Camden Courier-Post - September 16, 1980

Phils, Expos figure to outrace Pirates as gun lap approaches


By Rusty Pray of the Courier-Post


PITTSBURGH – The season of 1980, one considered by many lost to the Phillies, has come down to a final 20 days. And in that time, the Phillies could surprise a lot of people, including perhaps themselves, by winning the National League East Division title.


They begin a seven-game road trip here tonight in Three Rivers Stadium against the Pirates only one game out of first place. They've remained tenaciously close to the division-leading Montreal Expos during the last 12 days and now find themselves in a position to make a serious run at the pennant.


"We're as prepared as we can be in this type race," said Manager Dallas Green prior to the Phils' arrival here. "We're physically sound, mentally in good shape... Everybody seems to be playing fairly decently now. The road doesn't bother us. We've played pretty decently on the road this year. I don't have any qualms at all about going into this next stretch."


The Phils meet the Pirates head-on for the last two times tonight and tomorrow They will play the Expos one-on-one six times. Much, of course, can happen.


On paper, the race shapes up as a startlingly close one. The Phillies are the healthiest of the three clubs, but the Expos have pitching and speed, and the Pirates have an advantage in the schedule.


Indeed, the race to the finish could be as tight as an Olympic 100-meter dash. It would not, in fact, be stretching a simile too far to evaluate the various strengths and weaknesses of the three contenders in terms of a track meet; five points for the winner, three for the runner-up, one for third place.


Just such an evaluation follows.


•  OFFENSE: It is difficult to give any of the three clubs an edge over the other two. The Phillies go into their final 19 games with the second highest team batting average, .270, in the National League. But the Pirates were hitting .267 at the end of last week and the Expos have breakaway speed.


The Phillies' offense has been streaky all season. When the offense is rolling, it is nothing short of awesome. When it's not, it's the weakest of the three.


Mike Schmidt, Bake McBride, Manny Trillo and Lonnie Smith all are having fine offensive years for the Phillies. But there has been an equal number of guys having off years, including Bob Boone (.228), Garry Maddox (.259), Greg Luzinski (.241) and Larry Bowa (.257).


The loss of leftfielder Ron LeFlore, who will be limited to pinch-running duties because of a broken wrist, seriously damages the Expos' attack. Nevertheless, Montreal has some potent hitting in Ellis Valentine, Warren Cromartie and Andre Dawson. Catcher Gary Carter, with 24 home runs, is their power.


Last year, it seemed like everybody on the Pirates had a good season. This year has been a different story. Willie Stargell, the Pirates' patriarch, is injured. Dave Parker and Bill Madlock have been troubled mentally and physically. Indeed, only outfielders Mike Easier and Lee Lacy have been consistent for the Bucs.


Give the Expos the nod here and five points. Rank the Phils a photo-finish second and the Pirates third.


Expos 5, Phillies 3, Pirates 1


•  DEFENSE: By far, the Phillies strong suit. They have four legitimate Gold Glove candidates in Schmidt at third, Bowa at short, Trillo at second and Maddox in center. First baseman Pete Rose and McBride, in right, are excellent with the glove. And Boone, for all the throws he has made into center field this year, is more than merely competent behind the plate.


There is nothing wrong with the Expos' outfield defensively. But, unlike the Phillies, the Expos' infielders do not win games with their gloves. The Pirates easily are a distant third in this category.


Expos 8, Phillies 8, Pirates 2


•  STARTING PITCHING: The Expos have a big edge because their three primary starters, Steve Rogers, Scott Sanderson and rookie Bill Gullickson, have been awesome. Since Sept. 4, Rogers is 2-1 with two shutouts, and Sanderson is 2-0 with two shutouts. Gullickson has done the following: three-hit the Giants, struck out 18 Cubs and three-hit the Pirates.


There is little doubt Steve Carlton has been the National League's best pitcher this season. With a little luck, the lefthander could be even better than 22-8 at this point. But the Phillies will need more than Carlton and righthander Dick Ruthven (15-9) to catch the Expos. Green has gotten two superb starts from rookie Marty Bystrom, but Bob Walk, another rookie, has been scuffling lately.


Righthanders Nino Espinosa and Larry Christenson probably will not pitch again this season. Espinosa, who has fought gamely all season to come back from an arm injury, may be too much of a risk to use in the heat of a pennant race. And Christenson is the victim of yet another injury, this time a pulled groin muscle that will likely keep him on the shelf.


Jim Bibby (16-5) has been the Pirates' best all season. But the Bucs have only question marks after the big righthander. Don Robinson, who shutout the Expos, 4-0, in his last start, and lefthander John Candelaria have been hurting. If the Pirates are to make a run, the key may be Bert Blyleven, who will have to win some games for them.


Easily the Expos. Rank the Pirates second because they have more experienced starters available than the Phillies.


Expos 13, Phillies 9, Pirates 5


•  BULLPEN: Under normal circumstances, the Pirates would have the edge in the bullpen simply because of Kent Tekulve. But Tekulve hasn't been the same since falling ill and losing weight soon after the Ail-Star break. The righthander lost two games and blew a two-run lead during during the Pirates' disastrous 3-7 road trip. Enrique Romo and Grant Jackson are dependable enough, but the Pirates can't win without their bullpen – and Tekulve is the Pirates' bullpen.


By acquiring lefthander Sparky Lyle on Saturday, the Phillies did two things: They took some pressure off Tug McGraw, their only consistent reliever, and kept Lyle out of the Expos' hands, which may be equally important. What the Phillies could use during these last 19 games is solid work from righthanders Ron Reed and Warren Brusstar.


Woody Fryman, Elias Sosa and Stan Bahnsen give the Expos three credible relievers. Fryman and Sosa both are quite capable of closing out a win or two.


For the Pirates, it all depends on Tekulve. And, since he is struggling, their bullpen will have to be ranked third. Give the Phils' underrated relievers a slim nod.


Expos 16, Phillies 14, Pirates 6


•  SCHEDULE: The schedule gives the Pirates a chance to slip in the back door. They play their next nine games, including these two against the Phillies, in friendly Three Rivers Stadium. Overall, they have 12 home games remaining. And they don't have to face either the Phillies or the Expos on the road. The Bucs' final road trip is six games in Chicago and New York.


The Phillies, with nine home and 10 away, are in an excellent position. The current seven-game road trip includes stops in Chicago and St. Louis before the Phils return to Veterans Stadium for a nine-game home stand against the Mets, Expos and Cubs. The season easily could come down to a final three-game series in Montreal Oct. 3-5.


Of the Expos' 18 remaining games, only six will be played in Olympic Stadium. They are currently on a 12-game road trip that concludes in Philadelphia Sept. 26-28.


The Pirates win the schedule event; Phils second; Montreal third.


Final score: Expos 17, Phillies 17, Pirates 11


Which means a post-season one-game showdown between the Phillies and Expos is not out of the question.

Young Phillies credit Elia for success


By Ray W. Kelly of the Courier-Post


PHILADELPHIA – To the average Phillies fan, it was not exactly an earth-shattering decision. After all, how much can a coach hope to contribute to the overall success of the team?


The answer to that question can be found, in the impressive way many of the young players brought up from the Phillies minor league system have adjusted to the major leagues this season.


If you like the way Lonnie Smith has begun to put his best foot forward after several disappointing attempts to crack the majors... if you like the confidence of catcher Keith Moreland... Or the almost unflappable attitude of rookie pitchers like Bob Walk, Dickie Noles and Marty Bystrom, then you've got to be a Lee Elia fan.


Elia is the powerful looking guy, who has coached third base for the Phils this season. The fact that you might not recognize him, is an indication that he's done a pretty, fine job waving runners home. There's no easier way to gain recognition than to have a few people thrown out at homeplate.


But the real contribution of the 43-year-old Philadelphia native to the team is twofold because he is among the most influential forces in the overall development of the latest crop of Phillies hotshots.


It was Elia who prepped the youngsters for the move to the big time. And, thanks to the insight of General Manager Paul Owens and Manager Dallas Green, it was Elia who was there in the clubhouse at Veterans Stadium when the kids checked into their new enviornment.


"I know it meant a lot to me... just having him there," said outfielder Smith, a highly talented rookie whose self confidence was shattered by the handling he received the previous year at the hands of Danny Ozark.


Ozark could have ruined the kid. He made it clear from the start that he didn't think much of Lonnie. And then, after ignoring him most of the 1979 spring training, stuck him out in rightfield (a new position) on opening day before sellout crowd.


The Ozark treatment still leaves a bad taste in Lonnie's mouth. Noles still bristles when he thinks of the way Ozark publicly described his breaking ball and sent him packing. Jim Morrison, now in the American League, blasted the Phils for the Ozark-inspired treatment he received. And so it goes.


"When I came up this time, I knew Dallas Green was in my corner. He believed in me," said Lonnie. "But I also knew that coach Elia had seen me day after day in Oklahoma City. He knew what I could do.


"The pressure to prove myself to people who hadn't seen me wasn't there this time around. That meant a lot."


It was not an accident that Green and Owens decided, one winter day, to promote their Oklahoma City manager to the big club.


"He'd done an excellent job handling the players down there," recalled Owens. "We knew he had a positive effect on them and we were hoping it would continue up here."


Elia had proven be was a solid baseball man by leading the 1975 Spartanburg (S.C.) club to a championship and by pushing the 1978 Reading team and the 1979 Oklahoma City club into the playoffs, despite the draining off of some of his top players during the final stages of the minor league season.


Yet, it was Elia's style with the players that convinced Green that he wanted him at his side.


"He didn't drive us crazy with a lot of silly rules," recalled Smith. "He let us play our game. He gave us some freedom and made us feel like he was one of us... unless something happened to affect our performance on the field. Then, he buckled down."


Because of his fairness and his sympathetic attitude toward the difficult adjustments the youngsters were making, a bond of friendship was forged, one that has paid big dividends.


"I'm glad that some of my former players felt they had someone they could come to with their problems," said Elia. "We've had a few talks. Most of the time, I ended up feeling as good about it as the players.


"It's been a good situation. Mike Ryan (another coaching addition) developed a good relationship with some of the kids in the minor leagues. And Ruben Amaro (new first base coach) has been invaluable in helping the Latin players like Luis Aguayo and Ramon Aviles feel more at ease."


The realignment of the Phils coaching staff last winter didn't seem like a big deal at the time. Now, it looks like a stroke of genius.