The wives of Montreal First Baseman Tommy Hutton and Philadelphia Pitcher Dick Ruthven stopped talking to each other, which wouldn't be noteworthy except that they're twin sisters. Ozzie Virgil Sr., the Expos' third-base coach, has a fowl name for Ozzie Virgil Jr., a Phillies reserve catcher. But there's good reason for this familial discord. The Phillies and the Expos are fighting for the championship of the National League East, sort of the Black and Blue Division of baseball.
Last weekend the Expos brought their battered bodies into Philadelphia for a three-game series with the Phillies and their bruised psyches. The teams split the first two games, which were wildly and mildly exciting, respectively, and then Montreal took the rubber game by a resounding score of 8-3. When things finally settled down in Veterans Stadium Sunday night, the Expos were a half-game up on the Phillies with a week left to play. The week will end with a three-game rematch between the two rivals in Montreal. Watch out.
For the Phillies, a division title would mean a shot at the World Series, which would mean a shot at redemption, not only for the playoff el pholdos of 1976, '77 and '78 and the collapse of 1964 (never let 'em forget that), but for all time. In their 97 years of play, the Phillies have won two pennants (1915 and 1950) and nary a world championship.
In a season when they weren't expected to win and with many of their players having off years, these aging Phillies are nonetheless making what could be their last bid for a championship. Says Reliever Tug McGraw, "Time is beginning to pass us by, and we don't want to have to look back on these years as wasted."
However, were it not for Mike Schmidt, who should be a shoo-in for National League MVP, with 44 homers, 114 RBIs and a .281 average; Steve Carlton, another shoo-in as the Cy Young winner, with a record of 23-9 and an ERA of 2.41; and McGraw, who has an ERA of 0.63 and 11 saves since coming off the disabled list on July 17, this might have been another lost year for the Phillies.
For les Expos, a division title would mean recognition. The team is almost as beloved in Montreal and Canada as les Canadiens, but south of the border the Expos remain a faceless bunch of lanceurs, receveurs, voltigeurs and interieurs. "We're just an unknown club from out of the country, so we try to be as nice as possible, even with me as the manager," says Gèrant Dick Williams. "I don't think you'll see any of our players hiding out in the clubhouse."
Williams' remark was actually a verbal shot at the Philadelphia players, who generally treat the press as history has treated their team. They were truly ecstatic after their 2-1 victory Friday night, but as soon as the reporters walked into the clubhouse, the players sobered up. In Philadelphia's defense, this has not been an easy season. Catcher Bob Boone, Leftfielder Greg Luzinski, Centerfielder Garry Maddox and even First Baseman Pete Rose have been struggling at the plate, and Larry Bowa, of all shortstops, has far more errors (17) than usual. A reckless story originating in the Trenton Times linking the Phillies—or "Pillies" as some called them—with drugs upset the team. And Manager Dallas Green has been playing the role of wicked stepfather all season. On Aug. 10, between games of a doubleheader loss to Pittsburgh, Green gave the Phils a royal chewing. And since then Philadelphia has gone from six games back to a half-game out, with several brief layovers in first place. "Dallas upset some players," says Tim McCarver, the catcher-turned-broadcaster-turned-broadcaster-catcher. "But he also gave us a sense of reckoning. You can't perform just by putting a uniform on."
The Expos have had to overcome their almost universal dislike for Williams, who may be the least beloved skipper since Captain Bligh, and a ceaseless series of injuries. They have been able to field their regular starting lineup in only 23 games this year. Montreal headed into the final week without the bats of Left-fielder Ron LeFlore, who has a broken left wrist, and Rightfielder Ellis Valentine, who has a sprained wrist. LeFlore's legs, which have given him 93 stolen bases, are still available for pinch running. "Every day is another obstacle," says First Baseman Warren Cromartie. "But it builds character."
When the Expos arrived at Veterans Stadium on Friday, the Phillies had a precarious half-game lead, thanks to two one-run victories over the Mets. In the 10th inning of a scoreless tie on Wednesday night, Del Unser, 35, led off with a pinch-hit single. Then McCarver, 38, who came down from the broadcast booth for September just to play in his fourth decade, laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt, and the 39-year-old Rose singled in the game's lone run. The next night the Phillies' rookies won it, 2-1, as 22-year-old Marty Bystrom pitched 6⅖ innings of one-run ball and 24-year-old Lonnie Smith, who's batting .336 as a part-timer, drove in what proved to be the winning run. The Expos lost that day 5-4 to the Cubs, making Philadelphia the division leader.
In the meantime, the defending-world-champion Pirates were playing themselves out of contention and Sue Harper Ruthven and Debby Harper Hutton were playing themselves into a state of contentiousness. Seems that Sue called Debby, who lives in California, to ask if she'd be in Montreal the last week of the season. "Sue told Debby that the Phillie wives were all going to be up there when the Phillies clinched it," according to Tommy Hutton, who introduced Sue to Ruthven when he was a Phillie. "Debby said, 'What do you mean when the Phillies clinch it?' The fight wasn't very big, and everything's O.K. now."
When Ozzie Virgil Sr. came out of the dugout Friday evening, he looked for his son, but didn't spot him. "Where is that turkey?" he asked. McGraw was a picture of civility, though, as he went up to Williams, shook the Expos' skipper's hand and said, "Good luck tonight. I hope you win if we're unable to do so." The Phillies, it turned out, were able to win. They got a run in the second on a solo homer by Maddox off David Palmer, but the Expos tied the score in the sixth on a double by Jerry White and a single by Rodney Scott. Scott's hit was a grounder to Bowa's right that a younger Bowa might have reached. McGraw, working in relief of Ruthven, set the Expos down in order in the eighth and ninth. After striking out Andre Dawson to end the ninth, he came off the mound as only he can, flailing his right thigh with his gloved hand and pumping the air with the other. The Scoreboard's extraneous message was LET'S GET PSYCHED.
Palmer's first pitch to Bake McBride in the bottom of the ninth was a curve-ball, down but over the plate, and McBride got a good piece of it. "The ball wasn't carrying to right, so I thought it might stay in," said Palmer. "Then I saw Office go back, look up and turn away. That one hit drove in 50,000 people." McBride's homer touched off a wild home-plate celebration led by McGraw, Bowa and Green. The fans started chanting, "We want Bake," and the message board now read A BAKED TATER. Said McBride, still holding the home run ball that Ozzie Jr. had retrieved from the bullpen, "Dallas told me to go back out, and I said, if I go out, I want everybody with me, so we all went out."
As for his performance, McGraw said, "I have no control over it. I see myself on TV sometimes and I'm halfway embarrassed. I'm just very conscious of the crowd. You can almost reach out and touch the energy. It creates a density in the air, like when you turn up a stereo real loud and the lamp shakes. Then I'll just pick a face out in the crowd, like a drop in the waterfall, and I'm at peace." So much for poetry corner. The reality of the situation was that the Phillies were a game and a half up with Steve Carlton going the next day. "We're in the driver's seat," said Green.
But, as Houdini once said, nothing is a lock. The Phillies were certainly a confident team the next day, chasing the slightly larger Philadelphia Eagles out of right field so they could take batting practice. Linebacker Bill Bergey even came over and did a perfect imitation of McGraw's frenzy the night before. When Schmidt smashed his major league-leading 44th home run on his 31st birthday in the first inning, it looked like it would be another day for the Phillies. But students of Phillie history knew that on this same date in 1964, Sept. 27, the Phillies had fallen out of first place. It's Doomsday. Gary Carter of the Expos homered off Carlton in the second, but Manny Trillo answered with a solo number of his own. Carlton struck out the side in the third, but after that he began to lose his stuff. Chris Speier drove in a run in the fourth to tie the score at 2-2, and doubles by Speier and White in the seventh put the Expos ahead to stay. The Phillies drew to within one at 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth with the winning runs on base, but then Williams called in his relief ace, the 40-year-old tobacco farmer, Woodie Fryman, who has been called sacrè in Montreal. Green sent Smith up to pinch-hit. No contest. After four pitches, the fourth a perfect slider that caught Smith looking, the tying run was dead at third.
"I don't look as excited as Tug does," said Fryman, who pitched to Ozzie Sr. and will someday pitch to Ozzie Jr. "But it's all inside. I was really pumped up. It's either going to be this season or next for me, and I want to win this thing." Said Carter, "If we were to win the division for one man, it would be Woodie. He's been an inspiration to us all."
Williams got in another dig after the game when he said, "All I want to say is what Dallas Green said last night. I think we're in the driver's seat. We've got our ace, Steve Rogers, going tomorrow, and we'll be a half-game up when we leave here. I like our chances a lot better now than I did at 11 last night."
He liked them even better at 6 p.m. on Sunday. The Expos blew out the Phillies 8-3, thanks mostly to Rogers' five-hitter and Carter's four RBIs and two home runs. Carter's first homer gave the Expos a 1-0 lead in the second, and his 29th of the year, in the seventh, gave them a 7-1 lead. It also gave Carter 99 RBIs, so maybe Schmidt isn't such a shoo-in, after all. The Expos also got a little help from Maddox, who had as much trouble with the sun as Icarus did. He lost a liner by Speier in the sixth and let it go to the wall for a two-run triple, recalling the liner he missed that cost the Phillies the playoffs in 1978. "I didn't have my glasses down," said Maddox, "but I don't think they'd have helped." So the weekend that began with a bang for the Phillies ended with a whimper.
"Isn't it amazing," Carter said, "that you play 156 games, and the last six games are still important."
The Expos play three games with St. Louis early this week, and the Phillies have four with Chicago, but then they go at each other in cold Montreal. Says Cromartie, "I don't care if it's 10° up there. Once I hear the noise from our fans and take that first at bat, I'll be hotter than hell."
As Williams said after Saturday's victory, "The forecast is clear and exciting."