St. Louis Post-Dispatch - September 24, 1980
Redbird ‘Mystery Man’ Baffles Phils
By Rick Hummel Of the Post-Dispatch Staff
"It was just that kind of night for us," said Tim McCarver, who is on the roster so that he could qualify for the 'four-decade club but is mainly a telecaster for the Philadelphia Phillies.
"I still do the postgame show on television and I was interviewing Ken Oberkfell when someone pulled the plug on the satellite and took us off the air," McCarver explained.
But the plug already had been pulled on the Phillies by Al Olmsted and friends. The Cardinals downed the Phillies, 6-3, Tuesday night at Busch Stadium. So the Montreal Expos, winners at Pittsburgh, regained first place by a half-game from the Phillies in the National League's Eastern Division.
The Phillies had been hot. They had won four straight and 10 of their last 14. And all they had to beat Tuesday was a raw rookie with only two days' rest.
But the way Olmsted pitched for eight Innings, he probably could have come back with one day's rest.
Going into the ninth inning, he had a three-hitter and a 6-1 lead. With one down in the ninth, Mike Schmidt homered (No. 43), Greg Luzinski doubled and Manny Trillo was safe on shortstop Garry Templeton's high throw. A run-scoring single by Garry Maddox then finished Olmsted, and John Littlefield picked up the save by giving up only a sacrifice fly to pinch hitter Del Unser.
Bob Forsch, who often is tough on Philadelphia, was to have started Tuesday, but was called home to California because of his mother's death Monday. So, Manager Red Schoendienst, mindful that Olmsted had broken into the majors with 9's innings of scoreless pitching in Philadelphia recently, called on the lefthander from Hazelwood East High, even though he had started against Montreal here Saturday.
Phillies Manager Dallas Green, -shaking his head, called Olmsted "a mystery man. He's hurt us twice. He doesn't throw that many strikes, but he keeps getting us out. He's a mystery man, but you've got to give him credit. He's figured out how to do it and 82 other pitchers haven't."
Green was referring to Philadelphia's 82 victories.
Some of the Phillies likened Olmsted to San Diego's Randy Jones when he was among the National League's top pitchers. "And he has something that Jones never had – a screwball," said Paul Owens, the Phillies' general manager.
"The kid's poised and he's not afraid to throw the screwball," Owens said. "He's handled us twice and we've got a pretty good righthanded-hitting club."
Said Philly's Pete Rose, "The kid won't beat himself. You've got to beat him. He's one of many good pitchers In this league. Just look at the batting averages in this league."
Olmsted said his screwball was not nearly as good as it was when he faced the Phillies the first time. But he made up for it with excellent control of his fastball.
Free-swinging clubs like the Phillies often have rough times with Olmsted types, who are not overpowering but manage to get ahead in the count with most batters and keep moving the ball around.
The Cardinals pounced early on Bob Walk. He Is 10-6 for the season but only 1-3 against the Redbirds.
"He throws a lot of fastballs, and we're a good fastball-hitting team," said Oberkfell, who went two for five. The Cardinals scored three runs in the second inning on four singles, a misplay by center fielder Maddox and a wild pitch. Dane Iorg, Oberkfell, Templeton and Keith Hernandez got those singles. Templeton's third straight single (he boosted his league-leading average to .326) and his second steal of the game set up an RBI single by Ted Simmons in the fifth.
Olmsted, cheered on by his parents and a sister, had a one-hitter until the seventh when Schmidt doubled and Manny Trillo singled him home.
Keeping his fastball down, Olmsted had an easy 1-2-3 eighth. After his single drove in one of two runs in the eighth, he retired Bake McBride, the first batter in the ninth. But then came the big scare, before Littlefield came in and picked up his ninth save.
In the eighth, Ron Reed walked Tommy Herr to get to Olmsted, who then got his run-scoring single.
"I don't think he realized it was his first major-league hit, so I offered him the baseball," Rose said. "The ball ended up in the Cardinals' dugout, so I guess he got it as a souvenir."
Schoendienst said Olmsted's style of pitching was a big help in his going as far as he did Tuesday.
"I was hoping he'd make it through seven innings, but he walked only one guy and hadn't made too many pitches (108)," Red said. "He was getting the ball up some toward the end, though."
The pride of Spanish Lake credited the cool weather in part for his endurance.
Hal Lanier, who managed Olmsted at Springfield, said Al preferred no more than three days' rest between starts "because he can keep his rhythm better that way."
Cardinals pitching coach Claude Osteen said he was first impressed by Olmsted when he pitched for Springfield in an exhibition victory over the Cardinals earlier this season.
"Al works as hard as anybody on his pitches between starts," said Osteen, who expressed surprise that Olmsted was able to come back so well after hurting his left shoulder in 1977. It took two years for the shoulder to get back to normal.
But then they don't call Olmsted "The Mystery Man" for nothing.
REDBIRD NOTES: Hernandez, one for three, stayed tied for second place at .321 with the Chicago Cubs' Bill Buckner, who didn't play Tuesday Said Cincinnati Reds superscout Ray Shore: "The Phillies often have trouble with finesse pitchers (like Olmsted) but they beat the heck out of those hard throwers."... The Cardinals, who finished 9-9 against the Phillies, plan to pitch John Martin in Pittsburgh tonight.