Christian Science Monitor - October 21, 1980

Phillies knock on door of first World Series championship


By Larry Eldridge, Sports editor of The Christian Science Monitor 


 The crazy quilt 1980 World Series swings back to this victory-starved city tonight with the Philadelphia Phillies on the threshold of the first worls championship in their 98-year major league baseball existence.


The Phillies have everything going for them now, too. They'll be playing the sixth game (and, if necessary, the seventh) in the friendly bedlam of their own Veterans Stadium, where the nightly 65,000-plus fans hyped up by fireworks, music, the exhortations of the message board, and the gyrations of their "Phillie Phanatic" mascot just have to be a factor.


But that's only the window dressing. Far more important are the advantages on the field, where they have 24-game winner Steve Carlton poised to nail down the title, and of course in the standings, where they lead Kansas City 3-2 in this best-of-seven competition.


The Royals could hardly be entering a sixth game in a worse position. But if they're looking for a silver lining, all they have to do is note that so far in this topsy-turvy series hardly anything has happened the way it figured to.


Perhaps the strangest thing is that you can make a strong case that the team which should have won four of the first five games wound up on the losing side. Kansas City blew a 4- 0 lead behind its top pitcher in Game 1 and a 4-2 eighth inning advantage behind its ace reliever in Game 2. The Phillies returned the compliment in Game 3, blowing numerous opportunities and stranding 15 baserunners to lose a game they really should have taken. Then in Game 5 it was the Royals again, giving away runs with defensive lapses and questionable base running but still leading in the ninth when relief ace Dan Quisenberry once again failed to hold a lead.


These were the game-by-game specifics, but the battle in general has also defined most pre-series speculation.


To begin with, there was the belief that the Phillies, paced by major league home-run leader Mike Schmidt (48), had a significant edge in power, while the Royals would try to offset that advantage with their combination of speed, defense, and pitching. Perhaps a closer look at the two teams and their regular season statistics (the home runs were just about even, for instance, while the Philadelphia pitchers had a lower team earned run average) would have shown at the start that these assumptions were invalid. Kansas City has a big edge in home runs (8-3) and smaller ones in total hits (53- 50) and batting average (. 301 to .298). But in all other aspects, including some where the Royals supposedly were superior, the Phillies have proved anywhere from just about as good to much, much better -- at least in this short series.


Some of Kansas City's vaunted defensive stars have lived up to their advance notices -- especially Frank White, who has been nothing short of spectacular at second base, Willie Wilson with some fine catches in left field, and George Brett, who has shown the nationwide TV audience that he plays an outstanding third base in addition to his great hitting. But overall, this series has exposed some of the Royals' defensive weaknesses too, as they have made five errors of commission and several more of omission, including such fundamental mistakes as a botched rundown play, the failure of first baseman Willie Aikens to touch the bag after taking a throw, and pitcher Rich Gale throwing to first base instead of home when a ball was hit back to him with the bases loaded.


Philadelphia, on the other hand, has been steadier afield (only two errors), and has come up with the big play when it had to, such as the perfect relay from right fielder Bake McBride to second baseman Manny Trillo to catcher Bob Boone that cut down an all-important run at the plate in the sixth inning of Game 5 and kept the Phillies close enough for the two-run ninth inning rally that won the game 4-3 and sent them back here in their current commanding position.


"That was the play of the game," Philadelphia first baseman Pete Rose said of Trillo's great throw, which was the key to it all. "If he doesn't make the play , they could go on to have a big inning and take us right out of the game."


Kansas City's much-heralded speedsters have stolen six bases to three for Philadelphia, and they have taken the extra base several times, but their aggressiveness has had its minus side too, with four runners thrown out on the bases, including two at home.


As for pitching, Kansas City Manager Jim Frey has received two good efforts from Larry Gura and one from 20- game winner Dennis Leonard, but the latter was bombed in his other start and Rich Gale (tonight's starter against Carlton) failed to last five innings in his first appearance. The big problem, though, has been in the bullpen, where American League fireman of the year Dan Quisenberry (33 saves) has been largely ineffective, giving up 10 hits, three walks, and six runs in only 9 1/3 innings. Largely as a result of this, the Royals, who have led at some point in every game, have blown those leads three times.


The Philadelphia pitchers have also had their problems -- even Carlton, who was in constant trouble despite surviving to win Game 2 -- but led by reliever Tug McGraw they have by and large come through more often in the tough situations, as indicated by the fact that the Royals have left 45 runners on base compared with the Phillies' 33.


On offense, the Phillies have exhibited another advantage with a more balanced attack led by Schmidt, McBride, Boone, Larry Bowa, and Keith Moreland, with some others like reserve Del Unser chipping in at times, while Kansas City's attack has been too largely concentrated in the big four hitters in the middle of the lineup -- Brett, Aikens, Hal McRae, and Amos Otis -- with too many of the others offering only token resistance at the plate. One of the chief culprits has been leadoff man Willie Wilson, the speedster who led the league in hits and had 83 stolen bases, but who is hitting only .182.


The Royals do have a couple of somewhat amazing historical precedents on their side in the uphill battle they face here. When the Phillies took a 2-0 lead they appeared in trouble, of course, but hard as it is to believe, that has been anything but an insurmountable deficit in recent years. No team had ever come back thus until the old Brooklyn Dodgers did it in 1955, but in the last 25 years, including that one, there have been 11 such situations and an incredible six times the trailing team has come all the way back to win the series. Another interesting fact is that in those same 25 years, the series has reached a sixth game 18 times -- and on 15 of those occasions the trailing team has won to force a seventh game.


Unless the Royals can quickly correct some of the deficiencies they've shown so far, however -- and perhaps even if they can -- the 1980 Series figures to go against both of those statistics and be all over tonight. If so it would be a fitting conclusion for his Phillies team which has already gone much farther than any predecessor dating back to 1883.


To put things in perspective, the first and only time the Phillies had ever won a World Series game prior to this year the winning pitcher was Grover Cleveland Alexander, and Babe Ruth played against them -- as a pinch hitter for the Boston Red Sox. That was in 1915, when they lost the series four games to one. They didn't make it again until 1950, and that "Whiz Kid" team was swept by the New York Yankees, 4-0. This is the first time since then, so it's no wonder that the fans who have been waiting all these years believe that it is finally their turn to celebrate. And with Carlton on the mound and all those other edges going for their team, they figure to do so too -- unless, of course, this logic-defying series has still another peculiar twist or two left.