Camden Courier-Post - September 25, 1980

Christenson ‘slams the door’


By Ray W. Kelly of the Courier-Post


PHILADELPHIA – Pete Rose saved his sanity when the worst ball he hit all evening became a 10th-inning, 1-0 game-winner for the Phillies. And Tug McGraw saved face by backing his clubhouse advice by pocketing the club's ninth straight victory over the hapless New York Mets.


But, on a night when once again the Phils' bench kept the team on the heels of the division-leading Expos, it was righthander Larry Christenson who saved the most important thing of all his dreams.


"I want to be a part of this... so much more than you could ever know. And, tonight it was on the line. That's why this game was so important to me," said the pitcher who almost disappeared.


CHRISTENSON WAS fading when he underwent elbow surgery in May, when he marked the first week of September by pulling a groin muscle and when rookie pitcher Marty Bystrom dazzled everyone, especially the people who must make room for him on the post-season roster.


For an athlete whose team is stalking a championship, the disabled list is the Land of the Living Dead. You are there in body, but that is all. You are compelled by your own emotional bankruptcy to silently declare yourself an exile.


Christenson took the mound last night knowing he was one bad inning, one blunder, one muscle-pull away from becoming what most people said he was already a door through which another pitcher could enter the playoff roster.


BUT, THIS door happens to open both ways. And, for eight majestic innings at Veterans Stadium, a crowd of 24,258 watched it slam in the face of the Mets despite the fact that Larry hadn't hurled combatively in four weeks.


It didn't matter that McGraw came out of the bullpen to balance his brilliant September with a third victory to match his three saves. The common effort is all that concerns both Tug and Christenson.


The same is true of Del Unser, who waited on the bench with his .297 pinchhitting batting average as New York's Ed Lynch forgot his 1-1 lifetime record in the majors arid introduced himself to the lunging Phils with a two-hit whitewash through seven innings of scoreboard goose eggs.


HIS SUCCESSOR, righthander Neil Allen, came out of the Met bullpen to use his formidable talents to put down the offensive stirrings of the Phils in both the eighth and ninth innings.


Not once during the pitching standoff between Christenson-McGraw vs. Lynch-Allen had the leadoff batter in any inning reached base safely. Not until Unser took the banner of the reserve troops and told his compatriots, "I'm going to get one of Allen's curve balls."


He did, lashing it into right field for a single before turning over the running duties to rookie speedster Jay Loviglio, who breezed into second base on the winds of a perfect sacrifice bunt by Tim McCarver. Four decades, and Timmy still hasn't forgotten how to do things right.


WHICH BRINGS us to Rose, a man unaccustomed to such a "strange season" of limited hits. Four times during the game, however, Pete's stroke had been on the button for four screamers. But there had been no hits.


"I know I was oh-for-15," said Pete. "I once went oh-for-22. But that wasn't like this year. This year I have more runs batted in, I have more doubles. I just don't have as many hits... although, I know I have more game-winning hits."


Add another. Using a heavier bat to counterbalance overanxiousness, Rose declined to rip yet another fruitless line drive. Instead, he bounced a chopper over pitcher Allen and through the converging gloves of the second baseman and shortstop as Loviglio dashed home to victory.


IN THE merry aftermath, McGraw admitted that, when he first went out to hold the line in the ninth and 10th frames, it dawned on him that his counseling of Randy Lerch earlier in the day had put him on the spot.


"After all the advice I gave Randy I realized that if I didn't pitch well, he'd think I was full of it," said Tug with a grin. "But, the good part is that while I was working with him on pitching mechanics, I got myself into a more comfortable feeling on the mound."


Ironically, Christenson was hard-pressed to remember a time when he felt less comfortable. Of course, he wasn't simply risking embarrassment. He was risking 1980 and all the glory that might go with it.


"I FELT totally 'spazed' during the first inning," admitted the tall righthander. "I hadn't pitched in weeks. I hadn't pitched that much all year. And, in the back of my mind, I know that I could pull the muscle again."


There were other pressures. For, in a way, Larry was going out on a limb. He knew every game from here on out was crucial. Yet, he was not about to forget his own aspirations for helping the pennant effort and simply fade from view as many expected.


He met with pitching coach Herm Starrette in Chicago this past week and explained that the idea of him being afforded the opportunity to take the field and win or lose his spot on the roster was "legitimate," even though Manager Dallas Green had previously declared that Chris-tenson's season was over. Since that time, the silence coming from the front office had been deafening for Larry.


"I'LL EVEN pitch out of the bullpen. Just a chance. Then, if I blow out (get hurt), replace me with somebody like Marty Bystrom," Christenson said that day.


A believer in his people, Green gave Larry that chance, admitting last night, "I had to find out if Christenson could hold up."


"But," someone said, "you buried him for the season a while back."


Green smiled and answered, "Well, I have : a way of unburying guys."


Tonight, the Mets send Pat Zachary (6-10) against Bystrom (3-0) at Veterans Stadium.