New York Newsday - September 26, 1980

The Phillies Reach the Crucial State


By Joe Donnelly


PHILADELPHIA – Pete Rose calls it "showdown time. Dallas Green uses the word "critical. Late September is the climax of the season, and this time around, the National League East stage belongs to the Phillies and Expos.


The Phillies shed the preliminaries last night, saying adieu to the Mets. A 2-1 victory was their 10th straight triumph over the Mets, who have lost 16 of their last 17 road games and 33 of their last 40 overall. The victory enabled the Phillies to move into first place, half a game ahead of Montreal, on the eve of a three-game series here with the Expos.


"I’m finally willing to say the next three games are critical for us, said manager Green. And if this series doesn’t determine a champion, there are the three games the teams play in Montreal the closing weekend. Mathematically, it still is a three-team race. But Pittsburgh is chasing two clubs that will play each other six times, and that makes the Pirates situation' somewhat desperate.


Should the Phillies and Expos split their six games and lose all their remaining games – the Phillies four and the Expos three – the Pirates would have to win seven of their remaining nine games to gain a tie. "Is the Family in divorce court yet? asked a Phillie. Winners make jokes, however bad, and it was the night the Phillies had the Pirates falling out of the race and were prepared to welcome the Expos.


"Our pitching has been super, said Green, who preferred to talk his way around the weak offensive show against the Mets. 'Tonight we got a helluva effort from a kid [22-year-old Marty Bystrom] who looks like he’s destined to be something special. Then the veteran [36-year-old Sparky Lyle] came in and closed the door."


Bystrom has made four starts since being called up Sept. 1 from the Triple-A American Association and won them all. He shut out the Meta in his debut, and last night he thought he threw harder.


A strapping 6-5 ("They see whose heads hang over the fence and those are the kids the Phillies sign,” said Mets manager Joe Torre), Bystrom is loving every minute of being shoved into a big-league divisional race.


"I knew that Montreal had lost earlier in the day and we could move into first place, said the rookie. "I've been pitching since I was 7 years old. It seems to me I’ve pitched in pressure before and it just comes naturally to me. Besides, I’m zeroed in on the hitter and I don’t think about all the other stuff. When I was in Class A, I pitched a perfect game, and I can’t imagine feeling more pressure than I did in the eighth and ninth inning of that game. I got through that. I’ve always felt I could do what I'm doing now.”


What he did was hold the Mets to one hit through six innings, an opposite-field double to right by Hubie Brooks leading off the third. An error by second baseman Manny Trillo followed, putting runners on first and third with none out. But Bystrom escaped by starting a double play on Pat Zachry’s bunt and striking out Mookie Wilson. The Mets didn’t have another base runner until the seventh, and by that time Bystrom was working with a 2-0 lead gained on run-scoring singles by Garry Maddox and Lonnie Smith in the fifth.


Bystrom deserved to escape the seventh without giving up a run, but Trillo dropped the ball while pivoting on what should have been an inning-ending double play. The Phillies had to settle for a second-out forceout, and Wally Bachman scored on the play. "I thought the kid was getting a touch high there, so I took him out,” Green said.


The last two innings belonged to Lyle, who has been providing a breather here and there for Tug McGraw in this September run. Lyle made it exciting, coming back from a 3-and-0 count on Lee Mazzilli with two outs and runners on second and third in the eighth. He got Mazzilli to pop out on a full-count pitch.


Like Bystrom, Lyle enjoyed the night. "To have the feeling of being in that kind of competition is what makes the world go around, said the reliever, whose 803rd appearance broke a tie with Walter Johnson for sixth place on the all-time list. "It's great. I haven’t had that kind of hype for three years. And pitching with Tug is outstanding. I love to watch him on the mound. I do my thing, too. but I'm not near as colorful.”