Chicago Tribune - October 17, 1980

Wilson key to KC making a run at it


By David Israel, Chicago Tribune Press Service


KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Willie Wilson was standing on third base minding his own business. He was lolling around, actually, enjoying the view. It was the top of the seventh inning of the second game of the World Series, and it was the first time Willie Wilson had been this far around the diamond.


There were no immediate plans to depart. By a walk, a sacrifice bunt, and a steal, Wilson had just arrived, and leaving would mean having to run again. If there is one thing on this green earth that Willie Wilson does not enjoy, it it running.


"Hate it," Wilson says. "I never want to do it.' It's just that on a baseball field, when something happens, it becomes an instinctive reaction."  


Of course, Willie Wilson hating running is like Sinatra hating singing or Picasso hating painting. On a baseball field, Willie Wilson runs better than anyone ever has, so splendidly, so smoothly. There is an economy of motion, a grace, that belies the speed being generated.


WHEN WILLIE WILSON Is running around the basepaths, good things are usually happening for his team, the Kansas City Royals. In great part, this is because Wilson causes awful things to happen to their opponents. Right now, in the top of the seventh inning, that was rather apparent.


Wilson was driving Phillies pitcher Steve Carlton to distraction, and the Royals were working up their biggest inning of the World Series without laying much, wood to the ball.


Wilson had led off with a walk. U.L. Washington moved him to second with a sacrifice bunt. Carlton had thrown frequently to first to hold Wilson closed but he never had that chance at second. Wilson stole on the first pitch and never had to shift out of second gear as he cruised into third. Disconcerted, Carlton walked Dave Chalk.


Willie Wilson just stood on third and watched. He was still standing and watching when Chalk broke for second. Carlton had Chalk dead. He had made his break too early. Carlton threw to Pete Rose at first and Rose would throw to Larry Brown at second and there would be two outs. But Rose neve made the throw. Chalk was safe at second.


AMOS OTIS WALKED. John Wathan smaked a double. Willie Aikens hit a sacrifice fly. And the Royals led 4-2. They would blow the lead, but that did hot diminish the art any.


"I didn't make the throw," Rose said later, "'because I know that if I don't make the perfect throw, Wilson tries to score and he's safe before the ball's out of the glove."


Willie Wilson was standing around, minding his own business, and he was the focal point of the Royals' biggest rally. That is what he can do for a team. That is what he did for Kansas City all season. That is what he must do if the Royals are to overcome their 2-0 deficit and make a contest of this 77th World Series when it resumes here Friday evening. And that is what he has not done at all this week.


In the first game, he never reached base. He struck out twice, grounded out twice, and popped out once. In the second game, he struck out his first three times up before he walked and scored in the seventh and singled with two out in the eighth.


THE PHILLIES ARE delighted that Wilson is struggling. With Wilson off the bases and George Brett injured, the efficiency of Kansas City's offense is reduced considerably.


"One of the keys is that we've kept Wilson off base," says Greg Gross, the Phillie outfielder. "When the man gets on base, things happen."


"Our scouting reports didn't say anything too revealing," Larry Christenson, the Phils' pitcher, says. "They told us to keep him off the bases, and mostly they talked about his defensive abilities – how he can run anything down and doesn't quit on balls, why you have to be careful when you're on base and something is hit to him in left.


"But I'm watching him, and it seems he's been late on all the fastballs we've thrown to him. His bat just hasn't been real quick. I don't know what he was hitting to get 230 hits."


Willie Wilson is just as confused as everyone else seems to be. He is the 26-year-old who got 230 hits this season, he is the one who batted .326, stole 79 bases, and found himself in the middle of nearly every Kansas City rally. A leadoff hitter, he is the fellow every pitcher had to worry about before he was allowed to worry about Brett.


"I'M NOT SEEING the ball." Willie Wilson says. "I'm not doing. anything much right I'm pulling away, I'm turning my head, I'm not swinging right at all.


"I did better my last two times up. I was more relaxed. Maybe I was pressing because it was the first game of the World Series, and then maybe because being 0-for-the-first-day made me mad. But Carlton could have rolled it up there and I couldn't have hit it.


Wilson knows what he means to his club. He knows that if he is on base consistently, the Royals can score 10, 12 runs a game. But that notion does not make him feel comfortable.


"I don't want to put too much pressure on me to get things started," he says. "I think the pressure I put on myself may have messed me up. You read so much about it, you see so much on TV about it, you hear so much about it. You try not to think about it, try not to show emotion, but what happens turns your head and stomach."


Wilson is a realist. He understands his import, his role as a catalyst. He understands that all this stark reality is not terrific fun. But he has not yet begun to fret.


"I feel,"' Willie Wilson says, "I can do pretty much anything out there. It's just a matter of time."


The problem is that there is not much of that left.

Gale tries to revive shocked Royals


By Dave Nightingale, Chicago Tribune Press Service


KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The treatment for shock, as any Boy Scout knows, includes keeping the victim as immobile as possible and sheltered from inclement weather.


Perhaps with that in mind, the Kansas City Royals disdained an off-day workout in their own playpen Thursday, as thunderstorms kept skipping over the area.


After their 7-6 and 6-4 "go-from-ahead" losses to the Phillies in the first two games of the World Series, the condition of the American League champions was diagnosed by K.C. Manager Jim Frey. "Shocked certainly is the right word," he said.


And if 6-7, 225-pound right hander Rich Gale can't bail them out here Friday night, the Royals may be all but dead.


THEIR PROBLEMS range from medical woes [George Brett] to pitching failures [relief ace Dan Quisenberry and 1-2 starters Dennis Leonard and Larry Gura] to a batting slump [offensive catalyst Willie Wilson].


Brett, who underwent a 20-minute hemorrhoid operation here Thursday, is both the physical [.390 average] and spiritual leader of the Royals. Imagine how they must have felt in the seventh inning of Wednesday's loss when, trailing 2-1, they had to send Dave Chalk to the plate instead of Brett in an effort to drive home the tying run.


After spending Thursday night in the hospital, Brett is expected to play Friday but nobody is sure for how long. Not even Dr. John Heryer, the proctologist who peformed the minor surgery.


"I anticipate Brett will be able to play,' said Dr. Heryer, "but it is basically up to him and how he feels. I'm sure George will not be at peak performance. Running and sliding will cause discomfort."


THEN THERE WAS the Wednesday night failure of Quisenberry, the 26-year-old submarine-ball pitcher who came out of nowhere this season to lead all AL relievers. In delivery, he is almost a mirror image of Pittsburgh bullpen ace Kent Tekulve. But that may turn-out to be more of a curse than a blessing.


Like the knuckleball, the underhanded pitch is most effective against those who don't see it very often. And since Quisenberry is the only genuine submariner in the American League, it's no wonder he could record 12 wins and 33 saves in his first full season in the majors.


"But we have seen that delivery in the National League – from Tekulve, although. Ken throws harder," said the Phils' Mike Schmidt, who doubled home the winning run Wednesday against Quisenberry. "It's not an easy pitch to hit. But when you've batted against it before, it doesn't take you by surprise."


AS FOR WILSON'S offensive problems, the Royals can't afford them. With his 230 hits and 79 stolen bases in 1980, Willie is the man who turns on the Kansas City offense. Wilson was hitless in his first eight at-bats in this Series. He got the ball out of the infield only once and struck out five times.


"You saw what happened when he did get oh base Wednesday night," said Frey. "He stole third. And the next thing you know, we have the bases loaded and wind up scoring three runs in the inning on only one hit."


TO MAKE MATTERS worse, the Royals were unable to get a victory out of either of their top pitchers – Leonard [20-11] or Gura [18-10] – in the first two games.


By winning the opener, the Phils weren't overly concerned about Steve Carlton in Game 2.


"Even if he had lost that game, we still would have been confident because we would have known that Lefty still could come back and get a win for us somewhere," said Manager Dallas Green.


But do the Royals now have that confidence in Leonard and Gura? "Enough so that I've got them penciled to work the Saturday and Sunday games," said Frey.


THERE MAY NOT be a Sunday, however, if Gale can't outpitch the Phillies' Dick Ruthven [17-10] Friday night.


Gale is streaky at best. He won 11 straight from mid-June through August, but still finished with only a 13-9 mark – partly because of tendinitis.


Still, Frey named Gale, to his three-man Series rotation over lefty Paul Splittorff, sending the latter to the bullpen. "That move was dictated by the fact the Phils have a lot of right-handed hitters," said Frey. "It would have been the other way around if we'd been playing Houston, because they have more lefty hitters."


One thing is certain: Gale won't be a victim of overwork when he strolls to the mound. The former basketball letterman at the U. of New Hampshire hasn't pitched in 12 days, since a mild four-inning workout against the Twins on the final day of the regular season.


"I'll be happy if Gale keeps us in the game for five or six innings," said Frey. "He'll be strong that's when he's at his best. And he told me his arm feels better now than it has in the last four months."