Sports Illustrated - October 27, 1980
One Heartstopper After Another
Philadelphia returned home with a 3-2 World Series Margin over K.C. when reliever Tug McGraw fanned Jose Cardenal to win the fifth game.
by Ron Fimrite
It seemed a Royal mismatch. Pitching for Kansas City was Dennis Leonard, redheaded, bearded, solemn of mien, a 20-game winner this year and three times overall, the ace of the K.C. staff. On the mound for Philadelphia was Bob Walk, whose very name denotes incompetence. Walk is a gangling, pimple-faced 23-year-old rookie whose teammates call him Whirly-bird. Walk has been known to come to bat without a bat and to warm up without a glove or ball. The first pitch he threw in a major league ballpark was as an 18-year-old from the leftfield pavilion at Dodger Stadium. He threw a tennis ball at Houston centerfielder Cesar Cedeno. He was yanked from that game by a security officer.
Walk would be pitching this night for the first time in 12 days because he was the only Philadelphia starter who hadn’t worked in the agonizing Championship Series against the Astros. At World Series time a year ago he was pumping gas in Newhall, Calif., harboring few dreams of glory. Walk would be the first rookie to start an opening Series game since the Dodger’s Joe Black faced the Yankees in 1952. Philadelphia hadn’t won a World Series game since Grover Cleveland Alexander beat the Red Sox 3-1 on Oct. 8, 1915. The Phillies lost the next four in that Series and four straight to the Yankees in 1950. And now Philadelphia was counting on a kid named Base-on-Balls.
The worst fears of cynical Phillies fans seemed realized all too early when Amos Otis in the second inning and Willie Aikens in the third hit two-run homers to give the Royals a 4-0 lead.
But the Phillies had come from behind in all three of their playoff wins, and they would do it again this night, although somewhat earlier than usual. Larry Bowa started the rally with a one-out single in the third. He stole second and was doubled home by Bob Boone, who himself scored when George Brett, who had cut off Willie Wilson’s throw from the outfield after Lonnie Smith’s single, unaccountably went to second base to nail a trapped Smith instead of holding Boone on third. Still, the Royals had a 4-2 lead with two outs and no Phils on base as Pete Rose came to bat. Rose wouldn’t let the rally die. By his own admission, he allowed Leonard’s 1-2 pitch hit him on the calf. If the umpire had known that, he would have called the pitch a ball, and the inning might have been different. Mike Schmidt then walked, and Bake McBride cracked a three-run homer to right field. The Phils had the lead for good, adding single runs in the fourth and fifth innings. The Royals made it a final 7-6 in the eighth with Aiken’s second two-run homer off Walk, who was instantly replaced by the inevitable Tug McGraw, pitching in his fifth straight postseason game.
Until McGraw arrived, Walk had shut out the Royals for four consecutive innings. (His supposedly superior opponent, Leonard, had been sent packing in the fourth.) McGraw held the Royals in check in the eighth and ninth with his infamous screwball and his assortment of fastballs- the Peggy Lee (“Is That All There Is”), the John Jameson (“Straight, the way I like my Irish whiskey”), the Cutty Sark (“It sails”), the Bo Derek (“Has a nice little tail on it”) and the Frank Sinatra (“Fly Me to the Moon”). McGraw’s father, Frank Sr.- Tug is a junior- and his brother Hank, who once played in the Phillies’ farm system, were in the audience during Tug’s customary postgame standup routine. Asked if pitching were mostly mental, Tug replied, “If that were true I’d be in the trainers’ room right now soaking my head in ice.”
A shudder of apprehension passed through the Kansas City camp when it was learned that Brett, the electric presence in the Royals’ lineup, was suffering from hemorrhoids, an affliction both embarrassing and excrutiating. Brett was in pain by the finish of the opening game, and he underwent treatment as late as 4 a.m. on the day of Game 2. And still he hurt. But he played, cracking out two hits and drawing a walk before succumbing to the discomfort in the sixth inning. The Royals were trailing 2-1 when Brett limped off, but they rallied for three runs in the seventh, two scoring on Otis’ bases-loaded double past Schmidt down the leftfield line. Then Manager Jim Frey confidently summoned Dan Quisenberry to protect the new two-run lead. Quisenberry, the sub-sidearm sinkerball specialist, had saved 33 games and had won 12 others during the regular season, so Frey seemed justified in his confidence. His starter, Larry Gura, had thrown well enough, pitching a perfect game for the first four innings before giving up two runs in the fifth, his only rocky inning. Bur Gura grew weary, and Quisenberry seemed like money in the bank.
Indeed, in the seventh he set the Phillies down in ground-ball order. But in the eighth he became a cropper. As happened throughout the playoffs, it was the Phillies’ bench that did the cropping. This time it was Del Unser, a knockabout 35-year-old 13-year veteran who father, Al, played in the major leagues before him. With Boone, another second-generation major-leaguer on first, Unser lined a Quisenberry sinker into the gap in leftfield for a run-scoring double. Unser was advanced to third by a Rose ground-out and he scored the tying run when McBride bounced a hopper off the hard Tartan Turf over a drawn-in infield. The floodgates were open. Schmidt got his second postseason RBI in 1980 by doubling home McBride for the tie-breaker, and Keith Moreland, inserted as the designated hitter when Greg Luzinski came down with an intestinal virus, singled in Schmidt with the cushion run. Final score: Phillies 6, Royals 4.
Steve Carlton won his first Series game, but again he wasn’t the Lefty of lore. He threw 159 pitches in the eight innings he worked, walking six and allowing 10 hits while striking out 10. “Lefty was struggling out there,” said Manager Dallas Green, “but he was struggling not because of Lefty but because of baseballs.” Naturally. He wasn’t throwing them over the plate much. No, said Green, “the baseballs we were given tonight were as slick as any I’ve ever seen. Boonie told me those things were just like ice. Lefty has to have a feel for his slider, and he didn’t have it tonight.”
The balls in question were special-edition World Series models, which ostensibly differ from the American and National League balls only in the logo and the signature, which is Commissioner Bowie Kuhn’s. The Phillies had observed in batting practice that the new balls were harder than usual. But, then, the season has yet to be played when the players haven’t complained about the balls. And, good or bad, the balls were no different for the Kansas City pitchers. Although he was throwing ice cubes, Carlton did last long enough to win, and as Schmidt commented, “Steve at his worst will keep us in every game that he pitches.”
The Phillies’ reserves, especially Unser, Greg Gross and Moreland, a former University of Texas third baseman and defensive back, have also done their share of game-keeping. It was Unser who ignited this night’s winning rally and Moreland, subbing for Luzinski, established that the DH rule is more help than hindrance to the National Leaguers. He got the first hit off Gura, scored the first run and drove in the last one. “We’ve got the juices flowing in that dugout,” said Green. “I’ll just say, ‘Hey bench, get things going.’ And it does.” “This team used to be eight regulars, four starting pitchers and a reliever,” said Shortstop Larry Bowa. “Dallas has utilized 25 players. When the late innings come along, we have guys who know they’ll contribute.”
Hal McRae got the Royal’s last hit in the ninth, and before he was forced out at second he had a conversation with the garrulous Rose. “If you guys win this one, you’ll be in great shape,” McRae said. “We’ve still got a long way to go,” Rose responded. “You know who you’re talking to, so don’t give me any of that bull,” McRae replied tartly. “You want to trade places?”
So it was on to Kansas City, a town that had never before experienced a World Series. Lord knows the citizens were up for the occasion. By student-body vote, a K.C. grade school became the George Brett Southeast Elementary School for the week, the teachers appearing in class wearing Royals shirts and the sign on the office door of Principal Les Short’s office reading DARRELL PORTER, PRINCIPAL. Baseball madness even affected the drama critics. Consider the lead sentence of a review in the Kansas City Star. “I’m not afraid to use him in any situation,” Green... said of his clutch player, Unser, “and that’s pretty much the way producers- the smart ones- feel about Patty Duke Astin.”
Brett, the city’s bachelor king, said he was gleefully anticipating the Phillies’ reaction to a town many of them might yet regard as a frontier outpost. “They’ll come in here expecting to see Matt Dillon on the street, Miss Kitty in the saloon and horses tied to the hitching post,” said George.
Brett himself was the source of good news after the team’s sorry showing in Philly. His pain had been alleviated, at least for the time being, by surgery, and he would play in Game 3. The proctologist, as the wags had it, came through in the end. In fact, that physicial, John Heryer, held a press conference to explain just how the problem was surgically resolved, surely a first in World Series history. At the ballpark Brett appeared chipper, if a trifle wan. He had stayed in bed all of the off day, he said, not getting up until three hours before this game. He warded off a succession of execrable jokes with some of his own. “The pain,” he said confidently, “is behind me.”
And to prove his point, he slammed a bases-empty home run into the seats down the rightfield line in the very first inning. The Phillies tied the score in the second, when, with the bases loaded, Royals starter Rich Gale knocked down Lonnie Smith’s hard grounder and, in obvious confusion, threw to first base instead of home for an easy force on Manny Trillo. The Royals took the lead again in the fourth on Aikens’ twisting triple to left and McRae’s single and then were tied once more, in the fifth, when Schmidt homered into the Phillies’ bullpen in leftfield. The Royals forged ahead yet again in the seventh on Otis’ homer, but the Phils came back when Rose, ending an 0 for 10 drought, singled home Bowa.
For the fifth time since the regular season ended, the Phillies had carried a reluctant opponent into extra innings, while leaving 15 men on base. The Phillies had yet another chance in the 10th, but Schmidt’s screaming line drive was speared by Frank White, who doubled Boone off of second after the catch. Quisenberry, given a second chance against his tormentors of a few days ago, rushed over to pump the hand of the second baseman. “DP all the way,” he remarked later. Now it was the Royals’ turn. With two out and two men on base, Aikens lined a 2-1 pitch from McGraw into the hole in left-center to drive home Wilson with the deciding run in the 4-3 win. It was Aikens’ fifth hit of the Series.
The Royals’ revival may be attributed in good measure to a team meeting called by Frey before the game that wasn’t so much inspirational as tranquilizing. “It was a loosey-goosey speech,” said the loosey-goosey Quisenberry. “It got us laughing. We were all amused at the quality of his (Frey’s) four-letter words.” “I felt the players were a little tight in Philadelphia,” Frey explained. “The crowds, the World Series atmosphere seemed to intimidate them. I told them I thought they were the best team in America and that if we lost the third game, it wasn’t the end of the world, that we could become the first team in history to win after being three down. I told them that even if we lost the fourth game, it was still not the end of the world. I told them that I wanted them to go out and have fun.”
The fun continued unabated on Saturday, thanks to the bat of Aikens.
It would be hard to find a more deserving hero. Aikens is a large man- 6’2”, 220 pounds- and his black beard and deceptively gloomy face make him appear almost menacing. But he is extraordinarily polite, friendly, and sensitive. He banged two homers on opening night, which happened to be the occasion of his 26th birthday, and in the Royals’ Series-tying 5-3 win this day in K.C., he hit two more, the four homers placing him in the distinguished company of such Hall of Famers as Ruth, Gehrig and Snider. The onslaught left him one shy of the Series record, set my Reggie Jackson in 1977 against Los Angeles.
“They talk about Babe Ruth,” shouted Hurdle in the Royals clubhouse. “They talk about Lou Gehrig. They talk about Duke Snider. Now they’ll talk about Willie Aikens.”
It should be noted that Hurdle was careful to refer to Aikens simply as “Willie,” not “Willie Mays Aikens,” which is his full, though definitely not preferred, name. Earlier in the week Aikens had quietly chastened media people who had been referring to him as if he were a sort of adjunct to his own middle name. The doctor who delivered him “put in the Mays thing,” he explained, forever linking him with the baseball legend. He was born, after all, following the 1954 World Series, which was distinguished by Mays’ famous catch of Vic Wertz’ mammoth fly ball in the old Polo Grounds. “I don’t feel that calling me Willie Mays Aikens is fair to me,” he said. “I want to go out and make a name for myself. Announcers don’t say ‘George such-and-such Brett’ or ‘Hal such-and-such McRae.’ I just feel more comfortable being called Willie Aikens.” Aikens has never met his middle namesake, though he did try to effect a meeting at the Atlantic City casino that now employs Mays. “He wasn’t there,” says Aikens. “Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to meet him before he dies.”
Not even Mays had accomplished what Aikens has in a World Series. In a four-run Royals first inning, Aikens hit a line-drive homer into the waterfall in right-center, a prodigious blast that scored Brett, who had tripled, ahead of him. And in the very next inning he pumped an equally tremendous shot to the very limits of the Royals’ bullpen in right, advancing the score to 5-1 and effectively putting the game out of reach, even for so resourceful a team as the Phillies. “I gave that second one a long look,” said Aikens. “I guess I kind of copied Reggie on that one.”
The Phils’ frustration came to the forefront in the fourth when Reliever Dickie Noles threw a fastball under Brett’s chin on an 0-2 count. Frey charged onto the diamond, demanding that Noles be thrown out of the game or even worse for his crime. Noles wasn’t ejected, and Brett struck out, but he had his triple for the day and McRae stretched two singles into doubles as the Royals continued to play their kind of baseball. McRae said he had observed that the Philadelphia outfielders tended to throw “lollipops” back into the infield after base hits, so he just kept running. But it was Aikens, acquired by Kansas City from the Angels over the winter, who carried the day. “The kid,” said Green, “is just on a roll.”
Aikens was enveloped by reporters in the clubhouse after the game. Hurdle smiled and shook his head. “We got some crazy guys on this ballclub, and they got Willie out of his shell,” he said. “He was afraid to talk before because of his stutter. But just look at him now.” Aikens’ biggest triumph of the day may have occurred earlier when he stepped before a battery of microphones to comment on his accomplishments. A stutterer since childhood, he regards a roomful of people with more terror than he does an inside fastball. “I’m sometimes able to talk pretty good,” Aikens says. “Sometimes I will have no problem stuttering. But talking on TV, I have a tendency to stutter a whole lot. I was afraid when I was a kid to go into a store and ask for anything. The kids used to laugh at me all the time. I’d get so upset I’d want to fight. But I’m around adults now, and they’re able to accept me for what I am. I’m a stutterer and I’ll be one for the rest of my life.”
The question, said Mike Schmidt, made him slightly ill. “Somebody asked me if we’d run out of miracles,” the Phillies captain recalled. “Everybody keeps talking about luck and miracles and heart and character. But we’ve got talent. We’ve got Del Unser coming off the bench.” That they did and they also had Schmidt and a little bit of luck and lots of character, and they mixed it all up in a crazy, movie-script ninth inning to bring off another, well, miracle. The ninth, which can compare for raw excitement with any played in the World Series, gave the homeward-bound Phillies a 4-3 win and the edge they so desparately needed after consecutive defeats in Kansas City. Now they led three games to two, with the rest of the season to be played in their own noisy ballpark.
Appropriately, it was Schmidt himself who ignited the final wrenching rally. He had given his team its only two runs of the game in the fourth when, with McBride on base, he hit a Larry Gura changeup over the 410-foot sign in centerfield. Now he was the leadoff man in the last inning with his team trailing 3-2, and the Kansas City fans, charged as never before, howling at him to fail. Schmidt had surprised the Royals the previous evening by bunting for a hit down the third-base line, and with the score as close as it was, Brett, who normally plays Schmidt deep, played him even with the bag in the event of further trickery. But Schmidt was hitting away this time, and he sent a screamer to Brett’s left that the third baseman was able to reach with a dive, but was unable to hold.
It was the first hit off Quisenberry, who had entered the game in the seventh in relief of Gura and had been getting groundball outs with his sinker. Unser, batting for Smith, also hit a ground ball, but he hit it, as he later explained, “about as well as I can.” The hard shot skimmed off the Tartan turf just beyond the reach of Aikens’ flailing glove and bounced down the rightfield line that scored Schmidt with the tying run. Moreland sacrificed Unser to third and Brett retired Maddox on a fine throw for the second out. After Quisenberry got two quick strikes on Trillo, the Phillies second baseman lined a sinker of his own directly back to the mound. “The ball hit my glove and then the tips of my right hand,” Quisenberry said later. “He hit it hard. I didn’t have time to think. I saw it at the last millisecond, then I played hide and seek with it. I wish it would have hit me in the stomach because then it would have dropped in front of me.” Instead it rolled behind him where Brett retrieved it and tried trantically to throw in time to catch a flying Trillo. He didn’t, and Unser scored the fourth run.
But McGraw, a quintessential Phillie who thrives on stress, pitched himself into a bases-loaded situation in the ninth, walking White, whose brilliant fielding had kept the Royals in the game for most of the day, then Aikens and finally Otis, who had homered in the sixth and hiked his Series average to .550. The next hitter was Jose Cardenal, who had pinch-hit for Hurdle in the seventh. “All it broke my heart,” Hurdle said of the substitution. Although Cardenal has a reputation as a clutch-hitter, McGraw said later that he preferred pitching to him than to the red-hot Otis. For one thing, Cardenal had spent more than 10 years of his 17-year major league career in the National League, and McGraw had learned something about him. He also knew something about himself, which made him wonder if he was up to the task. “I felt guilty because my wife and I stayed up a little too late last night and I had a few extra beers,” he confessed.
McGraw had already endured anxious moment in tis tulmultuous inning. He had struck out Brett on three pitches for the first out, catching him looking at a John Jameson fastball on the outside corner, because he knew that Brett wanted a pitch he could pull. Then McGraw watched in visible horror as McRae hit a ball barely foul into the leftfield seats. At leftfield Umpire Paul Pryor’s foul signal, McGraw patted his heart in relief. But McRae forced a runner and was on second base when Cardenal came to bat.
Cardenal fouled off the first pitch and after McGraw threw high for a ball, he fouled off two more. The house organist played a rousing polka as McGraw and Boone conferred on the mound, and the crowd began clapping and cheering for the little Cuban batter. McGraw was ready. He fed him a Cutty Sark fastball that sailed inside. Cardenal swung and missed. “How would he know about a Cutty Sark?” said McGraw. “He probably doesn’t drink anything but rum.”
For the Royals, Cutty Sark was pure poison. Their clubhouse, normally as lively as a kindergarten classroom, afterward was silent and forlorn. They had tasted the bitterest of defeats.