake McBride opened with a single and Manny Trillo did likewise to place runners on first and second for Philadelphia, nobody out.  Garry Maddox, next up, tapped a line drive toward the mound where Houston pitcher Vern Ruhle gloved it.  On a hop.  A trap.

 

“He (Maddox) leaned over and blocked my view of the play,” said Doug Harvey, the plate umpire and an eminently fine one.  “My immediate reaction was that the ball was half-speed and it might come up short.  I gave a no-catch sign at first.”

 

If Harvey did, it was a meek one at best.  Thus began the confusion.

 

TRILLO, OF COURSE, bolted for second base and McBride for third with the contact.  Ruhle, who contends to this moment that “I caught the ball on the fly,” wheeled to first and threw to Art Howe, who tagged the bag as the umpire there, Ed Vargo, signaled out.

 

Now, as players from both sides, fans, and, yes, umpires, too, wondered whether that was the first or second out, an advanced state of suspended animation engulfed the Dome.  The umpires, sensing that this puzzle was minus an important piece, converged toward the infield, which is an informal, yet official, way to calling time out.

 

But then, through reflex action and by way of throwing a little more gas on the first, Ruhle and Howe both took off for second to make sure that McBride was tagged out, thus completing a triple play.

 

Then, and for the next 20 minutes, the umpires huddled with themselves, league president Chub Feeney at his box seat, and managers of both clubs – Dallas Green of Philadelphia and Bill Virdon of Houston – each of whom wound up playing the game under protest after a secondary, and final, decision ruled the whole thing a double play.  Green did so because that was one out more than he felt his team deserved, and Virdon did so because that was one out too few.

 

WHAT THE UMPIRES did, of course, was compromise.  Harvey explained that both Vargo and third base umpire Bob Engel told him that Ruhle caught the ball cleanly.  Yet, Harvey also said that, because of his alleged no-catch or safe sign, the runner on second base (McBride) was confused and went to third. 

 

“The ‘jeopardy’ rule which we exercised there is in the books, and has been for a long time,” said Harvey.  “It gives the umpire the right to correct a mistake if he feels his call has put a runner in a bad position.  That’s exactly what happened.  I felt the runner on first (Trillo) broke so fast that he could not have gotten back to the bag no matter what my call was.

 

Thus the double play, which is what umpires deemed the fair play.

 

“Harrumph,” said Green.  “If there’s one thing it wasn’t, it was a double play, and that’s what it winds up being.”

 

The umpired perhaps could have averted the problems, which multiplied like amoeba, had they been either more or less emphatic in their actions.  Had either Harvey or Vargo gestured boldly when Ruhle gloved the ball, it might have helped.  Of if the umpired had frozen in their positions to indicate that play was on, rather than betray their confusion by tiptoeing into fair territory, it might have helped, too.  But they are human, and they didn’t know what was going on, either.

 

IF THEIR ULTIMATE verdict was fair – and that’s debatable – the way they reached it was weak.  Feeney’s entrance into the picture was totally extraneous, particularly after he issued his clouded version.

 

“If,” said the prez, “the runner had seen Harvey’s signal, he couldn’t have gotten back to first base anyway.”

 

But. Mr. President, if Manny Trillo had seen Doug Harvey’s no-catch signal – if indeed there was one – Manny Trillo wouldn’t want to go back to first.  He’d want to go to second, right?

 

“Of course, said Trillo.  “But I still don’t understand what happened out there.”

 

And if Vern Ruhle was telling the truth, that he had caught the ball without it first touching the ground, why would he wheel to first base, and not to go second?

 

“Eh, this is a really strange game, baseball,” said Virdon.  “I guess the umpire can put people where they want them and where they think they should be after a mess like that.  Why didn’t Ruhle go for the lead runner if he wanted to start a triple play?  I’ve seen a lot of baseball, and the first reaction isn’t always the best.”

 

AT ANY RATE, the fact that both protests were lodged with the judge and the jury, Feeney, leaning over the first base railing added a final, ridiculous touch to the rhubarb.  Asked if he would in essence have to rule on his own ruling, the president thought a moment, then confided, “yes.”

 

“May I be the first to inform you,” guffawed Green one minute after entering the Phillies’ locker room following the game, “that the Astros’ protest has been disallowed.”

 

Green’s protest, which would have met a similar fate, was rendered academic because the Phillies finally figured out how to score indoors.  But even their three-run eighth might have been short circuited by another controversial ruling by another fine umpire, Bruce Froemming in right field.

 

With Pete Rose on third and one out, Trillo lifted a ball to right where Jeff Leonard moved in and, again, executed a deft bit of trap shooting.  And again, the play was ruled a clean catch.  Rose at third left, came back, tagged and scored to make it 3-2 Philadelphia while Schmidt, who left first, stood on second thinking it was a base hit.  Naturally, he was doubled off, but the run scored.

 

“At that point, I didn’t know what was going on anymore,” said Schmidt.  “I’ve never spent such an emotional, weird day.  How many days to you play for a pennant, and wind up arguing with the president of the league at the same time?”

 

EVEN THOUGH THE Phillies were deprived of a hit here, it could have been worse.  Imagine if Leonard had come up and, rather than throw for the plate in an attempt to get Rose, he had tried to double off Schmidt at first before the run had crossed the plate?  The inning would have ended 2-2, instead.

 

“Please, please,” said Schmidt.  “As it is, I’m going to write a book about today, and it’s gonna be fiction.”

 

Of course, when Rose scored the winning run in the 10th on Greg Luzinski’s double, he missed second base.  But that’s another story.  Suffice it to say that everybody, umpired included, precipitated a wacky and wonderful ball game Saturday and, thankfully, there will be another one Sunday night.

 

 

Somewhere out there, Tug McGraw is revving up his Honda and, somewhere out there, the Kansas City Royals have to be laughing.

Only one thing for certain:  Phillies tie NL series

 

By Dave Nightingale

 

Chicago Tribune Press Service

 

HOUSTON – It was “strange,” to use Bill Virdon’s word.

 

It was “weird,” to use Dallas Green’s description.

 

It was wild and absurd, a five-star presentation from the theater of the bizarre, this 5-3 Philadelphia victory over Houston in Game 4 of the National League playoffs.

 

It had to rank as one of the all-time postseason classics.

 

It was a game in which:

 

-      The umpires wittingly, and not to willingly, found themselves upstaging the players… as three runners were called out for leaving a base prematurely on “fly balls” that ranged from 60 feet to 320 feet.

 

-      The Astros started counting their chickens after six innings… but the game lasted 10.

 

-      The Phillies shook off their long-time “choke” label for victory and new life.  The outcome sent the best-of-five series to a Sunday night finale for the right to meet the Kansas City Royals in Tuesday night’s World Series opener.

 

BEFORE THE FACTS get lost in the welter of wackiness, let it be known that 39-year-old Pete Rose twice scored the Phils’ go-ahead run – the last time on a 10th-inning double by slumping Greg Luzinski, who was appearing as a pinch-hitter.

 

The follies began in the fourth when the Phils threatened to score their first run of the week in the Astrodome, a feat it eventually took them 19 innings to accomplish (after Friday’s 11-inning 1-0 loss here).

 

Bake McBride and Manny Trillo opened with singles, and Garry Maddox, jammed by Houston starter Vern Ruhle, hit a low line drive off his fists back toward the mound.

 

Ruhle made a grab for the ball at ground level and home plate umpire Doug Harvey signaled the ball had bounced.  Ruhle, however, “knew” he had caught the ball on the fly and pegged to first to double up the sprinting Trillo.

 

Both dugouts erupted.  Harvey signaled for time.  And first baseman Art Howe ran over the tag second, which had been vacated by McBride.

 

HARVEY CONFERRED with first base umpire Ed Vargo and third base ump Bob Engel, and both agreed Ruhle had caught the ball rather than trapped it.  After a 20-minute discussion, Harvey ruled a twin killing and allowed McBride to return to second base.  “McBride went to third on my sign that the ball hadn’t been caught,” Harvey said.  “The appeal for the third out came after time had been called.”

 

“I protested because you protest first and then look in the rule book later for a way to overturn things,” said Houston’s Virdon.  But I guess I didn’t have a legitimate protest (it was rejected by NL President Chub Feeney) because the book says the umpired can talk things over the put people where they think they belong.

 

“I still say it wasn’t a double play or a triple play but a clear trap,” said the Phils’ Green, who also filed a protest, then rescinded it after the victory.

 

“We should have had runners on second and third with one out.”

 

“Should” failed to translate to “did,” however, and Ruhle got out of the inning by retiring Larry Bowa on a grounder.

 

Meanwhile, Steve Carlton, the Phils’ “stopper” pitcher, wasn’t stopping the Astros.  “Lefty was struggling; he just wasn’t the same after that long dissertation with the umpires,” Green said.

 

ENOS CABELL DOUBLED to lead off the Astros’ fourth, moved to third as Joe Morgan grounded out, and held third as Gary Woods walked.  Howe followed with a sacrifice fly to Lonnie Smith in left and Cabell scored easily.  But when Smith tried to fire the ball toward the infield, it trickled out of his hand and fell 10 feet in front of him.  That encouraged Woods to try for third and he didn’t make it, on Smith’s second throw.

 

The Houston lead went to 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth on Luis Pujols’ triple and Rafael Landestoy’s single.

 

It should have gone to 3-0 in the bottom of the sixth when Carlton walked the bases full with one out.  Pujols tagged reliever Dickie Noles for a medium-deep fly ball to McBride and Woods “scored” easily from third after the catch.

 

Too easily, it turned out.  Woods left third base too soon and was out on an appeal play, killing the rally, negating the run.

 

“He left a good step and a half too soon,” said Rose, “and that was a big play for us because a three-run lead in the Astrodome is hard to overcome.”

 

BUT NOT A TWO-RUN lead, as the Astros tried to coast home – and failed.

 

Pinch-hitter Greg Gross left off the Phils’ eighth with a single and Lonnie Smith followed with another hit.  Virdoon had fastballing Dave Smith warm up in the Astro bullpen but, inexplicably, let the tiring Ruhle pitch to Rose.  And Rose, after fouling off one bunt attempt and taking a second strike, punched a single to right to score Gross.  Lonnie Smith went to third and Rose to second when Houston right fielder Jeff Leonard’s return throw toward third was way off the mark.

 

“That was another big play of us:  Leonard overthrowing the cutoff man,” said Rose.  “There was no way in the world he was going to get Lonnie at third, and that let me take an extra base.”

 

“You have to capitalize on every chance to win in this park, and the Astros gave us the chances today.  This was the first time I thought they were a little raggy in the field.”

 

Dave Smtih came on to face Mike Schmidt and he bounced a grounder up the middle that Morgan grabbed.  But Joe couldn’t put on the brakes, because of his gimpy left leg, and Schmidt beat it out without a throw – as Lonnie Smith scored and Rose moved to third.

 

Lefty Joe Sambito came in from the Astro bullpen to blow away McBride on three pitches, but Trillo drilled a low liner to right.  Leonard raced in for a controversial catch (the Phils still insist he trapped the ball) and fired toward home plate – too late to get Rose.  But Schmidt broke from first, never returned, and was called out on an appeal play.

 

Rose scored before the appeal, however, and his run counted, giving the Phils a 3-2 edge.

 

LEONARD COULD HAVE prevented the run by firing to first baseman Howe in order to double Schmidt before Rose hit the plate, but he didn’t.

 

Virdon, however, absolved the rookie right fielder, and Howe – who wasn’t on the bag.  “If we had been thinking that quick, we would have eliminated their (third) run,” said Virdon.  “But it was a tough play.  I doubt if I would have been on the bag if I had been the first baseman.”

 

Harvey was slow in ruling Rose’s run valid – and with good reason:  The Astros still had access to a “fourth out” appeal on Rose, if he had left third too soon.

 

“I didn’t allow the run until the Astros left the infield,” said Harvey, “because if they had followed proper procedure, if they had appealed on Rose after appealing on Schmidt (at first) before leaving the field, if Rose had left too soon, he would have been out.

 

“I left the base late if anything,” Rose said.  “I started to break when Manny made contact, but I saw the ball was carrying, so I went back to the base and waited.  I still think the outfielder trapped the ball.”

 

BY NOW, THE ASTROS were starting to realize that their first pennant chance in the team’s 15-year history was sliding away.  So, they awoke, momentarily, to forge a 3-3 tie in the last of the ninth, on a walk to Landestoy (by eventual winning pitcher Warren Brusstar), a sacrifice bunt by Sambito, and Terry Puhl’s clutch single.

 

“It looked like a fruitless game for us at one point… two runs down and our big guy (Carlton) gone,” Green said.  “But things have been against us time and again this season and we’ve come back.  We could have quit early, but we didn’t.  We could have quit when they tied it, but we didn’t.

 

“When they have their backs to the wall, the Phillies came through.”

 

Rose started the 10th-inning rally with a one-out single to center and, with two out, Luzinski batted for McBride and drilled a line double into the left-field corner.

 

Cruz played the carom perfectly but threw the ball on a short hop to cutoff man Landestoy.  And Landestoy, throwing home while Rose still was 80 feet from the plate, tossed a low, one-bouncer to Bruce Bochy, who couldn’t control the ball as Rose crashed into him for the go-ahead run.  Trillo then doubled home Luzinski.

 

“I GIVE A LOT of credit to our third base coach (Lee Elia) for sending me,” Rose said.  “He saw the relay come up short and he gave me the green light.  If it wasn’t for him, I would have stopped.  He showed plenty of courage by making that decision.”

 

Elia took plenty of heat for his decision to hold McBride at third in the last of the ninth inning Wednesday in Philadelphia, a decision that cost the Phils the game.

 

“I had an advantage at home because the ball came to Bochy on a short hop,” Rose said.  “I had to run into him because he had the plate blocked and I couldn’t reach it with my foot unless I went through him.”

 

 

“A strange game,” Virdon mused again.  “But that’s baseball.  I’ve never been through a full season without something new coming up.”