Chicago Tribune - October 8, 1980
Recharged Luzinski puts Phillies in front
By Dave Nightingale, Chicago Tribune Press Service
PHILADELPHIA – Move over, Reggie. Somebody else thinks he's "Mr. October."
In the last five years, this has been the month for the Phillies to swoon.
But it is also the time of year for "The Bull" to come into the china shop. And this year, for a change, Greg Luzinski may carry the entire team along with him.
Luzinski, who has spent the entire season in teammate Mike Schmidt's home-run shadow, cracked a 450-foot shot off Ken Forsch in the sixth inning Tuesday night. The blast was worth two runs; it shook the Phils out of their lethargy; and it powered them to a 3-1 victory over the sleepy-eyed Houston Astros in the opener of the best-of-five National League championship series.
It was the first victory in seven playoff games at Veterans Stadium for the Phils, who swooned quietly when exposed to postseason competition against the Reds in 1976 and the Dodgers in 1977 and 1978.
BUT IT WAS NOT the first October success by any means for the 29-year-old Luzinski, who this year experienced one of his least-productive regular seasons [19 homers, 56 RBI] since he departed the Niles [Ill.] Notre Dame High School campus in 1968.
"I'm not worried about the regular season," said Luzinski. "That's over and we won. And I'm not worried about me because I've usually gone into September and the playoffs in a slump, only to do well.
"I've got hits in 12 playoff games in a row now [out of 12]. I always seem to get charged up for the playoffs."
He also has five playoff homers in those 12 games, second only to the Dodgers' Steve Garvey six in NL annals.
THE ONLY REAL question this October was whether Luzinski would get a chance to see the playoffs. Manager Dallas Green had benched him and catcher Bob Boone for offensive slumps [and center fielder Garry Maddox for a defensive one] during much of the season's last two weeks.
But with the money games on the line, and with the team's past history of failures on his mind, Green forgot about rookies Lonnie Smith and Keith Moreland and "went with the guys who got us here."
The result was a victory for lefty Steve Carlton and a save for Tug McGraw and his screwball.
BEFORE A PITCH was thrown, the game looked as though it would be a laugher.
The Astros were bone weary after an all-night flight [following their NL West title game victory over the Dodgers Monday], arriving in town, without sleep, only 14 hours before starting time.
The Phils were well-rested. And, of course, they had Carlton, who had won six straight over the Astros two this year since they last beat him on May 16, 1978.
But when the game began, it was the Phils who were lethargic. And as for Carlton?
"Lefty wasn't Lefty," said Green. "Steve was pretty sluggish out there,1' the manager continued. "He just had too much rest [six days]."
"Carlton was wilder than we've known him to be in the past," said Houston Manager Bill Virdon. "But he always has been effective against us."
THE ASTROS PUT nine men on base against Carlton in the first five innings, but could score only one run-on singles by Jose Cruz,. Cesar Cedeno, and Gary Woods in the third. Struggling as he was, Carlton still managed to strand six Houston runners in the first three innings fanning Art Howe with two aboard in the first and getting inning-ending grounders from Rafael Landestoy in the second and Luis Pujols in the third, each time with two Astros on base.
But the Phils were going nowhere against Forsch in that same span. "Each of us was trying to do it all by himself," said Luzinski. "Forsch was pitching us well up and down, out and in – and we were overanxious; we were swinging at too many first pitches.
"We had to make him work a little bit before we could get to him."
The crowd was pumped up for the last of the sixth inning as Rose led off – 65,27Z paying customers [the largest crowd in Philadelphia and playoff history] howling for the Astros' blood.
ROSE DREW THE first pint, punching a grounder to the left side that Craig Reynolds ranged far to his right to field. But the weak-armed Reynolds could only lob a throw to first, and Rose beat it out for a hit.
"I was just trying to make something happen – anything," said Rose. "I'm glad we have guys who can hit homers. I'm sure glad Greg hit one tonight. But we can't sit around and wait for homers. That's not the way we've been winning lately."
Nothing happened, though, because Bake McBride struck out and Schmidt hit a medium fly ball to Cedeno. So, the Phils just "had" to take the homer, like it or not.
Forsch worked the count full to Luzinski, then fed him a fastball and Greg fouled it back. Forsch fed him another fastball… and watched this one sail up the left-center power alley, over the fence, and into the seats 75 feet beyond.
PLATE UMPIRE BOB Engel shook his head in amazement as he recalled the blast. "That pitch was at least a foot inside," he said.
"I don't know what it was or where it was," said Luzinski, "because I'm just looking for the ball when I have two strikes on me. Almost all of my homers this year have come on two-strike pitches.
"But if it was that far inside, it just proves that I have a quick bat."
It was a quick bat that Luzinski "found" last Saturday in Olympic Stadium in Montreal, during a lengthy rain delay.
"I went down there during the rain and worked on the positioning of my hands," he said. "Normally, I hold the bat straight up and down. But I have a tendency to use too much top hand, and that puts a loop in my swing. So, I decided that day to flatten my swing, to tilt the bat back a little. It gave me a shorter and quicker approach to the ball.”
ASTRO BATS WERE continuing to approach Carlton in the seventh, though. Forsch, hitting for himself despite a one-run deficit, singled. So did Enos Cabell. But the rally died before it started when Landestoy pulled his bat back on a bunt attempt and Phils' second baseman Manny Trillo sneaked in behind Forsch to take catcher Bob Boone's snap pickoff throw for the putout.
The Phils got an insurance run in the seventh when Maddox singled and moved to second on Larry Bowa's bunt. He still was there, however, when Greg Gross came up to pinch-hit for Carlton with two out.
"Like I said, Lefty wasn't Lefty," Green repeated. "And when you have the 'chief’ [McGraw] in your bullpen, there's no sense in wasting him. Besides, I wanted a shot at another run."
He got it. Maddox stole third, then coasted home when Gross lofted a short fly ball to left that Cruz lost in the stadium lights, the wedge shot dropping for an RBI single.
AFTER THAT, everything was simple for the Phillies – as it has been every time McGraw has been summoned in the past five weeks.
"We weren't tired tonight," the Astros' Virdon insisted when it was over. "We played well and just got beat."
Astros miffed by Kuhn’s ‘gift’
By Dave Nightingale, Chicago Tribune Press Service
PHILADELPHIA – Officially, the Houston Astros took Commissioner Bowie Kuhn's "gift" to the Phillies in stride Tuesday.
Unofficially, they were "darned teed off" [the words of coach Deacon Jones] that the Phils had been permitted to add rookie right hander Marty Bystrom 5-0, 1.50 ERA in September and the National League Pitcher of the Month to their postseason roster.
Bystrom wasn't on the Phils' 25-man roster as of Sept. 1 and thus, technically, was not eligible for postseason play.
The Phils, however, petitioned Kuhn and NL President Chub Feeney to use Bystrom as a replacement for rarely used right hander Nino Espinosa, who has a sore arm.
PHILADELPHIA GENERAL Manager Paul Owens admitted that "Espinosa really isn't hurt... he just has been ineffective." But the Phils' petition was based on the fact Espinosa has had bursitis in his right shoulder for 12 months, and they supplied Kuhn and Feeney with medical reports to that effect.
Tuesday, after a conversation with Espinosa in which the pitcher claimed he was hurt after refusing to make the same claim three days ago, Kuhn and Feeney permitted the Phils to replace Espinosa with Bystrom.
"I got to say I was surprised at the decision," said Bystrom. "I thought I had a small chance. But it took about three days to settle the thing, and the longer it took, the smaller my chances seemed to get."
Also surprised were the Astros.
"The guys were mad at first," said Jones. "But then they said: 'What the heck? We've been getting the short end of the stick all year on schedules and things like that. So why start worrying now?'"
FOR THE RECORD, General Manager Tal Smith and Manager Bill Virdon entered official "who cares?" statements.
"We're happy to be here and play whoever they the Phillies send out," said Smith. "It's up to others to enforce the rules, and we have confidence in their ability to do so."
"The fairness of Bystrom's activation is not my judgment to make," said Virdon. "I assume Kuhn thinks it's fair, and that's good enough for me."
Second baseman Joe Morgan, however, thought it was anything but fair.
"The rules are made to be followed, and if you aren't on the roster on Sept. 1, you shouldn't be allowed to play," he said.
Anonymous Astros know who they are
By Bob Verdi, Chicago Tribune Press Service
PHILADELPHIA – When you think of most baseball teams, you think of images. You think of the Yankees, you think of pinstripes and Mickey Mantle. You think of the Red Sox, vou think of the left-field wall in Fenway Park. You think of the Cubs, you think of getting your hand caught in a car door.
But when you think of the Houston Astros, if you think of the Houston Astros, your screen goes blank. If they were a rock group, they would be The Who. If they sipped too much, they automatically would be alcoholics anonymous. Kids who buy baseball cards keep the bubble gum and throw away the Astros.
Their leading home-run hitter, Terry Puhl, as in pool, pulverized 13 this summer. That made him a hero in Melville, Sask., which is home. It is fitting that, while Philadelphia's phamous Phillies were resting for Tuesday night's opener of the National' League playoffs, the Astros tiptoed through the airport on tiny feet at 6:30 a.m., exultant over their victory in Los Angeles, but careful not to be mistaken for a bunch of sailors.
"THAT'S TRUE, NOBODY know us," says pitcher Joe Sambito. "We've been just one of 26 teams for years. Houston is football country. The papers down there put the high school football scores first, Iran second, and us third. But you don't complain. We've been through a lot of adversity together, but we're here."
For sure, the Astros have endured bad times. They were born the Houston Colt 45s in 1962, and just to show how bad they were in their opening game, they beat the Cubs only 11-2. The Colt 45s swept the rest of that series, of course, and then things went downhill for 18 years or so.
Changing their nickname, then moving indoors and out of sight to the magnificent Astrodome didn't help much. Players lost pop flies in the sun, and The Dome, hailed as the eighth wonder of the world, graduated to the ninth when a J game there really and truly was rained out.
Leo Durocher, former manager of the Cubs, called the place a "rats' nest," which he later confirmed beyond doubt by becoming manager of the Astros.
THE DARK cloud hanging ever this team too often meant real tragedy. Jim Wynn, an outfielder, once was stabbed in his own house. Pitcher Larry Dierker killed a pedestrian with his automobile in 1973, the same year Cesar Cedeno was charged with manslaughter. Leukemia killed Walter Bond, cancer killed Jim Umbricht, and Don Wilson killed himself.
One evening during infield practice, shortstop Roger Metzger swallowed his tongue and had to be saved by a teammate. Judge Roy Hofheinz, the first money man behind the Astros, became seriously ill, and his financial empire evaporated. Then, earlier this summer, J.R. Richard, the club's most forbidding pitcher, suffered a stroke, and if he throws a baseball in competition again, it will be a miracle.
Somehow, probably because they are a tight, talented band of athletes, the Astros have gone from nobodies to being somebodies. They became fairly topical last year when they blew a 10-game. lead on July 4th to finish in second place. Last weekend, the Astros lost three straight one-run contests in Hollywood before deciding they'd rather be in Philadelphia than be dead come Tuesday.
"If we had lost that way this year, after what happened last year, that would have been a big story," admits Sambito, one of the Astros' better pitchers. "I was already preparing how to answer my friends' questions when they asked me all winter what happened. Now, I don't have to."
THE ASTROS GOT here on the economy plan. When other teams hit the ball, it goes bam. When the Astros hit it, it goes ping. They managed only 75 homers all season, and their batting average was a slim .261. But if you check further, you'll note that their opposition hit only 69 homers and batted an even slimmer .245.
Unlike certain mindless organizations, the Astros tailor their team to meet its home, the cavernous Dome, where balls travel as though dipped in syrup. Pitching there is the name of the game, and the Astros have more of it than any franchise extant. Moreover, the Astros execute well and – you may not have heard this word around Chicago for some time – hustle.
Once upon a time, the Astros had gauche uniforms of blue, red, orange, yellow, and white – not necessarily in that order. The garments were toned down because, naturally, they were too colorful. It's just as well, though. Now, uniforms of the Houston Astros after a game are, predominately, dirty.
Bill Virdon, their straight-laced manager, receives much of the credit for bringing the current Astros through their current tumult, and preaching, daily, the work ethic. He's a throwback who discounts, among other things, the old theory, that the best way for a ballplayer to prepare for tomorrow's game is over 12 beers.
"We don't have liquor on our planes," says Virdon. "If one of my players needs a drink that bad, let him come to me, and I'll make sure that he sees a top-notch psychiatrist."
YET, FOR ALL the good life the Astros lead, and for all the good things they deserve, they keep stepping into the potholes of the American pastime. Their immortal catcher, Luis Pujols, cut his finger on a lawn mower the other day. Their all-night charter flight to Philly had to pause in St. Louis for refueling. Then, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn ruled that Marty Bystrom, an unbeaten Philadelphia rookie, is eligible to pitch in this series because Nino Espinosa is hurt. Obviously, when Nino hurled seven shutout innings in his last start, the commissioner was planting tomatoes in his beloved suburban garden.
Joe Bftsplks and his cloud, wherever they are, would love the Houston Astros, whoever they are.
Carlton’s escape acts bug Astros
By Bob Verdi, Chicago Tribune Press Service
PHILADELPHIA – Jet lag didn't beat the Houston Astros Tuesday night. Steve Carlton' did. And that's what annoys them more than anything.
Carlton, the Philadelphia Phillies' stoic left hander, is the best pitcher in the National League, a Cy Young Award winner with the temperament of Mighty Joe Young. In other words, mean.
But in the opener of the National League playoffs, Carlton was somewhat less than immortal, which is to say he allowed one run, seven hits, and three walks before leaving after seven innings of the Phillies' 3-1 victory.
"I thought we could have had him," said Enos Cabell, the Astros' pencil-thin third baseman. "He was good, but I've seen him better. If we could have nailed him in the first game, they'd have been in trouble.
CARLTON HAS ONE of the most mystifying sliders in baseball. It moves toward the plate on a normal trajectory, only to explode away from the hitter just about when it's too late for the hitter to do anything about it. The Astros had planned to lay off the pitch, if at all possible, and watch it break out of the strike zone.
As it turned out, Carlton had location problems with several of his deliveries – especially the slider, which he hung frequently – and the Astros threatened him early. They sent five men to the plate in the first inning, five in the second, and six in the third, when they scored on an RBI single by Gary Woods, who couldn't quite qualify for the Toronto Blue Jays. All of the above, in Houston, is considered fireworks.
Further proof that Carlton was beatable was provided by counterpart Ken Forsch, who singled twice. The first indication that a pitcher doesn't have his stuff is when, the other pitcher solves him. Professional hitters can be outguessed by a struggling pitcher; but professional pitchers go to the plate with minds closed, and sometimes their eyes, too.
"HE WASN'T AS sharp as I've seen him," Forsch said. "But that's why he is what he is. He still had enough to win."
For that, Forsch blames himself. He led 1-0 in the Philadelphia sixth when Pete Rose led off with an infield single. After Bake McBride struck out, and Mike Schmidt lined to center, Greg Luzinski worked to a full count and the crowd of 65,277 into a full crescendo.
Forsch, not wanting to walk Luzinski with bothersome Manny Trillo on deck, challenged Luzinski with a fastball. The Bull hammered it into left field – deep left field – for a two-run homer.
"He's a noted low-ball hitter," said Forsch, "and the pitch I gave him was a little low. I brought it to him, and he beat me with it. The time before in the first inning, actually I had him 3-2 and gave him a slider that he struck out on. I didn't want to do that again. You don't like to get into patterns that they can read. If I had gotten the fastball up a little more, I'd have been OK. Maybe."
MANAGER BILL VIRDON, drinking milk, sat atop his office desk. There was a stack of good-luck telegrams yet to be opened.
"Why haven't I opened them?" he said. "I haven't had time."
But the Astros, to a man, did not use their itinerary as an excuse for defeat.
"Yeah, we traveled all night to get here from Los Angeles," said Forsch. "But we play 162 games to get here. If you can't get up for this, you can't get up for anything."
Against right hander Dick Ruthven Wednesday night, the Astros will employ Alan Ashby to catch instead of Luis Pujols and Puhl in right field instead of Woods. If Joe Morgan [sore leg] is healthy enough, he will be at second instead of Rafael Landestoy.
MORGAN, AND MANY of the other Astros, had other things on their minds Tuesday night, though. They learned earlier in the day that teammate J. R. Richard is destined for a California hospital for further surgery to remedy blood clots, the ailment that felled the pitcher in late July.
"I feel badly for J. R.," said Morgan. "He's been through an awful lot. I hope that he gets everything cleared up this time, so he can come back to us soon."
Playoff Notes (excerpts)
By Bob Markus and Dave Nightingale
PHILADELPHIA – Pitching matchups for the next three games if necessary of the National League playoffs: the Phils Dick Ruthven [17-10] vs. the Astros Nolan Ryan [10-9] in Philly Wednesday night; the Phils' Larry Christenson [5-1 vs. the Astros' Joe Niekro [20-12] Friday afternoon in Houston; the Phils' Marty Bystrom [5-0] or Steve Carlton [24-9] against the Astros' Vera Ruhle [12-4] in the Astrodome Saturday afternoon.
"We're switching Niekro and Ruhle in our rotation to give Vern's [right index] finger an extra day to heal," said Houston Manager Bill Virdon. Ruhle sliced the digit on a nail last week in a freak accident [the nail was hidden under a towel on the dugout steps]. "We'll use Bystrom Friday if we're ahead 2-1 in the playoffs," said Phils' Manager Dallas Green. "If we're behind at the time, we'll come back with Lefty [Carlton]."
Morgan not ready
PHILADELPHIA – Injured Astros' second baseman Joe Morgan, who sat out the Tuesday, night opener because of ligament damage in his left knee, may not be available to Houston until the third game, according to Virdon.... Pirates General Manager Harding Peterson predicts the NL again will vote down the designated hitter rule at the 1980 winter meetings in Dallas. "But sentiments have been changing and there's no doubt in my mind the NL will have designated hitters by 1985 at the latest," said Peterson, an avowed opponent of the rule. The last NL vote on the rule change, in July, was 5-4 against, with Pittsburgh one of the three abstentions.
Mind your mouth
PHILADELPHIA – Houston's Cesar Cedeno got credit for a postseason "hit" Tuesday – on a teammate.
Houston pitcher Joaquin Andujar, like Cedeno a native of the Dominican Republic, was cursing in Spanish during the Astros' early-morning flight to Philadelphia. He was overheard by Cora Cedeno, Cesar's bilingual American wife.
Mrs. Cedeno was upset by the remarks and Cesar went after Andujar to uphold his wife's honor.
The result: Andujar showed up at Veterans' Stadium here Tuesday night with a puffy nose.
Surgery for J. R.
NEW YORK – Houston Astros' pitcher J.R. Richard, whose life was threatened by a stroke July 30, will undergo additional surgery early next week in an undisclosed California hospital, Tom Reich, his agent, said Tuesday night.
"This is an important step in J.R.'s recovery," Reich said in a telephone interview from Pittsburgh. "He still has a clot remaining in his shoulder and the surgery will be to correct that problem."
Richard collapsed during a workout at the Astrodome on July 30. He underwent emergency surgery later that day and surgeons removed a blood clot in a neck artery.
Reich said next week's surgery was not being forced by new complications. "This one [the surgery] is planned," he said.