Philadelphia Inquirer - September 9, 1980
A big crack in the Bucs’ front
By Frank Dolson, Inquirer Sports Editor
Recently, they lost eight straight games at home. Last night they lost their fourth straight game on the road.
These are difficult times for the world champion Pittsburgh Pirates. Their leader, Willie Stargell, is out with a bad knee. Their starting pitchers are struggling. Their relievers are getting nailed for late-inning runs.
They are still in the middle of a pennant race in the National League East, but only because the race among the Expos, Phillies and Pirates seems more like a strategic retreat.
"As it looks right now," Ed Ott said, "whoever stinks less the rest of the way will win."
And at the moment the Pirates are stinking more. Last night's loss was their 12th in 14 games, their 16th in 21.
Even a game-winning, four-run Phillies explosion at the expense of the Pirates' bullpen couldn't wipe out Chuck Tanner's optimism last night. But a call by plate umpire Gerry Crawford in the ninth inning left catcher Ott hopping mad and triggered an ugly postgame scene.
Ott, batting with two on and two out against Tug McGraw, worked the count to 3-1 and took a pitch he thought was ball four. Slinging away his bat, Ott started to trot to first. Uh-uh, said Crawford. Strike two.
Ott was livid – in part because he thought the pitch was low, in part because Gerry Crawford was the umpire involved.
It was Crawford, you might remember, who was involved in the incident that resulted in the 15-day suspension of Pirates third baseman Bill Madlock. And it was Crawford, Ott remembered, who allegedly called the catcher "a crybaby."
Ott protested the call, then lined a single off McGraw's glove to load the bases. No matter. Tug got the final out; the champions had lost another one.
Maybe Chuck Tanner can smile through such adversity. Maybe Willie Stargell can keep calm even when 1979's No. 1 baseball team seems on the verge of disintegrating in 1980. But Ed Ott's anger rose as the game ended.
He was walking from first base to the Pirates' dugout when he caught a glimpse of Gerry Crawford's back and saw red instead of blue.
Ott hollered, and Crawford, already well down the runway toward the umpire's dressing room, heard him over the roar of the 40,000 happy Phillies fans.
No doubt some umpires – maybe most umpires – would have kept walking. Crawford didn't. He stopped. He whirled. He retraced his steps through the runway. That's his style.
They exchanged angry words. No bumping. No shoving. Just angry words. If Ed Ott got a little carried away – well, so did the umpire.
A few minutes later he was still seething. The press was interviewing crew chief Doug Harvey in the corridor when Crawford came barging out of the umpires' room in his underwear to deliver a few more comments.
"He started screaming at me from outside the field after the game's over," Crawford said in a voice that was almost a shout. "He called me (an unprintable name).
"I ain't taking that from nobody. I came back out and I hollered right back at him. He's not calling me that.
"He said I said something about him in Pittsburgh, and he's a liar. If I said something to him I'd say it right to his damn face. Go tell that to him, too. And tell him he was ejected after the game was over. That's right. He was ejected. I'm filing a report that he charged me after the game was over."
Ed Ott sat quietly in front of his locker. Most of his teammates were grouped around a TV set, watching the halftime highlights on Monday night's football game and chattering away as if nothing had happened. Not Ott. He was still blazing mad at Crawford.
"He was 20 yards up the runway when I hollered at him," Ott said, "and all of a sudden he comes running. In the first inning he didn't hear a foul tip by (Greg) Luzinski, and he was four, five feet away. He blamed it on the crowd hollering. Yet he can hear me from – how many feet is it from home plate to 20 yards up the runway?"
Ott made it clear that he felt Crawford "has a chip on the block against the Pirates."
"I've got nothing to say about Bill Madlock," the catcher said. "He throws him out, gets him suspended, that's fine and dandy. But if he messes with me, that's something else.
"All I know Gerry Crawford called me a (deleted) crybaby in Pittsburgh, and I take that personally. If he did eject me tonight, I'll tell the league president exactly what he called me in Pittsburgh."
In other parts of the clubhouse, all was serene. Willie Stargell was patiently, politely answering questions about his bad knee. Chuck Tanner was talking about the winning streak he felt the Pirates were about to start, and about the pennant race they were still in.
But it's September, the time of year when the Pittsburgh Pirates are supposed to win 12 put of 14, not lose 12 out of 14. And Willie Stargell is still sidelined. And the bullpen is cracking. And Gerry Crawford and Ed Ott are feuding. And it's getting tougher each day for the defending world champions to feel good about anything.
Phils rally to scuttle Bucs, 6-2
4-run 8th wins it for McGraw
By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer
Tug McGraw flipped up the slider that was supposed to finish off the Phillies' dramatic 6-2 win over the Pirates last night. John Milner went halfway around on it. And McGraw blasted off the mound like Apollo 10, fist pumping.
There was only one slight problem with this triumphant scene.
To home-plate ump Gerry Crawford, the whole thing just looked like ball three. To third-base ump Nick Colosi, Milner's checked swing looked like a non-swing.
"That Colosi," muttered McGraw later, "he doesn't like Irish guys."
So McGraw had to keep pitching. And that isn't easy when you've just dropped back to earth from outer space.
"What happened was, I thought the game was over," McGraw said. "So I let it all hang out. I thought I saw Milner go around, so I let out all the stuff that builds up in me. Then all of a sudden I had to regroup."
The next thing you knew, he was walking Milner. And falling behind Ed (Grand Slam) Ott, 3-and-0. Ott started for first on the next two pitches. Crawford called him back.
Finally, Ott ripped one up the middle. McGraw stuck out his glove. The ball popped into it. The ball popped out of it. The bases were, gulp, loaded. And there was Phil Garner, threatening to add another Pirates grand slam to McGraw's slam-filled history.
In dread moments through the Phillies' past, games that seemed won have crashed away at times like this. It could have been the third game of the '77 playoffs and the 8-0 lead the Pirates made disappear at the Vet last August rolled into one. But McGraw professed utter fearlessness.
"Garner's never hit a grand slam off me," he said. "So I didn't mind facing him."
Five pitches later, he sneaked a screwball by Garner for strike three. And, as Ott was beginning an angry charge at Crawford, McGraw was blasting off again. This time, at least, he could celebrate for real. His win was his first over Pittsburgh since July 3, 1976, not to mention his first of this year.
"When you go to banquets after the season, it's always nice to say you've won a game," said McGraw, whose four losses are all against the Pirates and Expos.
"In 73, it took me until August to get a win, and we went all the way to the World Series and lost in the seventh game. This year I didn't get one until September, so we'll probably go and win the World Series."
That might not necessarily follow, even if the Phils did climb to within a half-game of idle Montreal. But there's one thing for sure, and that's that the Phillies certainly weren't going to make it to the World Series if they didn't beat the Pirates sooner or later.
"They've kind of dominated us this year, to say the least," manager Dallas Green said. "So it's an especially nice win for us. We want to beat the teams we have to beat, and they're one of them." The Phils started the night as losers of their last six straight to Pittsburgh. And so, even though the Bucs came in careening after dropping three straight in Atlanta and 11 of their last 13, a trip to the Vet looked like a trip to the Mayo Clinic.
After Sunday's agonizing loss to the Braves, Ott and Wilver Stargell were seen dancing around the clubhouse singing, "We're going to Philly, we're going to Philly." Honest.
But despite that hopeful talk, there was something missing in them last night that was there last month and last year.
"They didn't get the big hit tonight, and they always seem to get that against us," said Green. "And they didn't get the big out when they needed it. And they always seem to do that against us, too."
This game had all the familiar Phillies-Pirates trappings for a while.
John Milner broke up Bob Walk's one-hit shutout with a homer in the fifth. Mike Schmidt tied it in the sixth with an awesome 420-foot line drive off Don Robinson that landed to the left of the scoreboard in right-center.
It was home run No. 37 for Schmidt, RBI No. 99 and his 22d homer at home, tying the club record. It also made 21 Schmidt homers that either had tied games or put the Phils ahead.
Manny Trillo then broke an 0-for-17 skid with a blooper to left-center that Mike Easier appeared to have caught. When the ball rolled away from Easier as he was tumbling over, Trillo had a double. Garry Maddox' single made it 2-1.
But Dave Parker and Easier tied it again in the seventh with back-to-back doubles. And that got McGraw in there a little earlier than usual.
"He's been the guy that's been doing it," said Green, an explanation that was hard to argue with.
It was still 2-2 as Enrique Romo succeeded Robinson in the bottom of the eighth. But Bake McBride ripped a single for his fourth straight hit, one fewer than his total for the whole road trip. Then Schmidt singled, Greg Luzinski stroked a 1-2 breaking ball to left, and it was 3-2.
After a Manny Trillo bunt, on came the Struggling Stork, Kent Tekulve, who has an incredible four losses in his last seven appearances. He walked Maddox on purpose to load the bases for Larry Bowa. Green thought about turning on the squeeze but changed his mind.
"I just felt in that situation he was going to get a ball to handle," Green said. "And lorry's been swinging the bat pretty good lately."
Bowa bounced a two-run double over Milner's head at first. Then McGraw squeezed in the sixth run. And all he had to do after that was avoid making more grand-slam history in the ninth.
Which he did. Barely.
NOTES: Marty Bystrom will get his first big-league start tomorrow in New York, replacing injured Larry Christenson. Dallas Green said he put Bystrom in to throw a scoreless inning Sunday in L.A. "just so he could get his feet wet. That should get him over some of the butterflies he's naturally going to feel."... With Bystrom taking Christenson's spot, the one remaining opening for a starter is Friday in the doubleheader with St. Louis. Pitching coach Herm Starrette said either Randy Lerch or Nino Espinosa should work that one.... When the Pirates were looking for a lefthanded hitter for the stretch, the first guy they reportedly called was Ed Kranepool. But Kranepool wouldn't come out of retirement... Pirate outfit of the day: gold caps and pants, black shirts.... The Matt Alexander Watch: He finally batted in a game with Houston eight days ago, starting and doubling in three trips. He began the night, however, with 11 runs scored, one hit.... Steve Carlton vs. John Candelaria tonight (8:15 for NBC-TV, but blacked out locally).
Phils win with bullets, not bombs
By Bill Livingston, Inquirer Staff Writer
Greg Luzinski is supposed to be "bam" to Mike Schmidt's "wham."
When the Bull's knee mended sufficiently for him to rejoin Schmidt in the Phils' lineup, Philadelphia dreamed in Sensurround: The Vet would become an echo chamber. The music in the chamber would be the percussive blasts from their bats. Those wouldn't be seats in the outfield bleachers, they would be kettledrums, thumped again and again by home runs.
So the only time the Phillies' third and fourth hitters hit safely back-to-back last night came in the eighth inning, when Luzinski's game-winning single followed Schmidt's single, which had followed Bake McBride's leadoff single.
The entire four-run rally, which sent the Pittsburgh Pirates down to their 16th defeat in the last 21 games, was in fact, lit more by matches than lightning: Four singles and a squeeze bunt by Tug McGraw.
For Luzinski, however, the single ended a famine in which he had just one hit in 10 at-bats, with four strikeouts. Since returning to the lineup, the Bull is only 10-for-45,.222, with five RBIs. Before that eighth inning facedown with reliever Enrique Romo, he had walked, struck out twice, and he began the eighth by digging an 0-and-2 hole against Romo.
"Romo's not the greatest guy to face in that situation," Luzinski said. "He changes every time you see him. Sometimes, you face him and he throws all screwballs and just shows you the fastball. Tonight, he gives me two fastballs and tries to sneak a third one in. Then, he dropped down (and threw an off-speed pitch.) I waited on the ball good and had a good swing at it."
The Phils don't giggle at the thought of facing Enrique Romo. The ball materializes out of a spasm of herks and jerks. Normally, he is one of the stranglers in a Pirates bullpen. But games are slipping from the bullpen's grasp every day now.
"We had runners at first and third and the infield was in," Luzinski reasoned. "All I had to do was hit it hard. A gapper, a fly, anything scored a run."
Luzinski's single was a little slap to right field. It was neither the stuff of Schmidt's seventh-inning tracer over the center-field wall, nor of Bake McBride's perfect (4-for-4) evening of offensive brilliance.
"We got couple of hits tonight like the Dodgers did against us," Luzinski said, referring to the three-game sweep they suffered over the weekend in Chavez Ravine. "It was just good placement on them as much as anything else. That's what really frustrates the other ball club."
It was, at best, a frustrated Vet crowd that greeted the Phils. Catcalls howled from the stands at times. Not only had the attack of Luzinski and Schmidt gone kaput as often as ka-boom lately, the Phils' boom on the West Coast went bust somewhere south of Marin County.
"Well, to people who know baseball, who know the history of our West Coast trips, a 6-5 trip would be great," Luzinski said. "We have a history of going out there and really being buried. But this time we had a chance (a 6-2 start, to win a lot of games."
The Eastern Division is twitching along worse than Romo's most wicked deliveries. No one pulls away here, they pull through. It is a survival test. Teams scrape the bottom of their reserves and if anything at all is dredged up, it is better than coming up empty.
"It was like the last game of the... well, I was gonna say the World Series, but I've never been in that," Schmidt said.
If the Phils should struggle into the World Series, American sports journalism may never be the same. McBride, repeating his performance after a 5-for-5 game earler this year, refused to talk at all with writers.
Fitzgerald wrote in Tender Is the Night that "The strongest guard is placed at the gateway to nothing.... perhaps because the disclosure of emptiness is so shameful."
Luzinski's bat may not thunder and the Phillies may not talk, but it is the Pirates who are journeying into the night. And it is the Pirates who are coming up empty.