Philadelphia Inquirer - September 10, 1980
Are Pirates doomed to that fiery furnace?
By Bill Livingston, Inquirer Staff Writer
At this point, you would not want the firemen in the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen to put out the grease fire in your Hibachi... not unless you are preparing barbecued neighborhood.
"There have been games in this stretch," said a downcast Kent Tekulve, "where some of the hits I've given up just drop in and there's nothing you can do, and games where, like tonight, I just stunk."
"I didn't throw one pitch where I wanted it tonight. I can't afford many more nights like this."
The Pirates, losers 17 times in 22 games, were a team that won the world championship with a snake-charmer's bullpen last year. This season, the snakes have bitten.
"I don't quit on people," said Pirates manager Chuck Tanner after the 14-inning loss last night to the Phillies. "We went to the dance with Tekulve last year and we will this year, too."
No one suggested it, but the dance may be a last tango for the Bucs.
Last night's final steps in the Pittsburgh Reel came on a squeeze bunt that Bob Boone executed, with Garry Maddox flying home from third ahead of reliever Mark Lee's wild, wide throw to catcher Ed Ott.
"The bunt didn't catch us by surprise," said Tanner, who elected, with one out, to pitch to Boone rather than walk him, setting up a double-play situation for Greg Gross.
"But this was a tough one... our toughest loss of the year. Boone just wanted to get the ball on the ground, because the guy (Maddox) was running."
"He was dead at the plate," said Ott, "if the ball wasn't thrown away. We had him easy, but on a play like that, you've got to make a bang-bang throw. A good throw gets him. But you're worried more about hurrying the throw than putting it right on the money."
Whether the most immaculate of throws would have nipped Maddox is highly debatable, but the Pirates can be excused for finding silver linings in the hurricane that is sweeping them out of the East Division race.
There was leftfielder Lee Lacy's misplay on Boone's curving drive in the second inning, when Lacy, whipping his head back like a picnicker buzz-bombed by an angry wasp, spun away from the ball, giving Boone a phantom double and offsetting the early 2-0 edge Pittsburgh had taken on Steve Carlton.
"I didn't ask him about it," said Tanner, "but I'm sure he lost it in the lights."
There was Matt Alexander, in the 12th, steaming for the plate when Manny Trillo fumbled the ball after forcing Mike Easier at second. Boone blocked the plate, Alexander caromed off his shin-pads, and the tag was applied while Alexander's foot stabbed at the plate.
Most of all, there was the extravagant waste of the splendid seven innings hurled by John Candelaria. In this season, when the rainbows have vanished for the Pirates, not even the Candy Man can for nine innings.
Candelaria injured his touchy back in the sixth inning and Pittsburgh's fate was thus entrusted to that capricious bullpen.
"That's as good as Candy has pitched," said Tanner. "He wanted to ice it (the back) and stay in, but I said, 'No, no, I'm not gonna take that chance.' He just couldn't throw a breaking ball after he hurt the back.
"We have a long way to go; I wasn't gonna risk Candy. But you can't pitch better than that, unless you throw a no-hitter."
Tanner would find in a potato famine a dandy way to cut down on starch in his diet. And so the events of this solemn September have so far failed to dent his persistent optimism.
"No bad omens," he summed up last night. "We played a good ball game tonight. We'll bounce back. We have a long way to go yet."
Four games behind in the loss column with 23 to play, with a bullpen that resembles a human bonfire gives the trip psychedelic overtones, however.
The Pirates have gone to hell. There's no guarantee they have a round-trip ticket.
Phils battle Mets at Shea
With pennant fever spreading, the Phillies' fans get a break tonight.
They can watch their stalwarts take on the Mets at Shea Stadium at a decent hour (8:05, Channel 17).
Remember those late games on the West Coast last week!
The lowly Mets are going nowhere themselves, but this is the time of year the spoilers emerge from their cocoons.
PHILLIES at New York (TV-Ch. 17; Radio-KYW-1060, 8:05 p.m.)
Phils win was with Bucs, 5-4
Boone’s bunt wins it in 14th
By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer
Phillies-Pirates games never resemble Phillies-Mets games, Phillies-Padres games or hardly any other sorts of Phillies games.
They are games that seem larger than life – larger, certainly, than mere baseball. There is a struggle going on here, a struggle of emotions and psyches. When these games are over, you feel like you have seen more than just another notch carved in the standings.
When last night's 14-inning chiller was over, when the Phils had finally squeezed their way to a dramatic 5-4 win, the first few moments of post-game panorama told it all.
What 43,333 drained people at the Vet saw was Larry Bowa high-jumping into Kevin Saucier's arms to complete the ultimate airborn high-five. They saw Dallas Green stomping up the first-base line, pumping his fist. They saw a team that is known for its cool take great delight in losing it.
They saw very graphically that this was not just any second-place team beating any third-place team. They saw a team reveling in the demolition of a Pirates curse that only a month ago had seemed lasting and indestructible.
"That, gentlemen, was a very, very satisfying win. I'll tell you that," sighed Green. "That's called grinding it out. I couldn't be prouder right now."
The 14th-inning rally began with a leadoff double up the left-centerfield gap by Garry Maddox. It was a big moment for Maddox, who, in one lowly week in California, had been benched for four games and made more errors in the two he played than he had made all last season.
The big job was then up to Larry Bowa. He had to get Boone to third, no matter what it took. He fouled off two bunt attempts with Pirates charging, people screaming, the organ blaring. But he moved him anyway, with a chopper to first.
"Bo had to get him over once Garry Lee got the double, no ifs, and or buts," said Green. "And give him credit. He did the job. They were rushing the hell out of him with the bunts. But he still got the job done, and that was it."
Green was thinking, "squeeze at that point, no matter what the Pirates did. But they chose not to walk Boone, and, "There was no decision after that," the manager said. "We know we've got to squeeze. That play works, if you've noticed. And we do it as good as any team in baseball."
The trick with the squeeze is to disguise it. And Green thought Maddox did a superb job of it.
"I didn't want to even give them any idea it was coming," Maddox said. "A lot of times, teams will pitch out just to see if the batter is going to square around. So you have to stay until the pitcher can't change where he's going with the ball."
Boone didn't know he was squeezing until he got to the plate and looked up at third-base coach Lee Elia. He said he wasn't surprised, "but then it's a good thing I didn't get a chance to think about it,"
The pitcher then was Mark Lee, the last soldier in the depleted Pirates . bullpen. He was a guy just trying to throw strikes. He threw one to Boone. He dumped it toward the mound, Lee heaved it over catcher Ed Ott's head, and the Phils were suddenly three games in front of the Pirates. They have made up nine games on them in four weeks.
In order to win last night, they had to do what the Pirates have always done to them – come back when it counts.
The Pirates had become only the fourth team all year to get four earned runs off Steve Carlton. So they led, 4-2, and had John Candelaria shutting down the Phillies on four hits through seven.
But Grant Jackson paced in to start the eighth. And the Phils tied it off him and Kent Tekulve (11 runs allowed, 14 hits in his last eight outings). Mike Schmidt's two-out triple made it 4-3. Greg Luzinski tied it with a single. So it was going to take overtime to win this war.
The extra innings featured three shutout innings from Dickie Noles, two from the Pirates' Enrique Romo, two more from Ron Reed. Reed's toughest adventure took place in the 12th.
Tim Foli beat out a one-out chopper to Bowa. Matt Alexander, the man who brought us the cross-the-plate-backwards act in August, ran for him and stole second. That set up a semi-intentional walk to Mike Easier. And Bill Madlock, who has hit nearly .360 in his last 39 games, was next.
Madlock thunked a slow hopper to third. Schmidt made a slick off-balance throw to Manny Trillo for the force. But Trillo had to leap over Easier, who had dared to take him out. And the ball slipped away somewhere in mid-leap.
Alexander broke for the plate. Trillo chased the ball for two steps, turned and whipped one of his classic laser-beam throws to the plate. Bob Boone blocked the plate like a regular Fuzzy Thurston, Alexander couldn't barrel through him and that was a very dramatic third out.
The Phillies then loaded the bases In the 13th off Solomon and rookie lefthander Rod Scurry. But Lee, the seventh Pittsburgh pitcher, wandered in to get Trillo for the last out.
So on it went. Toward an ending that could give pennant fever to a Rittenhouse Square pigeon.
NOTES: The Phillies face an interesting pitching decision next week. And that is whether to move Steve Carlton up in the rotation to pitch the final game in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Carlton, of course, is the only Phillies pitcher to win in Pittsburgh since April of 1979. His next turn is Saturday, so Wednesday normally would be his start after that. The hangup is, there is an off day Monday that might push everybody back a day. Pitching coach Herm Starrette said it's likely Carlton will go Wednesday but he and Dallas Green haven't made a final decision.
Stargell down, but not yet out
By Frank Dolson, Inquirer Sports Editor
He was standing behind the batting cage before last night's game at the Vet, an imposing figure wearing a black jersey with "Willie" on the back. Dale Berra, Yogi's son, was taking batting practice and Willie Stargell watched him closely, studying each swing. Berra wasn't making good contact. When he left the cage he looked a trifle upset.
"I'm going to question this young man," he said.
They talked quietly for a few minutes. When they were done, Berra no longer looked upset.
"He walked out of the batting cage, he wasn’t excited with what he had done," Willie explained later. "So I gave him an opportunity, when he got to go back in there, to work on things, to have something to think about. Hell, you only have so many swings in a career."
And Willie Stargell, the man they call "Pops," the veteran slugger who hit.455 with two home runs in last year's National League playoffs and.400 with three home runs in last year's World Series, wanted to help his young teammate make the most of those swings.
Still the same man
That's the beautiful thing about Stargell. Even now, even at a time when last year's glory has disintegrated into this year's frustration, he remains the same thoughtful, sensitive person who took the baseball world by storm 11 months ago.
Last night, a man approached Stargell before the game and asked him if he would talk to a young fan.
"Bring him out here," Willie said.
"He's in a wheelchair," the man told him.
"Bring him out here," Stargell persisted. "The biggest thrill in his life will be to bring him out here...." And as the man stood there, wondering what to do next, Willie turned, spotted a guard and called out, "Hey, let that kid in the wheelchair out here."
The gate was opened. The boy, wearing a red-and-white Phillies shirt, was wheeled out to the batting cage.
Stargell was magnificent. He shook his hand. He signed his glove. He needled him about the Phillies shirt.
The boy laughed and asked Willie if he'd pose for a picture.
"What if I say only if you take that shirt off?" Stargell countered, and then he flashed that big, teddy-bear grin, and they both laughed some more.
Pain doesn't show
If you didn't know that Willie Star gell was going through hell, that his left knee was swollen and aching, that his playing future was in doubt, you never would have guessed it by the way he acted last night. Or the way he acts any night.
It was that way when he played. Four-for-four or oh-for-four, a come- from-behind victory or a tough defeat, he was always – well, always Willie Stargell. And that's one of the highest compliments you can pay a man.
"I've alway felt, don't get too happy when things are happy and don't get too low when things are low," Stargell said.
Surely, no oh-for-four, no tough defeat ever made a man feel as low as the ordeal Stargell is going through now. The Pirates are in the closing weeks of a tight pennant race, struggling to break an uncharacteristic, late-season slump... and Willie Stargell and his swollen, aching left knee are chained to the bench.
"I'd rather be out there going oh-for-40 than sit here and be so helpless, he said.
And yet he refuses to let the frustration show. He refuses to be anybody but Willie Stargell.
"I just want to be me, no matter what," he said. "I'd give my left arm to be out there right now....”
But he won't be able to go out there until a doctor in Lansing, Mich., gives him the word.
Gutting the word
Stargell will see the doctor tomorrow. He professes to be optimistic about his eventual return. "I'm of the contention that all I need is more time," he said. "Now, if for some rea son the doctors can convince me that things are other than what I anticipate…"
His voice tailed off. Now, as always, Willie Stargell believes in positive thinking. Still, he has been beset by a succession of injuries... and he is 39 years old.
"I know there are only so many swings and throws that we have, he said. l know the time will come when you have to say, 'Hey, it's time for the kids to get out there and enjoy themselves,' and I'm only going to be out there as long as I can enjoy it. I'm not going to get out there and not have fun.
For a man his age with a bad knee there can't be that much time left to have fun playing baseball. But what ever the doctor tells him tomorrow, no matter how many swings he has left, he will go on being Willie Stargell. You can't ask for much more than that.