Philadelphia Daily News - September 24, 1980
Phils Fall from First
By Bill Conlin
ST. LOUIS – Full moon and empty bases.
On a night when Mother Nature put an enormous harvest moon above the left-field stands, the Phillies bang a lot of moon-shaped numbers on the scoreboard. The Pirates did the same and the Expos slithered back into first place by half a game.
OK, rookie lefthander Al Olmsted, who hypnotized the Phillies on their last homestand, mesmerized them once again until Mike Schmidt ripped his 43d homer in the ninth inning of a game the Cardinals put away with two eighth-inning runs off Ron Reed. Schmidt's mates mounted a sincere rally, but it fell short when John Littlefleld got the final out after Del Unser narrowly missed grand slam.
THE PHILS were on no-hitter alert until Bake McBride led off the fourth with-a single to right. It didn’t even qualify as a rally, though. Schmidt and Greg Luzinski lofted flyballs to George Hendrick in center and the Slugging Sphinx made a pretty shoestring grab on Manny Trillo.
Despite the rude early pounding the Cardinal mashers applied to Bob Walk in the 6-3 loss, despite another brief visit to first place, the seven-game trip was a smashing success. After a 3-2 loss in Pittsburgh last Tuesday night the Phils trailed Montreal by 2 games. Despite a 4-3 trip record, the Phillies picked up two full games on the Expos.
Now, they have a chance to be the architects of their own fate, a nine-game homestand featuring three with Montreal this weekend, a great chance to put up or shut up.
It would help the cause immeasurably if the slumbering bat of Greg Luzinski awoke at the Vet The Bull labored through a 4-for-27 trip, getting only three extra base hits, one of them a double during last night's exciting but futile rally. Paradoxically, Luzinski has been playing the best defense of his career since returning from knee surgery.
HE'S A FINE outfielder right now," Dallas Green says, "He's been a fine outfielder for us all year. He's been getting an outstanding jump on the ball."
Paul Owens is one of many baseball people puzzled over Luzinski's slump. Greg's current average is a sickly .233, the lowest of his career at this late stage.
On the last home stand. The Pope found himself studying videotape cassettes of Luzinski filmed during his big seasons and comparing them with what he's doing now.
"He's just been too good a hitter, a consistent hitter, over the years for there not to be something wrong," the Phillies' player personnel director said last night "I noticed that in the tapes from his good years he was cocking his stride leg just before he stepped into the ball. It was letting him get a lot of hip action. This year he's just taking a step without that little leg cock. I don't think he generates the same bat speed without it."
THE BULL IS trying to get the old stroke back, but the third week in September can be a tough laboratory for a slumping slugger. Luzinski hit the ball hard three times last night, however.
Meanwhile, August sensation Lonnie Smith has batted just once in the last seven games, and hasn't even been called on to pinch-run. When Luzinski came off the disabled list. Green said he'd play his four starting outfielders by ear, by who was pitching and who had the hot bat. You don't need to be Sherlock Holmes to discover that Smith has become the odd-man out, a .336 hitter with 65 runs scored and 30 stolen bases in just 94 games.
Bob Walk pitched consistently from behind in the count and was lucky to survive a bases-loaded jam in the first. His luck ran out in the second, though. When Ken Oberkfell, Garry Templeton and Keith Hernandez stroked consecutive two-out singles good for two runs and he wild-pitched a third run home. Green brought in Kevin Saucier with a 2-2 count on Ted Simmons. Simmons flied out but the damage was done.
Olmsted, working with just two days rest, blanked the Phils until Mike Schmidt doubled in the seventh and scored on a one-out single by Manny Trillo. The Cardinals, meanwhile, pecked out an insurance run in the sixth when batting leader Garry Templeton lashed his third straight single, stole second and scored on a Simmons flare to shallow right with the infield up.
OLMSTED ADDED insult to the injury he did to the Phillies by driving in a run with his first big-league hit in the eighth. It was 6-1 and a brush fire out of control when Oberkfell followed with an RBI single in a four-hit inning thrown by Ron Reed. The two runs off Reed turned out to be big ones after Schmidt's homer and a bases-loaded RBI single with one out by Garry Maddox. But Tito Landrum rap down Del Unser's long drive on the warning track in right-center and pinch-hitter Greg Gross lofted a game-ending fly to shallow center.
Despite a sincere attempt by the armed forces of Iraq and Iran, the world did not end yesterday. The Phillies will have to win the Eastern Division race by more traditional methods.
PHILUPS: Larry Christenson will make his first start tonight since Sept. 6, when he was shelved with a groin injury. The hard-luck righthander will oppose Mets rookie Ed Lynch, a righthander who was 13-6 at Tidewater... It was Al Olmsted's first big league victory after an impressive no-decision in Philadelphia... Montreal pitchers for the big weekend series: David Palmer, Scott Sanderson and Steve Rogers.
There were three winners in the Daily News Home Run Payoff last night.
In the fifth inning of the Phillies-Cardinals game, Norman Shelton of Philadelphia, Peggy Wade of Harrisburg and Nathaniel Brewer of Annville, each won four tickets to a Phillies game next year.
So far the Daily News has paid out $19,145. Today's entry coupon appears on Page 63.