Wilmington Evening Journal - October 9, 1980

Opportunity knocks, but Phils miss out


By Hal Bodley, Sports Editor


PHILADELPHIA – Bake McBride runs like a deer. First you see him, then he's out of sight.


Terry Puhl has an average arm for an outfielder, but nobody's going to confuse him with Dave Parker.


Last night's second game of the National League playoffs came down to Bake McBride's legs, Terry Puhl's arm, some clever theatrics and indecision by a third-base coach.


If the Philadelphia Phillies fail again to make it to the World Series, they may spend most of the winter thinking back to the ninth inning of the second game of these playoffs.


Houston, the anonymous team few expect to hold off the experienced Phillies, exploded for four runs in the 10th inning and went on to win 7-4. The best-of-five series is squared at a victory apiece with the third game tomorrow afternoon in the Astrodome.


Forget about the 10th inning and the Phils' ineffective relief pitching. In fact, most of the 65,476 customers headed for the Veterans Stadium exits asking each other why McBride did not score from second base on Lonnie Smith's sinking single to right.


With the score knotted at 3-3 and one down, McBride and Mike Schmidt singled to put runners on first and second. Smith, who fouled off six pitches with the count 3-2, finally delivered a flare to right. Puhl came in on the ball, let it drop in front of him and rifled it to home plate.


As the ball left Smith's bat, McBride broke from second and got all the way to the dirt area of third base. At that point, it appeared he held up at the direction of third-base coach Lee Elia.


McBride should have tried to score, but it was not Bake's fault he was held at third. First of all, his back was to the play. Elia, on the other hand, had it in front of him. Secondly, once McBride was that far, there was no way he was going to get back to second. So, he should have been signaled to continue by Elia.


Phils' Manager Dallas Green, who watched his team strand 14 base runners and out-hit the Astros 14-8, tried to make excuses for Elia.


"That's a difficult situation for a runner with one man out," said Green. "He doesn't want to end the inning but he does want to score the run. In that situation, it's the base runner's judgment. Bake went halfway and hesitated. When he got to third base, we held him."


Did McBride do the right thing?


"You'll have to ask Bake. It's entirely up to the base runner. It's one of the most difficult things for a base runner."


Elia made no excuses and if the Phils are blitzed out of the series at the Astrodome, the off-season may become a nightmare for the first-year coach.


"There was a little delay on his part, but it was no fault of Bake McBride's," said Elia. "My hands went up as if to say stop and at the same time, I said, 'No, come on.' He saw my hands go up and stopped.


"I guess it's putting a lot of pressure on myself, but inside I think that had I urged him on, he would have scored, Unfortunately, for the ball club and myself, it was a reflex action on my part. For some reason, the fact we only had one out kept sticking in my mind. I wanted that one run badly and thought we could still get it. In retrospect, that's probably why I held him."


Elia also admitted that the right fielder faked him into thinking he was going to catch the ball, thus the theatrics.


"My first reaction was he would catch the ball," said Elia. "I know, if he had, he probably would have doubled Bake off second. That's the thing that gnaws at me the most right now. Had I waved him in, he probably would have scored."


"We have to forget about this in a hurry," said shortstop Larry Bowa. "Bake normally scores on that play;'" but for some reason he got held tonight. It hurt, but we have to forget about that."


Nobody was talking about the fact Manny Trillo fanned and Garry Maddox fouled out to end the inning. In 1977 the Phillies were one out from taking a one-game lead in the third game of the National League playoffs against the Dodgers.


Los Angeles turned the game into a disaster for the Phils and won 6-5.


Disgruntled Philadelphia fans are wondering if last night's Houston victory may set the stage for another disappointment. It has all the makings for that.


"Just remember one thing," said Green. "We had to go to Montreal and win two out of three and did it. We'll have to do the same thing at the Astrodome."

Astros escape Phillies’ noose as series heads south


By Ray Finocchiaro, Staff Writer


PHILADELPHIA – The Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies are flying to Houston today with nobody sure who is driving this pennant express.


The Astros tied the National League playoffs 1-1 here last night, whipping the Phils 7-4 in 10 innings. The next three games in this best-of-five set are scheduled for the Astrodome, where the Astros would figure to be favored.


So who's in the driver's scat?


"Who, us?" said Houston Manager Bill Virdon, who might lose an emotion contest with Mount Rushmore. "It's a pleasure to go home with a victory but, as far as being in the driver's seat, you can never look at it that way against a good major-league ball club and Philadelphia's a good ball club. We still have our work cut out for us."


Phillies' Manager Dallas Green, who had little to smile about all night, agreed with Virdon and shrugged off the doomsayers who wondered if the Phils could win two of three in Houston.


"We were in the same position in Montreal," Green said, recalling the weekend the Phils clinched the NL East on foreign soil. "We didn't do bad up there. I don't feel too bad about it."


Houston right fielder Terry Puhl, who had three hits, two runs batted in and made a fine decoy on Lonnie Smith's ninth-inning fly ball to keep the Astros alive, also wasn't about to take the wheel.


"I wouldn't say we're in the driver's seat," he said, "but it's a little more than even. We still have to win two, but we'll have the fan support on our side now. What makes it more than even is that our pitching is awesome in the Astrodome. The ball doesn't carry well there, so their long ball won't be as effective as here."


Last night the only column the Phillies affected was the Left On Base category, where they stranded 14, including 10 in the last four innings.


“You're always concerned with guys not scoring," said Green. "We had a chance to win the game. We didn't do it. I felt we'd win and we didn't. It's that simple."


If losing ever is simple.


"We just gotta forget about this and just play like nothing happened," said the Phils' Larry Bowa.


"We just didn't get the job done," said Mike Schmidt, who ended the game with a fly ball with two runners on base. "I don't believe in a lot of talk about pressure and momentum. It's no factor once you walk out on the field. What's past is past, that's all.”


Counted out by everybody but themselves, the Astros will now have the fans on their side, though the crowds won't be as big as those here.


"Obviously this was a pivotal game for us," said Astro catcher Alan Ashby, who handled starter Nolan Ryan and the Houston bullpen aces with skill. "We're going back home where our fans won't boo us."


The 65,476 Vet fans – the most ever to see a baseball game here – weren't as tolerant, particularly since the Phillies blew a golden opportunity to take a 2-0 lead into Houston today when they left the bases loaded in the ninth.


An ineffective Ron Reed was the loser, being charged with all four runs in the 10th. Singles by Puhl and Jose Cruz, wrapped around an intentional walk to Joe Morgan, set the stage and Dave Bergmann's tri- -pie brought down the final curtain on any hopes of a Phillie sweep.


The Houston players didn't want to crow about the victory, giving the Astros a 10-7 record in extra innings, but the pride was obviously there.


"We had Steve Carlton on the ropes last night and couldn't do it," said Puhl, "so we had to win this one. Going to the Dome having to win two games is a lot different (for the Phillies) than having to win just one."


Frank LaCorte, the third of Houston's bullpen trinity, was the winner, while erstwhile starter Joaquin Andujar picked up the save.


LaCorte came out to face the Phils in the ninth and ran into one-out trouble when Bake McBride, hitless in his last seven at-bats, singled to right and Mike Schmidt singled to center.


Lonnie Smith, a replacement for Greg Luzinski in left, battled LaCorte to a full count, then fouled off six pitches before slicing a single to right to load the bases. McBride, . fearful that Smith's liner might be caught, hesitated going around third and had to hold up.


The Astros pulled the infield and outfield up, but LaCorte struck out Manny Trillo with a steady diet of fast balls to see a way out of sudden disaster.


And Garry Maddox, who had , driven home the tying run in the eighth, provided the Astro escape route when he fouled out to first.


"It was hard to see which team didn't have the playoff experience," said Joe Morgan, citing a familiar knock against the Astros. "Joe Sam-bito came in to strike out McBride (in the seventh) and then LaCorte strikes out Trillo. This is the most underrated team I've ever seen."


An earlier Phillies' threat had fizzled in the seventh when the Phillies KO'd Nolan Ryan.


Bowa started things with a line single to right. Bob Boone laid down a bunt toward the mound that Ryan let roll under his glove for a single. Greg Gross, batting for Dick Ruthven, sacrificed the runners to second and third.


Virdon decided eight hits were enough for Ryan and pulled his million-dollar fireballer and sent in another hard-thrower in left-handed reliever Sambito.


Sambito's immediate task, however, was to intentionally walk Pete Rose, hitting .667 in these playoffs, to bring up McBride.


McBride, batting a respectable .276 vs. left-handers, chased an outside pitch to strike out.


Virdon quickly yanked Sambito, who'd done his job, and brought in rookie Dave Smith to face MVP candidate Mike Schmidt, who'd doubled off Ryan in the fourth.


But Schmidt looked at a third strike and the ecstatic Smith went down the Astro dugout, slapping palms as the Phillies took the field and Schmidt stood at the plate, still not believing he'd struck out.


Green brought in Tug McGraw to pitch the Astro eighth and McGraw's no-run magic ran into somebody who'd seen the trick.


Morgan doubled to the right field wall and Jose Cruz singled past the glove of diving second baseman Trillo to score Morgan with the tie-breaking run.


But Tug quickly settled into his groove, coaxing Cesar Cedeno to hit into a nifty double play that featured Trillo's quick release, then got Art Howe on a grounder to second.


The Phils tied the game 3-3 against Smith in the eighth when Luzinski singled, then left for pinch-runner Lonnie Smith. Trillo moved Lonnie into scoring position with a perfect bunt and Maddox drove him home with a single to center. Lonnie's speed paid off as he slid under Cedeno's throw.


EXTRA INNINGS – Trillo tied a playoff record with seven assists... The 3-hour, 34-minute marathon was the longest in playoff history... Ruthven was 3-1 with a 1.40 ERA vs. Houston this season, while Ryan was 1-2, 2.88... Ryan struck out exactly 200 batters this season, hitting that plateau for the fifth straight season... The Phils travel to Houston today where they'll work out at 4 p.m. in the Astrodome... The Astros have no workout scheduled... Larry Christenson vs. Joe Niekro tomorrow at 315 p.m.... The Phils' fourth-game pitcher will probably be Marty Bystrom... Vern Ruhle, who ripped open his right index finger on a nail, says he'll be ready to go Saturday night.

Houston bullpen deals another winning hand


By Rod Beaton, Staff Writer


PHILADELPHIA – Through 10 innings they matched moves, manipulative masters with plenty of options and a lot at stake.


One was dealing from a hand full of arms, strong arms from a well-stocked bullpen. The other had the bats, a productive bench, but just one name that spelled relief.


The latter, Phillies Manager Dallas Green, played that card, Tug McGraw, in the eighth inning. McGraw was ineffective for the first time in a month and was discarded.


He was replaced by Ron Reed, who fared worse, taking his lumps and the loss, and Kevin Saucier, who just took the lumps, as the Phils fell 7-4 to Houston in Game 2 of the National League playoffs.


Manager Bill Virdon's Astros were able to escape Veterans Stadium with a split because his relievers, Joe Sambito, Dave Smith, Frank LaCorte and Joaquin Andujar, did the job the Phils' bullpen could not.


Virdon's bench does not match the Phils', but his save corps overmatches 'em. Even the durable McGraw fades with overuse.


Appearing for the fourth time in the last five games, the Tugger gave up a run for the first time since early September.


No one gets too much work in the Houston pen. Last night each member of their "Final Four" got a piece of the action and gave the Phils few pieces of the ball.


"The pitchers, I thought, were excellent," said Virdon, reflecting on the 3 innings of two-run relief he received. Green, on the other hand, was left with somewhat singed pennant hopes after McGraw, Reed and Saucier were ripped for five runs in three innings.


Right-hander LaCorte was the least effective Astro, giving up four hits but only one run. He needed Andujar's 10th-inning bailout to get the win, but he stiffed the Phils with the game on the line.


"LaCorte did it in the ninth," said Virdon, recalling his strikeout of Manny Trillo and foul fly from Garry Maddox that stranded three runners and the one that counted most, potential game-winner Bake McBride on third.


The strength of the Houston relief corps is its depth, the left-handed heat of Sambito to augment the others' hard stuff from the right. Most of all, it's their ability to throw those sizzling strikes.


Excluding Andujar, who started 14 games, the Astros' three bullpen aces, whose average age is 26, logged a 23-4 record with 38 saves. Their earned run averages are the kind that get renegotiated contracts – LaCorte, 2.82; Sambito, 2.20 and Smith, 1.92.


After McGraw's awesome 1.47, no Phil reliever averages under 3.42. Reed entered the post-season at a bloated 4.05.


"I've used all three of my guys (Andujar excluded) like this all season," said Virdon. "But when a pitcher is going as good as Tug, I can see why Dallas keeps going back to him."


But sooner or later, Green has to turn to the others. The feeling – and the result – just isn't the same.


"We had our chances tonight, but we just didn't get the runs we had to," said Green. "We battled all the way. We did OK, except the bullpen."


Houston's bullpen asserted Itself quickly when Sambito was summoned to eradicate a Phillie flareup in the seventh with the game tied at 2. With runners on second and third, he walked Pete Rose intentionally to face Bake McBride, lefty serving lefty.


He served three aces for a strikeout.


"I figured on Sambito to face McBride," said Virdon. "If they pinch hit for McBride, we have a good chance for the double play. But no way would I want Sambito to pitch to Schmidt."


In such a situation, Green would be left with a choice of getting ripped with Reed or slugged with Saucier. Virdon was rescued by Smith.


Smith followed Sambito's strikeout with one of his own, getting Schmidt on a called third strike.


The Astros liked the great escape so much, they repeated it in the Phils' ninth.


The 10th-inning carnage left when Houston finished with McGraw's successors served to emphasize the significance of the absence of Lyle, a September acquisition ineligible for the playoffs and World Series.

Astros happy with split at the Vet


By Anne Squires, Staff Writer


PHILADELPHIA – They did what they wanted to do. Not what some said they wanted to do, but really what they had to do – which was to win one game.


Houston Astros Manager Bill Virdon and elder statesman Joe Morgan both were emphatic about not coming into Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium with anything less than that go-get-em, let's-sweep air. Which is all well and good. You're supposed to want to win all the time, everytime.


But, after splitting the two-game series in Philadelphia, the Astros are going home with the feeling of two-game conquering heroes.


Even before the game, they had the relaxed yet roughneck aura many of the Texans are touting as the characteristic that has carried them this far.


"This is a scrappy ballclub," said utility man Dave Bergman, who came to the Astros from the New York Yankees as a "player to be named later" in 1977. "We don't beat the hell out of anybody, but we don't .lay down either. Some of us been together for a while and we have a lot of confidence in each other's capabilities. We know we will pick each other up, because a lot of us are capable of playing more than one position."


Bergman provided Houston with the pick-up that put the game away in the top of the tenth inning last night when he tripled to right-center to score Jose Cruz and Cesar Cedeno, giving the Astros a 7-3 lead.


"I'm having fun," said Bergman. "The pressure was getting here. It's kinda funny, you know," he said after the game. We came here to fight for a pennant and really the pressure is off. We're going back home now and it's going to be very interesting to see what Philly does, in that situation."


Bergman was not alone in his "what, me worry?" frame of mind. Last night's winning pitcher Frank LaCorte faced the Phils' Manny Trillo with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth. LaCorte fanned Trillo with a changeup for the inning's second out and got Garry Maddox to pop to foul to Bergman.


"I couldn't think about the pressure," said LaCorte, after the game. "There was no time to be tight. I just had to throw my pitches."


And, as it has been for most of the 1980 Houston season, it was not easy. But to Virdon and the Astros, "easy" is a word that defies usage.


"It's never easy," said Virdon. "We've been doing it that way all year. It was a typical game for us. It will be a pleasure for us to go home, but we have our work cut out for us.


"Nothing has come easy for us," said right fielder Terry Puhl. "We had to win (tonight), but going into the dome (Astrodome) they have to win two and that's a whole different story. Our pitching staff is awesome in the dome."


One Astro who can attest to that fact is catcher Alan Ashby, who has felt the sting of a Nolan Ryan fastball and has had two knuckles shattered by Joe Niekro's well-known tour de force.


Ashby likened Niekro's knuckler to a piece of paper floating from the upper deck of the Vet. “Did you ever try to catch a piece of paper like that?," asked Ashby. It's so wobbly and so erratic, I wish my glove were as big as the batting cage."


Ashby added Ryan's fastball has turned the index finger on his left hand purple more than once.


So what lies ahead for the rainbow-attired Astros, who fought their way into post-season play?


"Everybody thought we choked last year," said Ashby. "And when we lost three-straight to the Dodgers, people were ready to put that noose around our necks and pull it tight. I think that playing 163 games lifted the pressure off us. I don't think we're in awe of much of anybody – maybe that's not so good, but"... he shrugged, smiling, and excused himself to go take some batting practice.