Syracuse Herald-American - October 13, 1980

City of Brotherly Loves the Phils Again


By Ron Rapoport, Chicago Sun-Times Service


HOUSTON — They can take down the machine-gun nest that was being set up at the Philadelphia airport.


They can blow the decades of dust off the bunting at City Hall.


Somebody go to W.C. Fields' grave and kick a few rocks on it.


The Philadelphia Phillies are losers no more.


It wasn't easy. Even in victory, the Phillies showed a lot of the old never-say-live moxie that has inspired generations of their fans to scream, moan, throw things and create material for stand-up comics from coast to coast.


They blew leads the Houston Astros generously gave them, they struck out in bunches and they let balls bounce off their gloves.


But in the end they won this wildest and most pleasurable of all league playoff series, one in which everything known to man and Abner Doiibleday took place, with an 8-7 victory in 10 innings Sunday night that affords them their first appearance in the World Series since 1915. Only a churl would point out that the Phillies were swept by the Yankees on that occasion.


And besides, as Garry Maddox drifted back under the last fly ball and the Phillies' dugout joyfully emptied, there was one inescapable conclusion. For every winner, there is a loser. For every disbelieving Philadelphian applauding the images on his television set, there was an Astros fan learning for the first time what happens when great expectations come to naught.


The toilet paper and the cups full of ice and the boos from all parts of the Astrodome mixed in with the polite applause and the buzz of disappointment. On the field, the Phillies were a joyous little band in the midst of a hostile, sullen mob getting its baptisnvin the Church of the Aggrieved Loser.


The Astros, after all, had not gone down quietly. Not until they had lost" a three-run lead in the twinkling of an eye in the eighth inning and then come back from two runs down only to fall victim to two Phillie doubles in the 10th was it all over.


Wait a half hour


"Someone came up to me in the dugout," Houston relief pitcher Joe Sambito said of the moment after the Astros had scored three runs in the botttom of the seventh to take a 5-2 lead, "and said, 'National League champions. How does it sound?' I said, 'Come to me in half an hour.'"


But within seconds, none of the Astros were contemplating the taste of champagne any more. Before they or any of their fans in the Astrodome had even had a minute to stop pinching themselves to see if it was true, it no longer was.


Larry Bowa's single, Bob Boone's dribbler off Nolan Ryan's glove and Greg Gross' perfect bunt down the third-base line loaded the bases for the Phillies with none out. The Astros were a disaster waiting to happen.


"I couldn't believe it," said Terry Puhl, the Houston outfielder who had four hits, scored three runs and had the playoff's most valuable player award wrapped up at that point. "I thought we had them and then bang, bang, bang."


"They did it so fast getting those guys on," said Alan Ashby, the sore-ribbed Houston catcher whose pinch single in the sixth inning tied the score at 2. "It seemed to happen before we even realized it. Those ballgames were ours. All year long our relief pitching has done it."


But this time it could not, and the Astros were left only to find out how it feels to lose.


They watched the celebration in the winner's locker room on television and then had to select a representative or two to go up on the podium and mouth the hollow words of congratulations.


They practiced the might-have-beens they will find of no comfort during the long winter ahead.


"I don't want to say anything against the Phillies," said Sambito, "but how did they do it? If Nolan didn't touch Boone's grounder, it goes through and is a double play. The shortstop was there just waiting for it."


Four went overtime


They found hollow comfort in the certain knowledge they were a part of, if not the most elegantly played series since the playoff format began in 1969, then certainly one of the most unusual and most fiercely competitive. No World Series, whether seven games or less, has ever contained more than two extra-inning games. This five-game series had four.


"One of the Phillies came up to me and said, 'Next to this the World Series will be a piece of cake," Ashby said.


Nor are the Astros likely to be mollified by the fact that they were never less than competitive with the Phillies in any of the games of this series. In Sunday's contest, they were down 2-1, then tied at 2. On three consecutive pitches in the seventh inning, they scored three runs to go up 5-2. After the Phillies went ahead 7-5 with five runs in the eighth, the Astros came back to tie again.


It was a supreme demonstration of what the Houston players have been saying all week is their most notable quality: the ability to come back. But this time, they asked too much of themselves and they and their fans were left only with the feeling of what it is like to lose.


"It'll probably bother me a little bit more a couple of weeks from now when I look back on the series," Sambito said.


Well, the Philadelphia fans can tell him something about that. There is even the possibility that a whole great losing syndrome may have started Sunday night, one that will have comedians of years hence telling jokes about how they boo Easter Egg hunts and funerals in Houston instead of in Philadelphia.


All together now, Astro fans: