Philadelphia Inquirer - September 15, 1980

Bystrom handcuffs Cardinals; Phils remain one back

 

By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer

 

As Marty Bystrom strolled to the dugout after the seventh inning yesterday, he had a shot at immortality and a pain in his foot.

 

The foot won. Baseball might be a game of inches, but in Bystrom's case, it became a game of feet in a real hurry.

 

Only six other pitchers in big-league history had thrown shutouts in their first two starts. And Bystrom wasn't even born when the last guy (Brooklyn's Karl Spooner) did it in 1954.

 

But there he was, two innings away yesterday, with a 7-0 lead to boot. And there he also was, sitting in the dugout in the top of the eighth, as some stranger named Albert (Sparky) Lyle was marching out of the bullpen to pitch.

 

Lyle shook off his Texas cobwebs and gave up four runs, but the Phillies won anyway, 8-4. So in the end, the day turned out to be good news for Karl Spooner, bad news for record addicts and insignificant to the won-loss column.

 

Bystrom's aching foot might have had a big impact on baseball history. But it appears it may not have quite the same effect on medical history.

 

As serious catastrophes go, Bystrom's injury is not going to rank with Ron LeFlore's wrist, Willie Stargell's knee or anything that ever happened to Larry Christenson after he fell off his bicycle. It was hard to tell, after talking to Dallas Green, in fact, whether Bystrom really was – or is – hurt.

 

"Aw, he was just rubbing his foot a little," said Green.

 

When writers replied that they were told Bystrom was injured, Green chuckled triumphantly.

 

"Well," the manager said, "that's the only way we can get umpires to give us extra (warmup) pitches every now and then, isn't it?"

 

A couple of guys still looked a little incredulous. So Green reassuringly added, "I wouldn't lie to you. The boy is all right. He'll make his next start, as scheduled."

 

What Green was trying to get across was that maybe Bystrom 's foot would have hurt a lot less if this weren't a pennant race. And it especially wouldn't have hurt so much if Lyle, newly arrived from Texas, hadn't needed some practice in remembering how to pitch.

 

"Sparky hasn't pitched in so long, he didn't know what the mound looked like," Green said. "So I had to get him in there. And one inning wasn't going to help."

 

There was one final wave of resistance. After all, it isn't every day that guys in their second week in the majors get to set records, is it?

 

"Men, I don't give a damn about records," Green announced. "Understand? We're in a gul-damn pennant race. There's one thing we're gonna learn on this team before it's all over with. And that is, it's t-e-a-m. I wasn't aware he had a shot at a record. But even if I had been aware, it wouldn't have made much impact on me."

 

Bystrom said he didn't know he had a chance at a record, either. He also said he had never heard of Karl Spooner and that he had hurt a toe on his right foot jogging on the Astro-Turf.

 

He had heard of Sparky Lyle and about the Phillies being a game out of first, though. So when Green suggested he take the rest of the afternoon off, he didn't rebel a lot.

 

"I knew I had a chance to throw two shutouts in a row, but if they want to get somebody, else some work, it's fine with me," Bystrom shrugged. "I don't care about records now."

 

If records don't get Bystrom worked up, at least they're not the only thing. He operates in a lower key than your average baritone sax. He has thrown 17 consecutive scoreless innings in the big leagues, and he has taken it as matter-of-factly as a guy setting page 893 of the phone book in type.

 

"I was nervous when I threw that first inning in L.A. (eight days ago)," he said. "I mean, it was my first time pitching in the big leagues. There were probably about 45,000 people there, screaming and yelling against you. But everything worked out good. And I said, now I know I can pitch here."

 

And that was that. He went out there last Wednesday, and the Phils got him three runs in the first. Yesterday, the pressure was on for about one inning.

 

Then Lonnie Smith led off the bottom of the first with a single, stole his 30th base and was singled home by Pete Rose. Two innings later, the Phils bombed Silvio Martinez for six more.

 

The first three came home on a 400-foot line-drive homer by Bake McBride. Then Garry Maddox doubled, Larry Bowa singled and stole second, Ramon Aviles was walked on purpose, Martinez went 2-and-0 to Bystrom and then took himself out of the game (back spasms).

 

George Frazier entered, finished off the bases-loaded walk to Bystrom, then dealt Smith a checked-swing two-run single. So the Phils had scored as many as the Vikings, and Bystrom had to be wondering whether the big leagues could really be this easy.

 

"I know I'm going to get knocked around one of these days," said Bystrom, who allowed just five singles and walked one. "It happens to everybody. But if it happens, it happens. That's the way it goes."

 

Besides, he still has a shot at one last record – most consecutive shutout innings at the start of a career. That one is held by fabled ex-Phillie George McQuillan, who threw 25 straight scoreless frames back in 1907. But then, Sparky Lyle didn't need as much work back then.

 

 

NOTES: The Phils remained a game back of Montreal.... Green has decided to pitch Dick Ruthven and Steve Carlton in Pittsburgh and hold back Bob Walk until Chicago next weekend.... McBride needs two homers to become the only National Leaguer to reach double figures in doubles, triples and homers.... Green finally rested Manny Trillo (2-for-43). "This way he gets three days off out of the next five (including two scheduled off days)," Green said.

Flying start delays Lyle in Texas, eludes him here

 

By Frank Dolson, Inquirer Sports Editor

 

He couldn't wait to get here. Not pitching for the Texas Rangers in a pennant non-race left Sparky Lyle chomping at the bit.

 

When they told him the other day in Anaheim that a deal with Philadelphia was in the wind, Lyle was so eager for it to go through that he immediately reserved space on three different planes, the last scheduled to leave at 1 a.m.

 

The first plane came and went. Also the second and the third.

 

"They didn't know if it was going to happen or not," he said. "They didn't give me any indication if it was on or off. I know I didn't sleep all night waiting for that call."

 

Finally, at nine the next morning, the call came... and Sparky Lyle, the workaholic sliderball pitcher and part-time author, became a National Leaguer. Oh, the joy of it all.

 

And so there he was yesterday at the Vet, the chewing tobacco stuck in his cheek, the look of defiance on his face, staring in to Keith Moreland for the sign. Let's see... one's a slider and two's a slider and three, that's a slider, isn't it?

 

After 1,253 innings of pitching in the American League, Sparky Lyle was finally about to make his National League debut.

 

The first batter he faced hit a fly ball to left field. Lonnie Smith settled under it perhaps 40 feet from the fence. Unfortunately, the ball landed about 20 feet from the fence. Oh well.

 

The next batter hit a tricky bouncer near second base. Ramon Aviles tried to make the difficult play and couldn't. Oh well.

 

After that there was a slider that took off and glanced off Moreland's glove. "He didn't have a chance on it," Lyle said, even though it was ruled a passed ball. Then came a base on balls and a line double to right and...BOO-O-O-O.

 

Welcome to Philadelphia, Sparky.

 

But if you watched him during that four-run Cardinal eighth, you may have gotten a clue as to why the man has been so extraordinarily successful over such a long period of time in baseball's most demanding, most pressure-packed job.

 

OK, so a 7-0 lead had been trimmed to 7-4 and the natives were getting restless. Sparky took it all in stride, the way he and all the great relievers take things in stride. And finally, when the inning was over, Tug Craw's new bullpen partner strode casually into the dugout an chirped, "That'll put the fear of God in you."

 

He is an original, Albert Walter Lyle. And once he gets his slider sliding, the bullpen firm of McGraw and Lyle should add more than a little color and excitement to the stretch drive in the NL East.

 

“Tugger thrives on pressure," Dallas Green said. "And this guy thrives on pressure. You got two guys now that you can waltz out there with confidence that regardless of the situation you're going to get the best they've got. It may not be enough, but it's going to be the best they've got."

 

Sparky's best was about what any long-time Lyle-watcher would have expected it to be yesterday: rather ordinary, to put it charitably. He is a pitcher who needs work to get that slider snapping and biting. Yesterday, he was coming off a long stretch of inactivity... and looked it.

 

"When I don't pitch," he said, "that's kinda what it looks like out there.... The slider doesn't break and go down. It just kinda stays there. It almost fights going forward really…"

 

That's why it was important for Green to give him the ball yesterday – even though it meant depriving rookie Marty Bystrom of opening his big league career with back-to-back shutouts. To help the Phillies, Lyle has to get the work he needs to rediscover that deadly slider.

 

"I should be able to get this stuff together in three, four days, I would think," Lyle said.

 

The four-run welcome by the Cardinals hadn't fazed him. The jeers from the Philly faithful hadn't fazed him, either.

 

"I don't really hear anything when I'm out there," the newest Phillie said. "I've been booed many times. By rights, you want to look at it, I should have been booed as far as that goes. I did a horsebleep job."

 

He will do a better job next time. You can practically bank on it. Sparky, after all, is back where he belongs, back where he loves to be – in the middle of a tight pennant race in September. If the Phillies win this thing, Lyle won't be eligible for the playoffs, but he'll have fun helping them get there.

 

"I'm just grateful for the chance to be here for that little length of time, anyway," he said. "It makes my heart glad. That's what baseball is all about – this time of the year. This is the time of the year that from the beginning of spring training you wait for."

 

And now it's arrived once again for a 36-year-old lefthanded sliderball pitcher with a big gob of chewing tobacco stuck in his left cheek, a devil-may-care look on his face. To unload him, the Rangers had to make a $250,000 settlement on the half-million-dollar broadcasting deal they had promised him when his pitching days were over, and the Phillies had to guarantee an extra year on his contract.

 

 

Don't let yesterday's outing fool you. Sparky Lyle just might be worth every penny of it.