Montreal Gazette - October 7, 1980
Astros, Phils well matched for pennant chase
By Michael Farber of The Gazette
PHILADELPHIA – Although the Expos were eliminated, the National League playoffs will still have a team from outside the United States.
The Houston Astros.
If you don't believe me, ask any Texan.
Ken Forsch opposes Steve Carlton of the Philadelphia Phillies tonight at 8:15 in the first game of the best-of-five playoff, the Astros' first earth-shattering post-season experience since they gave Nolan Ryan $1 million a year.
The Astros, who beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 7-1 yesterday in a tiebreaker to win the National League West, are as close to the Expos in substance and style as any team.
Both are former expansion teams; both pitch; both run; both hit in spurts, aithough the Astros lack a home run threat.
Well, you can't be perfect, as the Astros proved often against Philadelphia this season, losing nine times in 12 games. The Astros are hitting .227 against Phillie pitching, and are 0-2 against Carlton, and 1-3 against Dick Ruthven – the two pitchers they face tonight and tomorrow before the series shifts to the Astrodome for Game Three Friday afternoon.
Here's a series preview:
After 24-9 Carlton (a disappointing 1-2 with a 5.89 earned run average in post season play) and 17-10 Ruthven, the Phillies are undecided on starters because the Marty Bystrom Caper remains unsolved.
The Phillies asked the National League to make Bystrom, 5-0 after being called up in September, eligible for the 25-man playoff roster as a replacement for an injured player. Not that anyone is injured, necessarily... although the Phils would like to see Nino Espinosa develop beri-beri or something. One report, denied by the team, said the Phillies had asked Espinosa, who has not pitched since Sept. 12, to discover an injury, but he refused. League president Chub Feeney is expected to rule this morning. If Bystrom is available, he will pitch Game Three with Larry Christenson in Game Four.
Tug McGraw, who screwballed the Expos to second place, is a one-man bullpen because Sparky Lyle is ineligible. Considering McGraw was 5-1 with 13 saves and an 0.52 ERA since July 17, he may be almost enough. If manager Dallas Green must go to a right-hander – Warren Brusstar, Dickie Noles or Ron Reed – the Phillies are in trouble.
Even without JR. Richard, the Astros pitching is the staff dreams are made of Forsch (0-2, 5.79 ERA against the Phillies), Ryan, Vern Ruhle (if his injured index finger heals) and Joe Niekro – all right-handers – should be effective against the right-handed power in the Phillies' lineup.
And like the Pirates last season, they have three effective relievers: righties Frank LaCorte and Dave Smith and left-hander Joe Sambito, who didn't allowed a run in 6⅓ innings against Philadelphia this season.
Take Mike Schmidt (.286, 48 home runs, 104 runs, 121 runs-batted-in) out of the line-up and the Phillies are screamingly average except for Bake McBride (.309, 87 RBI from the No. 2 slot). Greg Luzinski (eight-for-38, 14 strikeouts) is slumping, Bob Boone – who will catch Carlton – has been so awful offensively he has been benched when lesser mortals pitch, Manny Trillo has lost 30 points from his average during the second half, and Pete Rose, until the weekend at Olympic Stadium, was six for his pst 45.
But the Astros don't even have one obvious Mr. October candidate. Jose Cruz and Cesar Cedeno both are .300-area hitters of the line-drive persuasion. Terry Puhl, the Saskatchewan rooting interest, Joe Morgan, Art Howe and Enos Cabell all can hit, but will they?
Even centrefielder Garry Maddox of Philliegate-injured pinky fame can't cover the earth from the bench. Del Unser probably will start. Schmidt is brilliant at third, Bowa usually so at short, Trillo (despite the Saturday gaffe) a fine second baseman and Rose surprisingly adequate at first. Only Luzinksi and replacement Lonnie Smith in left are weak links, although rookie catcher Keith Moreland may have trouble with the Houston base stealers.
The Astros will be better on plastic than they were on grass at Dodger Stadium this week where they squandered a three-game lead with three games to play. Puhl is outstanding in right, and everyone else is average or better. Second baseman Morgan has a gimpy knee, but the Astros gain defensively when Rafael Landestoy plays. He'll shuttle between second and short.
No contest. The Astros have six players with at least 20 stolen bases – Puhl is the biggest threat – while only Smith among the Phillies will put pressure on Houston catchers Alan Ashby and Luis Pujols.
No matter which way the Phillies go with their starting line-up, they have ample depth. Houston has fewer quality players on the bench, although Denny Walling is a dangerous left-handed pinch-hitter.
Dallas Green handled pitchers brilliantly and pulled the often sophomoric Phillies by the scruffs of their necks to the division, but Bill Virdon may have quietly coaxed even more out of the low-talent Astros.
Phils’ Schmidt has little emotion, lots of sock
By Michael Farber of The Gazette
"Guys like Pete Rose wear their hearts on their sleeves. To find out about Mike Schmidt, you have to dig a little deeper." – Phils' John Vukovich
PHILADELPHIA – Michael Jack Schmidt didn't want to do the interview. Not then, not after the Phillies had beaten the Expos, 2-1, Friday night, not after Tug McGraw prophetically shouted: "Key down, key down. We can go nuts tomorrow."
But this one was TV, back to Philadelphia. Good publicity. Figuring he couldn't misquote himself, he agreed. Besides, his family would be watching.
"Well, Mike," the interviewer began... but Schmidt ignored the professional throat-clearing, leaned forward, looked into the camera and gave a tiny wave.
"Daddy," Mike Schmidt announced in one of those publicly private moments, "went deep."
Twenty-two hours later Daddy went deep again and the Expos' hopes of a championship season went deep-six, the Phillies earning the right to meet Houston (tonight at 8:15) in the best-of-five National League playoff. Now Schmidt stood in the champagne carwash of the Phillie clubhouse in Olympic Stadium, digging deeper.
Maybe it didn't reach the level of "Daddy went deep" from the previous night, but it was a stirring anyway as the best player in the National League spoke. Unlike some, Mike Schmidt rarely allows the cross-examination of his soul.
"There's something that keeps me from wanting to tell you just how satisfying this is," said Schmidt, 31. "We have yet to prove ourselves in a playoff or World Series, but for the moment, I'm definitely satisfied.
"I mean, sometime in your life, you have to be satisfied, right?
"Right now I feel good about things. Mike Schmidt? I've always felt good about him. I like myself as a baseball player a helluva lot."
After Aug. 31, Schmidt hit 13 of his major league-leading 48 home runs, 27 of his 121 runs-batted-in, batted .304 and slugged .688. He became the charismatic hitter – the Carl Yastrzemski, the Tony Perez, the Reggie Jackson, the Willie Stargell – every great team must have.
"At this point of his career, he took it upon himself to be the player down the stretch," said John Vukovich, the coach-without-portfolio of the Phillies. "He never had a month like that. Who ever had a month like that?
"Schmitty never showed a lot of emotion. He kept it inside. Some guys are open books. Mike, he writes his own book."
But few were privileged to read it because Schmidt lives a 3-2 kind of life. Take that pitch, outside; consider that one, over the plate; hold back until he can no longer. He is a slow study, like on the 0-2 fastball Steve Rogers slipped by with the bases loaded Saturday – the only undisputed out he made last weekend.
"That was not because I was tight but because I was loose," Schmidt said. "So loose it was strike three.
"I felt learning to hit under pressure was the one item I wanted in my repertoire, in my baseball life. I know when I retired they were gonna say: 'He could hit a baseball as far as anybody, he was a great third baseman, he always drove in 100 runs, but he could have been a better clutch hitter.' Just because I did it this September doesn't automatically make me a career clutch hitter by any means. But there's going to be other pressure-filled at-bats, and there's going to be other big times in my career, and to be able to look back, to know I've been able to hit under pressure before makes it easier the next time. You have to have it happen to you to know what it's like.
"The key is concentration. And wherever the pressure's coming from is what breaks up your concentration. The feeling that 'I gotta do it’, the fear of failure, the feeling that you're 0-for-four and just gotta get a hit this time up is the pressure, or part of it. The more 'you gottas' you put on yourself, the less your concentration will be on what it should be on."
There is only one more "you gotta" for the Phillies, a team fraught with private demons – most stemming from the 1976-1978 playoffs.
Those Phillies won two of 11 post-season games – losing one because Danny Ozark, then the manager, didn't use a ninth-inning defensive replacement for Greg Luzinski; losing another because their best defensive player – centre fielder Garry Maddox – dropped a fly ball.
As they were dropping flys, Schmidt hit .182 with just four runs in 44 at-bats.
Mr. Clutch or Mr. Clutz?
"Maybe those experiences will help us all," said Schmidt, who finished at .286 with 104 runs and 89 walks. He has scored and driven in 100 runs for five of the past eight years. "Maybe we have more heart now. People sure as hell could have had a field day with the Phillies and their so-called "choke" if we didn't win two of three in Montreal... and justifiably so.
"It meant a lot to win the division. The Expos need one more year of frustration to equal the years of frustration of the Philadelphia Phillies."
Runs crossing plate are what cost Expos
By Dink Carroll
It was at this time a year ago that Pete Rose pointed out one of the reasons why the Phillies had finished in fourth place.
"Here's one statistic," he said. "Here I am with 208 hits, 96 walks and a career-high 20 stolen bases. I was on base more than anybody in the league. And I only scored 90 runs."
Rose batted .331 last year, second highest in the league. He isn't batting within .50 points of that this season, yet he has scored more runs than he did in 1979. Obviously the Phillies didn't hit at opportune times last year and this year they did.
There was a good example of it in last Saturday's game here when the Phillies clinched first place in the NL East. The Expos had the winning run on base in the 10th inning and couldn't score. The Phillies won it in the 11th when Mike Schmidt belted a home run with a man on base.
In a telecast last weekend, Joe Garagiola mentioned the names of some pitchers on the Houston, Los Angeles, Montreal and Philadelphia clubs and cited their impressive earned-run averages.
"All those teams are battling to finish in first place," he said. "Pitching and defence, that's what wins."
But a team has to score at least one run, usually more, to win. The Expos didn't hit consistently most of the season, though Andre Dawson, Gary Carter and Chris Speier went on a tear in September. Good pitching will stop good hitting and the Phillies got it in their last series with the Expos, especially from Tug McGraw.
Early 'flake' reputation
Right now he has to be the best relief pitcher in baseball. When he first came up the New York Mets in 1973 he quickly established a reputation as a flake.
One of the things he did was to plant a seed and grow a flower in the Mets' bullpen. He appeared to be more interested in it than in any ball game.
He was also a wit, who could give any conversation an amusing twist. Most National League clubs were covering their fields with artificial turf at the time and he was asked if he preferred Astroturf to grass.
"I don't know," he replied. "I've never smoked Astroturf."
He is 17 years older now and though he hasn't lived down his reputation as a flake, he is all business when he is pitching. His best pitch is a screwball, but he has a slider and what he calls his "Peggy Lee" fastball. It is an offspeed pitch where, according to McGraw, the batter sees it and says, "Is that all there is?"
Shuts the doors
"Since the all-star break he's been outstanding," said manager Dallas Green. He's been in every game I've asked him to work and he's shut the doors totally."
Mike Schmidt, who led both major leagues in home runs with 48 and in runs batted in with 121, is the likely choice as the National League's most valuable player. He is a complete ball player, through it was his bat that drove in the winning runs for the Phillies in the showdown series with the Expos.
The Expos' future looks bright. There isn't much wrong with their pitching, though they could use a reliable left-hander to go with those good youngsters in the starting rotation. They also need a dependable right-hand pitcher in the bullpen.
Their most urgent need is more consistent hitting and it's possible that they could get it from their present personnel. To do that, Ellis Valentine would have to be healthy enough to play something resembling a full schedule and Larry Parrish would have to recover the form he displayed at the plate in the second half of the 1979 season.
But it's far too early to talk much about next year. In these hectic days of free agency, a general manager can't be sure of the players he is going to be able to retain or of those who will be available from other clubs.