Monessen Valley Independent - October 9, 1980

Astros Eye Homecoming


PHILADELPHIA (UPI) – The Houston Astros had to make one of the most grueling road trips in sports over the past six days.


The odyssey spanned more than 6,000 miles, from Houston to Los Angeles to Philadelphia and back to Houston, and six games of unyielding pressure in front of ear-shattering, hostile crowds.


But safely back in their Houston homes today, the Astros not only are breathing, they’re practically on top of the world.


Unheralded Jose Cruz broke a 3-3 tie with an RBI single to ignite a four-run 10th inning Wednesday night that carried the Astros to a 7-4 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies and an all-important split of the first two games of the National League Championship Series.


After an off-day today, the two teams meet again Friday afternoon in the Astrodome, where the rest of the best-of-five series will be played Saturday afternoon and, if necessary, Sunday night.


“This game was very important,” said reliever Joe Sambito, who helped put out one of many Philadelphia fires in the game.  “We’ve been on the road for six days and we’ve played in front of about 350,000 people – all cheering against us.  We are in a good position right now.”


Joe Niekro, who will oppose the Phillies’ Larry Christenson in Game 3, is looking forward to the homecoming.


“It’s time we’ve got some people screaming for us,” he said.


Wednesday night, Houston came back from its 3-1 loss of Tuesday’s first game with fine relief pitching and timely hitting and Manager Bill Virdon allowed himself a smile, even if he wasn’t conceding the momentum had swung his team’s way.


“When we go home, we play well,” Virdon said.  “I came here for a win but I wanted it to be the first one so we had a chance to win two.”


If it weren’t for the Astros’ bullpen triumvirate of Sambito, Dave Smith and Frank LaCorte, the game might have gone to the Phillies, seeking their first NL pennant in 30 years.


Sambito and Smith left the bases loaded with Phillies in the seventh after striking out Bake McBride and Mike Schmidt, respectively.  Smith allowed the tying run in the eighth on a Garry Maddox single but stranded two runners.


Then LaCorte, the winning pitcher, waded out of a based-loaded jam in the ninth.  McBride and Schmidt singled but McBride failed to score on Lonnie Smith’s bloop single down the right field line because he was held at third by coach Lee Elia, who admitted later, “I screwed it up.”


LaCorte struck out Manny Trillo and retired Maddox on a foul pop-up as the Phillies left the bases loaded, giving them eight left for the seventh, eighth and ninth.


“I’m always concerned when guys don’t score,” Phils’ Manager Dallas Green said.  “We had our chances to win the game and we didn’t do it.  It’s as simple as that.”


The Astros’ bats took over in the 10th.  Terry Puhl, who also had two RBIs, led off with his third hit of the game.  After a sacrifice, Joe Morgan was walked intentionally before Cruz grounded a single to right off loser Ron Reed to help send his team back to Houston in fine shape.


Cesar Cedeno added an RBI on a fielder’s choice and Dave Bergman poked a two=run triple to give the Astros more breathing room.


“The idea was to split here,” Cruz said, then added, “I know we can win two out of three in Houston.”


But, Green thinks the same way.


“We were in the same position in Montreal and we didn’t do too badly there,” he said of the Phillies’ division-clinching series against the Expos.  “I don’t feel too bad about it.”

Morgan, Rose Still Winners


By the United Press International


PHILADELPHIA (UPI) - For years, Joe Morgan and Pete Rose forged and celebrated victory after victory for the Cincinnati Reds.


Now, on opposite teams competing in the National League playoffs, the two are still showing they know how to win.


Just 24 hours after Rose had done the same thing for Philadelphia, Morgan served as catalyst for the Houston Astros in their 10-inning, 7-4 victory over the Phillies that evened the series at one game apiece.


"It's fun to play against Pete," said Morgan, who doubled and scored the goahead run in the eighth and received an intentional walk in a decisive four-run 10th. "I respect him. He's a friend and he's such a great ballplayer."


But with the competitive spirit they share, Morgan is trying his best to beat Rose's club and reach the World Series in Houston's first-ever trip to post-season play. And he believes he has the team to do it.


"These guys have really battled and battled and come a long way," he said. "If I didn't know, I wouldn't know which team doesn't have playoff experience."


The Astros hope to continue displaying their unusual poise beginning Friday in the Astrodome, where the remaining games in the best-offive series will be played. 

Will Phillies bounce back?


By the United Press International


PHILADELPHIA (UPI) - The Philadelphia Phillies aren't out, but they surely do seem down — their protests to the contrary.


"It's no big deal; it's over with," said Phillies' third baseman Mike Schmidt, who was confident his team could bounce back from the 10-inning, 7-4 loss to Houston Wednesday night that evened the best-of-nve National League playoffs at one victory each.


We have a day off to relax, and then we have to win two out of three (in Houston)," Schmidt said. "That's all there is to it. We plan on playing well when we go there (Friday)."


That's right, said the Phillies' demanding rookie Manager Dallas Green. No sweat.


"We've played down there before, you know," Green said. "It's not as if we're doing something completely new."


"We were in the same position in Montreal, and we didn't do too badly up there," he added, with more than a trace of sarcasm.


The behavior of the Phillies in their quiet, gloomy clubhouse Wednesday night, however, belied their breezy statements. The veterans of the NL East championship teams that were shut out at home in the 1976, 1977 and 1978 playoffs had to be wondering if Tuesday night's 3-1 triumph over Houston, their first playoff victory at Veterans Stadium, was a fluke.


The Phillies played Wednesday night much like they did in losing those other years, letting scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity slip away.


Still they declared they would be able to erase their errors from memory in time for Game 3.


"Team effort lost just like the team effort won it for us last night," said first baseman Pete Rose. "We got about 14 hits off their pitchers and we sure can do it again."