Chicago Tribune - October 6, 1980

Phils’ experience pays off in crown


By Bob Verdi, Chicago Tribune Press Service


MONTREAL – It was Friday night, and Pete Rose stepped plateward, thus beginning a crucial weekend series between the Philadelphia Phillies and Montreal Expos.


"Well, Pete," said Gary Carter, Montreal's wide-eyed catcher. "It's just us two teams now. Good luck."


Rose, taken aback, held a straight face, nevertheless.


"Yeah," he replied. "You, too. If we don't win this thing, I hope you do.”


Now it was Sunday morning, and the stench of dry champagne was still rife in the Philadelphia clubhouse, where Saturday night, a National League East championship had been celebrated.


"Experience," Rose was saying. "We have it, Montreal doesn't yet. I mean, when I got up here Friday, I see Carter quoted in the papers about them having the champagne on ice already. That's great. I just wanted Carter to know that we did bother to show up. See what I mean? Experience."


EXPERIENCE is one quality the Phillies have. When Manny Trillo turns 30 on Christmas Day, members of their  starting team all will be that age or older. That experience was evident in how the Phillies greeted their fourth division-title in five years. Their champagne party lasted all of about 25 minutes. By midnight, most of the players were having a late dinner in the coffee shop of their hotel.


"We still have more hills to climb," said Mike Schmidt, whose two-run homer in the 11th inning brought Philadelphia a clinching 6-4 victory Saturday night. "If we lose in the playoffs, we know that we'll be the same old Phillies to everybody."


Ah, that is the flip side to the Phillies' record. In three previous league playoffs, baseball's, second-highest paid team behind the Yankees has been a bust. Last year's fourth-place finish added injury to previous insults – Philadelphia players incurred six broken bones, and 23 different times were placed on the disabled list. As the Phillies were getting older, it seemed, they were getting worse.


"This year, we have more heart," said Schmidt. "A lot of things have happened to us, good and bad, and for whatever reason we have more heart."


One of the good things was Dallas Green, who took over as manager late last season. Danny Ozark, his predecessor, did win those three straight East titles in 1976, 1977, and 1978, but his devotion to the timely malaprop drew guffaws from his players, and his tendency to mishandle the team's pitching staff drew unmitigated scorn.


GREEN, A FORMER Phille pitcher, knows how to treat not only tender arms, but puffy egos. He is 6-5, 230 pounds, impressive, and very loud. When the Phillies were six games out of first place with 55 to go in mid-August, he interrupted their clubhouse reverie one afternoon with a 15-minute tirade.


"It wasn't the kind of meeting where the players offer' suggestions, either," said Rose with a chuckle. "We didn't raise our hands to talk. We listened. He told us that anybody who didn't feel like playing baseball anymore because that's the way we looked just walk into his office and tell him. Did he let us have it? Does a bear go to the bathroom in the woods?"


Perhaps through abject fear – the Phillies, to Green's credit, do not like him – they surged thereafter. Enough to win the division, but not enough to sell him on the manager's job he didn't want in the first place. At one time, he was. Philadelphia's farm director, biting the bullet while Ozark died with veterans and buried youngsters.


Now, Green says if the Phillies make it to the World Series, he would prefer to resume his career plan as heir apparent to the team's 56-year-old general manager, Paul Owens. If the Phillies phlop again, he may stay in the dugout out of commitment.


"We do have a job to do," he said. “And that is, win something more than a division with this, current team. I guess, yeah, that those guys in there are a little tired of fighting me. And maybe they have a better idea of what I was trying to do now than what I was trying to do in April. It will be very painful if we don't win the pennant. But win or lose, because of our age, we have to reevaluate at the end of the season."


THE PHILLIES' TWO best pitchers also are patriarchs. Steve Carlton, 35, won 24 games. He was to have pitched Sunday; instead, he will open the playoffs in Philadelphia Tuesday night, then be available again for Game 4, if necessary, Saturday – a giant plus for the Phillies.


Reliever Tug McGraw, whom Ozark burned out, has been spotted, by Green and since mid-July, the 35-year-old left hander who precipitated Met-mania during the early 1970s, has been immaculate. His screw ball is so deceptive and his fast ball so lively, that he doesn't just dispose of batters anymore, he freezes them. They look foolish and unwilling with McGraw working.


Besides Schmidt's 48 home runs, the Phillies are not the thumpers they once were. Under Green, they have learned the value of hitting the cutoff man. With all their experience, the Phillies now have absorbed some basics, too.


The Expos? They require some alterations, too. They have some bad apples in their barrel, and not enough left-handed hitters. But, when they took the field Sunday afternoon with a patchwork lineup for a meaningless exercise which they won 8-7, the splendid sports fans of this city stood to applaud them for a summer well spent.


Rose, of course, was the only Philadelphia regular in the lineup. He has played every game since joining the Phillies and that was not about to stop because of Saturday night's jubilation.


"Experience," he concluded, "also means grabbing a bottle of champagne and pouring it over somebody's head. Not drinking what's in it when you got a ballgame the next day."