Philadelphia Daily News - October 9, 1980

Phils Split with Split

 

Phils’ Elia Has Trouble as Traffic Cop

 

By Bill Conlin

 

"I think I'm putting a lot of heat on myself. It iook me 22 years to get here." – Lee Elia

 

The Phillies' latest descent into post-season hell began when Dick Ruthven walked Nolan Ryan, the Astros pitcher, with two outs in the seventh.

 

That was the start of Act III, the one Shakespeare always used for the turning point in his tragedies, the one where it all started downhill for Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, Othello and Julius Caesar, their fortunes careening inexorably out of control through Acts IV and V.

 

That could have been the Phillies' lineup last night, a cast of seasoned tragedian actors waiting for Shylock to take his pound of flesh, for MacDuff to lay on, for their too, too solid flesh to melt, thaw and resolve itself into a 1-1 deadlock in the National League playoffs.

 

Cast third-base coach Lee Elia as Hamlet. To send or not to send? That was the question.

 

Cast Bake McBride as Othello, consumed with the same passion to occupy home plate as the Moor was to occupy the fair Desdemona.

 

CAST DALLAS GREEN as King Lear, a manager who for once this season was able to keep what must have been a manic rage bottled within after watching his troops strand 15 baserunners. 10 in the grisly final four innings.

 

But unlike Shakespeare, the Phillies' almost unforgiveable 7-4 loss to Houston in 10 innings belonged in a theater of the absurd.

 

All the props necessary for the turning-point top of the seventh were Nolan Ryan perched on first with gimpy knees. Terry Puhl was the hitter. Ruthven was the pitcher, holding a 2-1 lead at that stage of the madness.

 

"I walk the pitcher with two outs, then the guy on their club who hits me best hits what should have been my pitch for a double,” Ruthven said in the shell-shocked Phillies' clubhouse.

 

Puhl smoked a liner to right-center which just ducked under McBride's outstretched lunge and skidded to the wall.

 

But wait a second... here came Ryan trundling around third like Ted Kluzewski in an Old-Timer's game.

 

"I was on my way to back up the plate and I felt like applauding," Ruthven said. "If Boonie can handle the throw, he's out by 15 feet."

 

Ah, that's the beauty of making the other team beat you with the accurate throw, the sure tag. Manny Trillo's relay from the outfield trailed sparks. But it short-hopped Boone, skidding off the dirt cutout and over his glove like a seed out of a grape.

 

"IT LOOKED LIKE such a certain out I didn’t even react when the ball darted by me to the backstop," Ruthven said. "I was still expecting Boonie to tag him out."

 

The Astros took a 3-2 lead in the eighth when Joe Morgan greeted Tug McGraw with a double and scored on a broken-bat single up the middle by Jose Cruz.

 

Even though the Phillies got even again in the bottom of the eighth after stranding three runners in the seventh, the inning foreshadowed the grim events to come. They had pinch-runner Lonnie Smith on second with one out and he scored when Garry Maddox singled to shallow center for his second RBI. Astros Manager Bill Virdon ordered an intentional walk to Larry Bowa and reliever Dave Smith justified the unorthodox strategy by striking out Bob Boone and getting pinch-hitter Del Unser on a soft fly to left.

 

A good director would have started the bottom of the ninth with three witches cackling over a bubbling cauldron. What are the Phillies eating these days, eye of newt, wing of bat. toe of frog?

 

McBride whistled a one-out single to right off right-handed power reliever Frank LaCorte and Mike Schmidt sent him to second with a single to center.

 

Lonnie Smith, who stayed in the game after running for Greg Luzinski, came up and his first post-season at-bat was his most impressive of the season, a grinding professional effort against a hard thrower. Smith fouled off six consecutive 3-2 pitches before slicing a semi-liner to right.

 

McBRIDE WAS NOT running on that particular 3-2 pitch, but he took off for third at contact like a bat out of hell.

 

OK, the ball is in the air, fading like a weak tee shot. Puhl, who was playing Smith in medium right, was charging the ball.

 

Let us hear first from McBride, whose initial reaction was base hit, score the winning run.

 

"As soon as the ball was hit I took off running because I didn't think he was gonna catch it," Bake said. "I got a step from third and Lee told me to stop. So I stopped and then he said. 'Go.' You know, by the time he says go. it's too late. It's just one of those things."

 

TV replay viewers saw Bake start to jam on the brakes as he approached the third-base dirt cutout, then look over his shoulder toward right field.

 

Puhl short-hopped the ball and made an accurate one-bounce throw to the plate. A national TV audience and a record 65,476 Vet witnesses will never know if the throw would have been good enough had Elia green-lighted Bake all the way. They will never know if McBride would have scored easily despite the good throw. They will never know because when Alan Ashby gloved the ball, McBride was standing on third listening to the crowd's moan of anguish.

 

AND THIS IS how the play looked to Elia. a 42-year-old baseball journeyman who was signed by the Phillies as a player and returned as a manager in their farm system in 1975. He had cups of coffee with the White Sox in 1966 and the Cubs in 1968. This was a helluva way for a dedicated career baseball man to become famous.

 

"The fact there was one out kept standing out in my mind." Elia said in a classy, no-alibi interview. "I wanted to make sure it was a run. That's why there was that hesitation.

 

"It was no fault of Bake McBride. He could have scored had I sent him. I think I'm putting a lot of heat on myself. It took me 22 years to get here."

 

The key to the play was McBride's commitment. He was nearly two-thirds of the way to third when the ball fell in front of Puhl. Had the rightfielder caught it. Bake would have been easily doubled off second.

 

On that basis, Elia's only choice in the ninth inning of a game tied 3-3 in his home park was to send McBride all the way, force the Astros to make the perfect throw, plate block and tag. But you had a lot more time to read this paragraph than the third-base coach had to make his decision, and that split-second hesitation could take its place next to Danny Ozark's failure to put Jerry Martin in for defense in the ninth inning of Black Friday in 1977.

 

"IF HE CATCHES it he's gonna get me at second base anyway," McBride said. "Things like that happen. Lee thought he was gonna catch it, (Enos) Cabell told me he thought he was gonna catch it. I didn't think the ball was hit that hard and I didn't look to see where Puhl was playing. When Lonnie hits a ball like that it's really slicing because he was waiting so long on the ball at 3-2. 1 just took off running as hard as I could. I don't know if I would have scored or not. I think it would have been a close play. But we had our chances all night."

 

The Phillies had more chances than the insiders the day they fixed the Pennsylvania State Lottery. And they still had two more shots to score the run after Smith's single loaded the bases.

 

"I should have hit a fly ball," said Manny Tril-lo from two lockers down. Trillo struck out on a riding fastball.

 

"Shoot, I should have hit a fly ball off Joe Sambito when we left the bases loaded in the seventh," McBride said. "And he struck me out."

 

LaCorte waded out of the desperate jam when Maddox popped a foul to Bergman.

 

It took the Phillies only two games of postseason play to miss the reliable left arm of Sparky Lyle.

 

RON REED, WHO pitched a scoreless ninth behind McGraw, was in immediate peril when Puhl led off the 10th with his third hit, a single to right.

 

Eight batters later, the Astros, a team which scores runs in big bunches about as often as Amtrak runs on time, had four runs. Green let Reed face left-handed swinging Cruz with one out and runners on first and second. Jose ripped a single to right. But Boone couldn't handle McBride's skidding throw to the plate and Puhl broke the tie. The Astros had runners on second and third after the throwing error. The infield moved in grimly and pinch-runner Rafael Landestoy scored from third on Cesar Cedcno's slow chopper to Larry Bowa.

 

The disaster was complete when Kevin Saucier replaced Reed and Bergman gapped a two-run triple to right-center.

 

Fans who had not already fled grumbling into the night had some flimsy straws to clutch at when LaCorte and Joaquin Andujar had trouble throwing strikes.

 

The Phillies had a run home and two runners on with two outs. Mike Schmidt stepped to the plate with the tying run.

 

WE WERE DOWN to Act V in this shabby drama, the Battle Scene, where Shakespeare's tragic heroes are finally dispatched amid trumpets, alarums and a clamor of swordplay.

 

Andujar fell behind. 3-0 to the major league home run leader. Schmidt had the green light, got a good swing at a fastball away from him and lofted a fly to right. Exeunt all to a theater in the round called the Astrodome.

 

"It was the right thing to do," Green said, surveying the wreckage of a half-eaten hoagie. "He's the one guy we had who could put three runs up there. He had a good rip. He just didn't quite get it all."

 

If. as the Bard suggests, there is a Divinity who shapes our ends, he's got a sick sense of humor.

 

 

As flies are to little boys, so are the Phillies to the gods; they kill them for their sport.

Green Issues Reassuring Whisper

 

By Tom Cushman

 

At an hour when the grim specter of playoffs past was revisiting our community, causing the citizens to experience a sudden numbness in the lower limbs, down at the stadium a voice of reassurance was being raised, ever so slightly.

 

The voice has been heard often during this difficult campaign, sometimes as far away as Kansas City – a town, incidentally, it had hoped to visit next week. After a bad day in the field the voice can rattle windows, peel wallpaper, part Howard's hairpiece, cause the Delaware to chop, and the cattle to stir in the Kansas City stockyards. But following last night's performance, which will not exactly be remembered as the ultimate in grind-it-out baseball, the voice was calm, soothing, forgiving.

 

"We battled our buns off," said Dallas Green, after the Phillies had fallen on same in Game 2 of these championship playoffs. "I felt all along we were gonna win. We could have, but it got away from us.

 

"ITS THAT simple," Dallas Green added. "I don't see why we'd feel overly nervous about tonight."

 

Those reporters from around the nation whose preparation for this assignment included a scouting report on Dallas Green were stunned. Following the complex, and devastating, events of the late innings, they had hustled to the interview area. The anticipation was that Green would be ticking as he walked to the rostum, accompanied by the music of John Philip Sousa.

 

Those same late innings were a showcase for flaws which had produced explosions in the heat of the division race. Questionable base-running, botched relays, shabby relief pitching, runners stranded.

 

"Are you aware that you had 15 men left on base?" the Phillies manager was asked.

 

Dallas shrugged. "That's a mess of 'em," he replied. "But at least we got them on. We hadn’t been doing that too well for a while."

 

 

And, so it went Think what you want about the noise Dallas Green has made during this long hot-cold season, but give him high marks for the manner in which he stroked the fragile personality of his team in this time of crisis.

 

The Bickersons were busy packing for the trip to Houston, and a final reckoning, when they noticed there were no hostile sounds coming from the manager's quarters. The spirit, which had deteriorated sharply as the game came apart, seemed to improve ever so slightly in this climate.

 

"DONT GET excited about our situation," said Pele Rose, the morale officer. "Let us worry about it.

 

"All this means is that it will take us four games to win instead of three. And everybody knows the commissioner can't make no money on a three-game series."

 

Pete can laugh at misfortune, make obscene gestures, handle it any way he wants, because he really believes it's only temporary. Dallas Green is not concerned about Pete. It is the others, the guys who played the Reds in ‘76 and the Dodgers in ‘77 and ‘78. Guys who keep their eyes pointed toward the ground during the playoffs, figuring that if they look up, what they'll probably see is a safe falling on them.

 

Dallas Green could have screamed at somebody for the play that did not produce the winning run in the ninth inning last night. When Lonnie Smith singled to right with one out. Bake McBride on second, Lee Elia controlling traffic at third, and McBride got no farther than third, now a guy could exercise his tonsils for a while discussing that.

 

"Coaching third base is not my job, so I wasn’t watching what happened there," said Dallas Green. "It had to be the base runner's judgment to some degree, and it's a very, very difficult decision to handle with one out. It's one of those 'outhouse or castle' type of situations."

 

GREEN COULD have socked it to Manny Trillo, the next hitter, for not at least getting a bat on the ball (he fanned) with the bases loaded. "There was some thought given to squeezing," Dallas said, "but Manny's not the best bunter in the world. I thought with his patience he'd drive the ball somewhere. But he didn't.

 

"We had the right guys up in the right situations, and we didn't get the hit we needed. That didn't happen just in the ninth inning, either. There were a lot of things earlier which contributed just as much to us losing. You can't lay this on any one guy. 1 think it was a team effort.

 

"Anyhow, I'm confident we'll get it together next time. We've had our backs against the wall before... we were in the same situation going to Montreal last week, and we didn't do too badly up there."

 

There is one difference, which Dallas skimmed over last night. In Montreal, the Phillies had Sparky Lyle in the bullpen. In Houston they will have Tug McGraw, who is not what you would call well-rested, and beyond that...

 

"The only area where I thought we didn't do all right tonight was the bullpen," Dallas Green conceded, after the Astros has evened the series at 1-1. "Rufus pitched a helluva game for us, and when he came out 1 felt the relievers could do the job. That's what those guys are paid for."

 

EVEN THE above was said softly, and with understanding. Green was then asked why he had not gone after Ron Reed with the lead run at second and a left-handed hitter (Jose Cruz) at bat. "Because of Reed's experience, and because I felt he would throw a ground ball," the manager replied. "He got the ground ball, but it wasn't hit at anybody. If it's at Manny, we get a double play."

 

Unfortunately, "ifs" do not appear in the line score. "So the only thing to do is accept what happened, live with it, get rid of it before Friday, and then go out and beat Joe Niekro," Green said. "Niekro will be enough of a problem without worrying about tonight.

 

"Check our road record, though, and you'll see why we're going down there with confidence."

 

Another way of putting it is that watching the Phillies preparing to leave their home base these days is reminiscent of the British departing Dunkirk. "I have a sneaking feeling," said Pete Rose, "that most of these guys would rather be on the road."

 

 

According to a card which was among the post-game litter on Dallas Green's desk last evening, the "Thought for the Day" had been:

 

"Whatever the mind can conceive, and believe, it can achieve."

 

As it turned out, what the Phillies achieved in the late innings was not what their manager had conceived. But in the hour after their failure, Dallas achieved understanding and a modulated tone which left the flower of the national media disappointed.

 

"Hey, don't misunderstand me," Dallas Green was heard to say at one point. "This one tonight grayed my hair up a little."

Pressure?  What Pressure?

 

By Ray Didinger

 

The door to the Phillies' clubhouse swung open last night and a dozen newsmen took a deep breath, blessed themselves and stepped inside. The temptation was to enter the room on knees and elbows, like Gls crawling across a machine gun range.

 

The Phillies' clubhouse is never a friendly place but last night it figured to be under martial law. The Phils had just coughed up the second game of this National League Championship Series, losing to the Houston Astros, 7-4, in 10 eerie innings at the Vet.

 

The finish was hauntingly similar to the three-run ninth Cincinnati used to beat the Phillies in the 1976 playoffs, the three-run ninth Los Angeles used to win here in the 1977 NCLS. This time, it was a four-run 10th for the Astros, a rally that had 65,476 fans glaring at the heavens.

 

I mean, it was all so weird. Bake McBride's throwing error led to one run. Danny Bergman tripled in two more runs and nearly equaled his entire regular-season RBI total (three) in the process. Considering the Phillies' playoff luck, Ingmar Bergman would probably have done the same thing.

 

LET’S FACE IT, the Phillies should move all their post-season games to Amityville, a place where folks are used to seeing unexplained phenomena, where they are used to hearing warlocks cackle in the night. For the Phillies, October isn't a month, it's a padded cell just waiting to slam shut on them.

 

Last night's loss was particularly frustrating, coming as it did in the wake of a 3-1 triumph in the series opener. Having won their first postseason home game in 65 years, the Phillies thought they had at last banished the strange curse which hung over their clubhouse all this time.

 

Last night, as they watched a game slip through their fingers, as they watched bases-loaded threats flicker and die in each of the last three innings, the Phillies realized they had celebrated too soon. Evil spirits, they learned, are not easily exorcised in baseball.

 

Going into the clubhouse following yesterday's costly setback, one expected to find the players overturning tables and punching walls in frustration. After all, this was a game they had wrapped up and tucked away only to let it flutter away like a frightened sparrow.

 

One glance around the room, however, revealed a surprisingly buoyant mood. Tug McGraw was off in one corner, wise-cracking his way through a TV interview. Tug had allowed his first earned run since Sept. 1, yet he looked like he was doing a toothpaste ad.

 

"WE JUST DON'T want our fans to get overconfident, that's all," McGraw explained. "If we had won tonight, the third (win) would have been an anticlimax. We wanted to build the suspense, you see."

 

Pete Rose was sitting by his locker, pulling on his socks, lecturing a group of journalists on the hazards of negative reporting. It seems someone had asked Rose if the Astros had seized the upper hand in this best-of-five series with the scene now shifting to the Astrodome.

 

"Nobody's in the driver's seat," Rose said. "It's tied at one game apiece. I don't see what you (newsmen) are getting all excited about. You're the only ones who are excited. None of us (players) are.

 

"You're the ones who are gonna make asses of yourselves by writing that Houston has control of the series now. That's really an asinine thing to say. We're throwing Larry Christenson at them Friday and he always pitches well in the Dome. This thing is still up for grabs."

 

Someone asked Rose what he thought of Nolan Ryan, the millionaire right-hander, who started last night's game for the Astros. Rose took his best swing at that question and hit a line drive right back in the interviewer's bifocals.

 

"I was up four times against him," Rose said. I got two hits and two walks. I'm 7-for-12 against him (for the season) so you're talking to the s wrong guy if you want to hear how tough Nolan Ryan was.

 

"HE'S GOING TO the Hall of Fame but so am I. Hey, this was a fun game tonight, it just so happens the wrong team won. But the commissioner wanted it this way. If the series had ended in three, look at all the money he would have lost at the gate.”

 

Across the room, Mike Schmidt was dressing and answering questions routinely. He had a tough night, picking up two hits but twice being retired with men in scoring position in the late innings.

 

If Schmidt was feeling any playoff pressure, he was hiding it quite effectively. If he were any more laid back, he would have been horizontal.

 

"It's no big deal," Schmidt said, shrugging off the loss as if it were a penny-ante poker hand.

 

No big deal? A group of writers checked the calendar on the wall just to make sure this was, indeed, October and the Phillies were playing for their first National League pennant in 30 years. That's no big deal?

 

"What I mean is, this game is over with," Schmidt said. "It won't do us any good to make a big deal out of it now. You worry about games (in the past) and you wind up walking around with your head down and making more mistakes. We've gotta forget this one and look ahead.

 

"Pressure? I don't see where there's any more pressure on us than there is on Houston right now. They are going home to play in front of a crazy, sellout crowd at the Astrodome. They've never been in this (playoff) situation before. The adrenalin is gonna be pumping. If anything, they'll be the tight team, not us.

 

"I DONT SEE where we should have that much to worry about. What do we have to do... go on the road and beat another team two-of-three games? Well, we did that last weekend (in Montreal) with the division (title) on the line. If that was pressure, I'd say we handled it real well.

 

"You go around and ask the guys in this room," Schmidt said, "And there isn't a one of them who doesn't believe we're gonna go to Houston and win this thing. Hey, this game didn’t deflate us or demoralize us or anything else. We played sloppy and we lost, but we know we can bounce back.

 

"We've played well on the road all season (winning 21 of the last 31 away games, so it's not like we have to overcome some big psychological hangup. We've played well in Houston (8-4) the last two years, so we aren't gonna go in there shaking in our boots.

 

"Look, if we're as good as we think we are, then we shouldn't be worrying about this weekend. If we can’t take two-out-of-three in the Astrodome, knowing what's at stake, then we don't deserve to be in the World Series. It's as simple as that."

 

"We could've made things a whole lot easier on ourselves if we had won tonight," Schmidt said. "We had our chances to land the knockout punch but we just didn't do it. We left 14 men on base and you can’t afford to do that. You can't expect your bullpen to perform miracles even night."

 

SCHMIDT HAD HIS chance to tuck this victory away but he took a called third strike with the bases loaded ii the seventh, then flied out to right for the final out with two men on in the 10th.

 

For the final out, Schmidt swung on a 3-0 pitch from Joaquin Andujar, the fifth Houston pitcher of the long weird evening. There was never any doubt Schmidt, the major league home run and RBI champion, would have the 3-0 green light with his team down three runs in overtime.

 

"It's the percentage thing to do,” Schmidt said. "I've got the best chance of any one on our team of hitting a home run and, in that situation, a homer ties the game for us.

 

"A walk just means Lonnie (Smith, the next hitter) has to hit a double ti win it. With two outs, you've gotta play to win with one swing of the bat As it was, I almost got it.

 

"I ONLY MISSED it by this much,' Schmidt said, holding his fingers a quarter-inch apart. "I got under it this much. If I get this much more bat on the ball, it's a home run. Instead it was just a fly ball to (deep) right.

 

"It was a good pitch by Andujar. He got it in a good spot, out over the plate. I was looking for something inside, something I could pull. He pui it away and I tried to go with it. I just couldn't get the top (right) hand over enough to carry it.

 

"Ahh, I'm not discouraged. While I was standing on third base watching them score all those runs (in the 10th) I thought, 'Man, if we could come back and win this game we would be unbeatable the rest ol the way.' And we almost did it.

 

"They had to use two pitchers (Frank LaCorte and Andujar) to preserve a four-run lead in the 10th. We battled back. We had the tying run at the plate, we had them rattled. We gave them something to think about for the flight back to Houston."

Astros:  Hand-le with Care

 

By Bill Conlin

 

Item: Gordon Pladson brings home a cuddly kitten. Before he can even think up a name for the pussycat she scratches the index finger on his pitching hand. He misses a week.

 

Item: Dave Smith buys a new Datsun-Z. It conks out on a busy freeway. Smith opens the hood, scowls at the engine, slams the hood back down, gashing the middle finger of his pitching hand. Misses three days.

 

Item: Vera Kuhle reaches for a towel on a dugout step in Los Angeles Friday night. Comes away with a bloody index finger, having snagged it on a hidden nail. The stitched finger splits while he's pitching Sunday against the Dodgers.

 

Item: The Astros beat the Dodgers in a one-game playoff Monday and Joe Sambito wrestles with a champagne cork. He slashes the index finger on his pitching hand on the little metal disc atop the cork.

 

Item: Frank LaCorte is celebrating Monday's victory when he goes in search of his dad. He passes a clubhouse fire extinguisher and yelps, “Take that. Dodgers."

 

HE PUNCHES THE little glass window with his left hand (“I ain’t that stupid, to use my right") and comes away with a bloody handful of splinters.

 

Mordecai (Three Finger) Brown is the patron saint of the Houston pitching staff.

 

Little Jack Horner is their favorite fictional character. You remember Jack... stuck in his thumb and pulled out a plum.

 

Nobody hollers "We're No. 1" because they're all afraid to jab a finger into the night air and have it come back all bloody and broken.

 

When they celebrate happy moments they give each other the "high-four" instead of the "high-five."

 

Last night, Houston beat the Phillies. 7-4, in 10 bloody innings to tie this strange playoff series at a game apiece. Go ahead, say it. it looked like the fickle finger of fate had poked the Phillies in the eye one more time.

 

Nolan Ryan started for Houston. When Ryan was younger he was bewitched by finger blisters. He tried all sorts of remedies, including soaking his hand in pickle brine.

 

Now, he scrapes his fingers before every start with a scalpel, like a safecracker eliminating fingerprints. It works.

 

When Ryan left last night's game. Bill Virdon, the little Dutch boy who manages the Astros, called on Sambito, Smith and LaCorte to stick wounded fingers in the dike.

 

THEY HELD BACK a flood of base-runners, 10 in the final four innings. with Joaquin Andujar getting the last three agonizing outs.

 

There is nothing wrong with Andujar's index finger, even though he uses it like a smoking gun, pointing it at hitters he gets out.

 

So, while there was plenty of finger-pointing going on in the Phillies' clubhouse, the Astros stuck their hands in their pockets and their hearts back in their chest cavities and headed home to the Dome.

 

Sambito was the first guy Virdon fingered, bringing him in in the seventh inning with runners on second and third and one out. He ordered Sambito to intentionally walk Pete Rose.

 

That's like asking a fireman to splash some gasoline around before turning on the hose.

 

"Actually." Sambito said afterward, "my theory on that is, when I come in, my job is to throw strikes. I throw eight warm-up pitches, trying to throw strikes.

 

"Then, first thing, I'm asked to throw four (pitches) out of the strike zone. And then come back and throw strikes again."

 

That is what he did, throwing three strikes to Bake McBride, the last one a rising fastball that finished almost eye-high.

 

"I knew I wasn't gonna face Mike Schmidt," Sambito said. "So I just aired it out, knowing all I had to do was get McBride out.

 

“THREW HIM fast balls. The last pitch ran up and away from him, out of the strike zone. Did the finger look like it was bothering me?"

 

In came Smith to whiff Schmidt and end the inning. "A changeup, a forkball," Smith recalled.

 

Houston rattled Tug McGraw for a go-ahead run, but the Phillies tied it in the bottom of the eighth and LaCorte came on to pitch the ninth.

 

You've got to hand it to LaCorte. Just hand it to him carefully.

 

He gave up singles to McBride and Schmidt with one out, then watched Lonnie Smith foul off five pitches before blooping a single to right.

 

"Foul, foul, foul, foul," LaCorte said. "I'm standing there wondering, am I gonna get out of this thing?

 

"And then he hits it and I thought the game was over. McBride was running on the pitch. I guess he had to hold up to see if Terry (Puhl) catches it.

 

"I put my head down, because I thought it was over, and then he held up and I said, 'Wow.'"

 

Reprieved, LaCorte struck out Manny Trillo and popped up Garry Maddox to kill that rally.

 

"TRILLO IS A contact hitter." LaCorte babbled giddily. "I said, 'Here it comes." If he's gonna get a hit he's gonna hit my gas."

 

Gas is the current slang for fastball. Last night, the Phillies got nothing but gas pains, although they did chase LaCorte in the 10th after Houston had scrounged four runs and a 7-3 lead.

 

"I'm thinking so much about throwing strikes I couldn't get the damn ball over," LaCorte confessed. running his wounded hand through his black hair.

 

"I've got the lead, I gotta throw strikes, and suddenly I can't. But Joaquin picked me up and that's been our story all year."

 

Andujar has some puffiness around his jaw, where he stopped a knuckle sandwich delivered by Cesar Cedeno the other night. But there is nothing wrong with his pitching hand.

 

The Phillies did get a run, and McBride walked, bringing Schmidt to the plate, representing the tying run.

 

Andujar threw three balls. And then Schmidt slashed at the 3-0 pitch and popped it to right field. Andujar celebrated by aiming his index finger at the Phillies' bench, pulling the imaginary trigger, blowing away imaginary smoke.

 

"I don’t want to give anything good to Schmidt," Andujar explained. "He walks, I don't care. I'll get the next guy out.

 

"I'm not surprised he swings 3-and-0. He do it to me two other times. Hit two homers.

 

"BUT THIS TIME I throw him on the outside corner. He's waiting for high gas on the inside. But I'm not gonna throw a strike to Mike Schmidt.

 

"That's why we lose the game last night. Luzinski, Schmidt, in game situations, don't give them anything good to hit."

 

Andujar was hunched over a plate of fried chicken. Finger-licking good?

 

At any rate, the moving finger having writ, moves on. To Houston. The Astros have Joe Niekro pitching tomorrow and he grips the ball with his knuckles.

 

On Saturday it is the luckless Ruhle's turn and trainer Don Kiger says that Ruhle's damaged finger has healed splendidly.

 

Kiger dismissed the series of freakish finger injuries as coincidence, just a string of "crazy" events.

 

Would he care to quote odds on a pitcher ripping open a finger reaching for a towel in the dugout? "Astro-nomical," is what he said. Honest.

4 Winners

 

There were four winners last night in the Daily News Playoff Home Run Payoff contest. In the fifth inning of the Phillies-Astros game. John Suppa of Philadelphia won $10 on a single by Pete Rose. Winners of four tickets each to a 1981 Phillies' game were Edward Nahorny of Philadelphia, E. Beulah Becker of Reading and Constance Garvin of Drexel Hill.

 

To date the Daily News has paid out $19.295.