Chicago Tribune - October 9, 1980

Astros learn how to win in NL playoffs


Phillies beaten in 10 innings


By Dave Nightingale, Chicago Tribune News Service


PHILADELPHIA – When second baseman Joe Morgan joined the Houston Astros last spring as a free agent, he had a truthful, if semi-taunting, message for them.


"When I was with Cincinnati in 1979 and we were chasing you most of the year, we never worried about catching you because we knew you didn't know how to win," Morgan said.


Wednesday night, the Astros learned, beating the Philadelphia Phillies 7-4 in 10 innings to square the National League Championship Series at one game apiece. Even if they did leave a trail of chewed-off fingernails in the process.


Morgan, playing with a ligament-damaged knee, played a key role, slamming an eighth-inning double off Tug McGraw that led to a go-ahead Houston run and the first score off the Phillie reliever in 17 games since Sept. 1.


BUT JOSE CRUZ and Terry Puhl, two of only three home-grown Astros in the Houston lineup, got their master's degrees from "Morgan U." with a pair of run-scoring hits apiece – Cruz getting the game-winner in the four-run Astro' 10th.


And Joe Sambito and Dave Smith, the left- and right-handed leaders of the Astro bullpen, claimed their sheepskins with a masterful job of stopping the Phillies in a one-out bases-loaded situation when the score was tied in the last of the seventh.


And the one guy who looked lost when it came to knowing how to win was the Phillies' Bake McBride, who looked home plate in the eye in the last of the ninth and backed off. Faint heart never won fair lady.


"We accomplished what we came here for – a split to take back to our own ballpark," Morgan said. "You know, we had a nine-day road trip just before the season was over. And every time we had to win a game, we did. It was that way tonight."


You couldn't have told it in the early going, the Astros, making only two hits in six innings off Philadelphia starter Dick Ruthven. Back-to-back doubles by Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski and a run-scoring single by Garry Maddox gave the Phils a 2-1 lead over Nolan Ryan in that span.


BUT PUHL'S two-out double drove home Ryan in the seventh to provide a tie. And, moments later, the Houston bullpen got its chance to shine.


Larry Bowa and Bob Boone led off the last of the seventh with singles against Ryan and both advanced on a bunt by pinch-hitter Greg Gross.


"Nothing ever comes easy for us" sighed Houston Manager Bill Virdon, sending out a bullpen call for the left-handed Sambito. And Sambito did his job, striking out McBride after an intentional walk to Pete Rose loaded the bases. Virdon waved his magic wand again, calling for the right-handed Smith to face Schmidt, the major league homer king. And Smith slipped a called third strike past Schmidt, stranding three Phillies. [Philadelphia left 10 men on base in the last four innings].


And so it was up to Morgan, leading off the Houston eighth, to generate some offense.


"MY LEG WAS better today than Tuesday [when he didn't play]," said Morgan. "And I was glad to be able to help. My leg was so bad in Los Angeles, when it took us four days to clinch the division, that I just couldn't help. It was like we were playing the Dodgers seven against eight in L.A."


Morgan slipped off his rubber-cleated left shoe, the one he wears to play on artificial turf, and donned a standard steel-spiked shoe. "I’m a pivot hitter and I have to wear a regular spike on that foot to get a grip on my swing," he explained.


Morgan dug himself a hole at the plate, lashed a McGraw fast ball into the right-field corner for a double, changed back to a rubber cleat, and slid home with the go-ahead run on Cruz's single.


Smith couldn't hold the lead, Maddox singling home his second run of the game in the bottom of the eighth for a 3-3 tie.


And it looked as if all of Morgan's lessons were going down the drain for Houston in the bottom of the ninth, after singles by McBride and Schmidt off Frank LaCorte, the fourth of five Astro pitchers, put runners on first and second with one out.


LONNIE SMITH, a late-inning replacement for Luzinski, followed with a sinking fly ball to right field. "I thought 1 had a shot at it when it went up in the air," said Puhl, who was playing in right, "but then I realized I wasn't going reach it.


"But instead of playing conservatively, hanging back so I could take it on the high hop, I decided to keep running in for it and short-hop it. That was a gamble, but I knew that if I kept running, the guy on second McBridej couldn't go all the way to third until he saw the ball hit the ground."


McBride didn't go all the way to third base. Just 86 feet of the 90-foot way. And he was at a dead stop when Puhl grabbed the ball on the short hop and fired home. McBride made the turn at third, but had to retreat, leaving the bases loaded with one out.


Given a second chance, LaCorte slammed the door on the Phillies, striking out Manny Trillo and retiring Maddox on a foul pop to Art Howe.


"IT WAS A difficult situation for the runner; it's either an outhouse or a penthouse job," said Phillie Manager Dallas Green. "He doesn't want to end the inning, but he does want to score the run. In that situation, it's the baserunner's judgment."


Which, obviously, was faulty.


The Astros' game-winning rally in the 10th was almost anticlimactic.


Puhl led off with a single against Ron Reed, moved up on a bunt, and watched Morgan draw an intentional walk. Cruz then singled in the go-ahead run for a second time, Rafael Landestoy running for Morgan scored on Cesar Cedeno's infield grounder, and reserve first baseman Dave Bergman drilled a two-run triple off reliever Kevin Saucier for a 7-3 Astro edge.


LaCORTE MADE his teammates sweat in the last of the 10th, however, giving up a hit to Bowa and a walk to Boone. Joaquin Andujar took over and got a pair of outs [although Bowa scored on a wild throw by Craig Reynolds]  then walked McBride and had to face Schmidt, who represented the tying run.


"What was I thinking at that point? I wasn't thinking; I was praying," said Virdon.


His prayers were answered. Schmidt, took a rip at a 3-and-0 pitch and flied to Puhl to end the 3-hour, 34-minute struggle.


"I think we're in good shape now," said Puhl. "They have to win two games from us in Houston and they can only use Steve Carlton in one of them."

Schmidt not ready to wave white flag


By Bob Verdi, Chicago Tribune News Service


PHILADELPHIA – It was the stroke of midnight, but the Philadelphia Phillies didn't turn into pumpkins. They just remained the Phillies, a baseball team that often misses a chance to win, but never misses a chance to stir controversy and jog the most pessimistic thoughts from their annually dissatisfied fans.


So it was, as Wednesday night became Thursday morning, that Mike Schmidt lifted a pitch – 3-and-0 pitch, would you believe to right field for the final out in the 10th inning of a game the Phillies had no right to lose.


But they did, by 7-4 to the Houston Astros, who now lake 1-1 split to their beloved Dome, where the next three, if necessary, scrimmages in the National League Championship Series will be played.


Advantage, Houston, Mike Schmidt?


"No, I d.ori't see why they have any advantage," he said. "The best road club in the National League this year was us. There's no more pressure on us now than there was last weekend when we went to Montreal. In fact, there's less. And we did all right up there. They had champagne on ice, so we won the first two games and that's why we got here. Pressure. Nah. None."


Of course, there would be even less pressure than none at all had the Phillies been able to score one of the eight baserunners they stranded in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings before Astros Anonymous got four in the 10th to win. And furthermore, all those runners got to their appointed bases before two were out. A cardinal sin, but vintage stuff for the Phillies, who only Tuesday night broke a 65-year osing streak for postseason games at home.


ONE WOULD HAVE thought the Phillies had enough suspense after leaving the bases loaded in the seventh, or after leaving two men aboard in the eighth following a double by Garry Maddox that deadlocked the game 3-3.


But, no, in the ninth, Bake McBride stroked a one-out single off Frank LaCorte and Schmidt did likewise. Lonnie Smith, a youngster who was a splendid part-time player for the Phillies this summer, then followed with a looping flare to right field. Terry Puhl, an outfielder with an accurate, but medium-strong, arm approached it, but it fell for a single.


McBride, who had left second base tentatively, was doing no better as he approached third. And the coach there, Lee Elia, wasn't much assistance. He was waving his arms as though he were riding a log through rough waters. In summary, it was what former Philadelphia Manager Danny Ozark, the master of the malaprop, would have called a "Galaphonse and Astone Act." And. by the way, McBride would up holding third when he should have scored.


"What happened?" said present Manager Dallas Green. "1 don't know. I'm not McBride. I'm not the third base coach." Good thing. Otherwise, Green would have fined himself.


"Don't blame McBride." said Elia. "There was a little delay on his part. Puhl faked him into thinking he might catch the ball. As it turns out, he didn't catch it. and I think he would have scored. If I give him the green light all-the way, it's either a double play at second if the guy catches it, or a run for us if he doesn't.


"BUT, LIKE I SAY, I don't blame him. My hands went up to stop him, but at the same time I was saying for him to come. In the back of my mind, I realized we had only one out still, and I thought we could still get the run even if the guy in right field catches the ball. But if the guy catches it and our guy is rounding third, then we're out of the inning."


If Lee Elis sounds confused about this game of baseball, he has a reason. He once played for both the White Sox and Cubs. And in defense of McBride, he had several venues to observe: Puhl, the ball, Elia, and where he was going.


"You saw it," McBride said afterward. "I got no comment." McBride is one of several Philadelphia players to have graduated from charm school.


Manny Trillo could have sent everybody – maybe even McBride – home happy, but he struck out for the second out in the ninth. Garry Maddox popped to first base, and it was on to the 10th.


After the Astros assaulted Philadelphia for four runs on three hits, the Phillies did a bit of surgery on LaCorte in their half. Larry Bowa reached on an infield single, and Bob Boone walked. Joaquin Andujar replaced LaCorte in time to retire George Vukovich. Pete Rose bounced into a fielder's choice, but a throwing error by Craig Reynolds on the continuation of the play gave the Phillies a run, and some life.


WHEN ANDUJAR walked McBride, there was not only life, there was Schmidt coming to the plate representing the tying run.


"In that situation, I'm looking for Mike to pump the ball," said Green. "The man has 48 home runs, you know."


But with Andujar greeting Schmidt with three wide ones, and looking every bit the part of a nervous wreck who could walk the whole ballpark right about now, discretion might have called for Schmidt to take a pitch, right?


"No," said Schmidt, politely. "Not a chance. I mean, it's possible that I walk and load the bases and Lonnie Smith comes up next and ties it. But I'm expected to hit the ball out there, and I got the pitch. It was just out over the plate, and I just got under it. I just missed a home run. If you don't give a man a green light in that situation, where one swing could mean a tie game, when are you going to give it to him? An inch more this way or that on the bat, and I do it. If I hit a home run, and it's 7-7, then what do you say?"


You say that, at the stroke of midnight, it looks like this is the Phillies' year after all. But now, as they head for Houston, it might no even be their week.