Corpus Christi Times - October 9, 1980

Thrifty Astros make those rare hits count


By Mike Littwin, Los Angeles Times


PHILADELPHIA – The Phillies left them every way but laughing Wednesday.


Recalling their usual playoff posture, the Phillies were run down by the Astro train, which pulled out sometime just before midnight Wednesday, local time.


In Game 2 of the National League playoffs, Houston erupted in the 10th inning for all of three hits. But base hits are a precious commodity to the never-wasteful Astros, who turned those hits into gasp four runs and a 7-4 victory over Philadelphia.


The Phillies, meanwhile, left 10 runners on base in the final four innings, two on in the 10th with dangerous Mike Schmidt at the bat


Down 1-0 in this series Tuesday, the Astros didn't get mad. They got even.


And now they're going home to the Astrodome, where they win as regularly as the beer flows and the bull bucks at Gilley's honky-tonk.


"You had to look closely," said Joe Morgan, the Astros' elder statesman, "to see which team had the playoff experience."


Actually, it was a simple matter. The Phillies, who outhit the Astros 13-5 for nine innings and 14-8 for 10, played just as they always seem to do in the playoffs, from trouble.


The Astros, who are new to all this, got the split they needed in one of those must games people like to talk about. But the Astros aren't new to that concept, or are you forgetting Monday's one-game pre-playoff playoff in Dodger Stadium?


"When we've had to win," Morgan said, "we've come through. Maybe people will stop underrating us if we do it a few more times."


Terry Puhl, who had three hits that night, led off the 10th with a single to right. Enos Cabell sacrificed him to second, and Philly Manager Dallas Green chose to walk a hobbled Joe Morgan and pitch to Jose Cruz, the best hitter the Astros can muster.


He singled to right, Puhl scoring and the Phillies breaking down. A bad relay to the plate put runners on second and third and the Phillies deep in an extra-inning hole. Cesar Cedeno's ground ball got one run, and Dave Bergman's triple – the Astros’ only extra base hit – brought around two more.


Such an explosion.


But the Phillies weren't yet undone. They had scored in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game at 3-3. And they had gotten three hits in the ninth, just no runs.


And in the 10th, the Astros were feeling the pressure, lead or no, Joe Morgan or no.


Larry Bowa beat out an infield hit. Frank LaCorte walked Bob Boone and was behind 2-0 on pinch-hitter George Vukovich when Houston Manager Bill Virdon called on Joaquin Andujar.


He got Vukovich to fly out and Pete Rose to force Boone at second, but shortstop Craig Reynolds threw the ball away, allowing one run to score and Rose to take second. Andujar then took his turn at walking a batter, this time Bake McBride. You had to wonder what he was thinking.


For up next was Schmidt and his 48-homer bat. They took their position at home plate with a chance to tie the game. Instead, they flied deep to right and the many fans who left early were justified in their lack of confidence.


When the Phillies won Tuesday, it was their first postseason victory at home since 1915. And unless they can win two of three at Houston, they'll have to wait at least one more year.


The Astros play the next three at home, where they're 55-26. But the Phillies have won four of six there this season and 21 of their last 28 on the road anywhere. Maybe they're better away from the boobirds.


For most of the 3 hours, 34 minutes before it would end, it appeared the Phillies would silence their critics and rid themselves of the no-name Astros.


The Phillies got two runs in the fourth against Nolan Ryan on consecutive doubles by Schmidt and Greg Luzinksi and a single by Garry Maddox to take a 2-1 lead. Some thought Dick Ruthven would make it hold.


The Astros had scored in the third when Reynolds had walked, taken second on a sacrifice and scored on Puhl's first hit. A one-hit rally.


By the seventh, Ruthven had allowed two hits. But his third followed a two-out walk to Ryan in the seventh. Again, Puhl, a 24-year-old from Saskatchewan who went to a high school where they didn't have baseball, provided the big blow, a run -scoring double. Ryan wasn't pretty rounding the bases, but he got there, sliding to beat the throw to the plate. Another one-hit rally.


In the eighth, Morgan doubled and scored on a Cruz single, this time against reliever Tug McGraw, and the Astros, with five hits, were ahead, 3-2.


The Phillies tied the score in the eighth when Luzinski singled to open the inning. Pinch-runner Lonnie Smith was bunted to second and scored on Maddox's single to center. Cedeno made a nice play, came up with the ball cleanly and threw accurately. But Smith can fly.


Maybe he should give lessons.


For it was in the ninth, Phillie fans are certain, the game was lost. McBride singled with one out. Schmidt singled right behind him. Smith then looped a single to right. McBride played it as conservatively as Ronald Reagan, halfway down the line. He didn't move until the ball struck ground, and by then it was too late to go.


"It's either the outhouse or castle on that play," Manager Green said.


Right fielder Puhl – he was everywhere Wednesday – said later he didn't have a chance on the play. McBride wished he'd told him, for LaCorte got Manny Trillo to strike out, overpowering him with a two-strike fastball, and Maddox to pop to first.


None of the Astros wanted to say they now held the upper hand.


They don't boast, these Astros. Morgan speaks of them as a nice team, a gutty team. Not his old Cincinnati Reds, certainly.