Corpus Christi Times - October 13, 1980
A matter of inches
Ryan failure to field grounder key to Phils’ advance
By Ed Spaulding, Caller Sports Editor
HOUSTON – Through a 13-year career of pitching to the Mayses, Jacksons and Schmidts of the baseball world, Nolan Ryan has heard the talk, carried the label, worked to overcome his shortcomings. From his days of dipping pickle juice with the Mets to his record-equaling four no-hitters with the Angels to his unequalled paydays with the Astros, Ryan has been known as the flame thrower with the flaws.
Through years of practice, Ryan has eliminated his wild pitch tendencies. He's reduced his bases on balls, learned to hold baserunners closer to their stations, improved his throwing to bases and become an adequate batsman, at least for a pitcher.
But Ryan still can't field his position. If he could, he and his Astros teammates would have spent last night spraying champagne instead of sipping beer. The Philadelphia Phillies' 8-7 10-inning World Series ticket would never have been validated had Ryan come up with Bob Boone's hopper in the eighth inning.
Granted, it was a tough play. So, too, was this National League Championship Series — as tough a playoff series as any two teams have ever endured. Granted, too, that in the topsy-turvy final four games of the series, nothing was ever us simple as the making or not making of one play.
The Astros had rallied to take command at 5-3 with a three-run seventh inning. Ryan had faced the minimum three hitters in six of the seven innings us he took the hill against the Phillies to start the eighth. Larry Bowa stroked a single up the middle. Boone bounced a one-hopper toward Ryan. Many times, maybe most times with most pitchers on the mound, this was a double play. Ryan failed to field the ball cleanly. It wasn't an automatic play. Neither was it charged as an error.
"The ground ball to Ryan was the key play of the game, if you can pick just one thing," said Houston Manager Bill Virdon. "The ball off his glove… it could he a double play," said reliever Joe Sambito. "If he gels the double play, we're in here throwing champagne."
"It was just out of his reach," said Houston first baseman Dave Bergman. "How can you explain it?"
"It was by far the toughest loss I've ever had," said Ryan, who was not the pitcher of record. "I honestly think I did everything I could. I was still throwing the ball well in the eighth, but the inning exploded in my face before I knew it."
It blasted the Phillies into the start of tomorrow's World Series with the Kansas City Royals and aborted Houston's bid for its first Series appearance.
In that strange eighth, which required 42 minutes for both teams to hit, just about everything caved in on both ballclubs. But then, the whole series was that way.
After Boone's tap to Ryan went un-fieldable, former Astro Greg Gross dropped a bunt single, and Ryan exited following a full-count walk to Pete Rose. Pinch-hitter Keith Moreland bounced out as a second run scored but relief hurler Ken Forsch fanned Mike Schmidt.
Pinch-swinger Del Unser got a single off the end of the bat to tie the game at 5-5 and series most valuable player Manny Trillo kept his line drive over third fair by a couple of feet for a two-run triple.
Houston tied it on two-out RBI singles by Rafael Landestoy and Jose Cruz again off Phillies relief ace Tug McGraw. And the Phillies won it in the 10th on Unser's bad-hop double over Bergman's head and Garry Maddox' sinking liner to center that Terry Pulil couldn't reach.
It was retribution for the Phillies, defeated three times in a row in these playoffs (1976-78), just as were their World Series opponents, the Royals.
It was Maddox who dropped a flyball off the bat of the Dodgers' Dusty Baker in the final game of the 1978 NL playoffs. That drop led to a one-run Dodgers win.
"The memory of that play against the Dodgers stayed with me all winter," Maddux said. "But I knew I had to put it behind me. I tried to forget about it for my kids' sake. I wanted to teach them that you can forget something that doesn't go right no matter how bad it is. I think I've been able to do that. But it wasn't easy."
No, it wasn't. Nothing in this series was. It was the Phillies' series, then the Astros', then the Phillies'. Last night's game went the same way. But all that really matters is that the Royals, who spent two days in New York waiting to fly somewhere to begin the World Series, finally got out of there late Sunday.
Their destination was Philadelphia, which means it wasn't Houston. Not quite.