The Gang Of Four Shoots To The Top

Baseball came out of the doldrums as the Expos, Dodgers, Yankees and A's won one cliffhanger after another in the first divisional mini-playoffs
October 18, 1981

The Montreal Expos brought a baseball title north of the border for the first time last Sunday by defeating the world champion Philadelphia Phillies 3-0. It was the fifth and deciding game of the National League Eastern Division Championship Series, and it came in the lucky 13th year of the franchise. "Our bar mitzvah year," said owner Charles Bronfman. The Los Angeles Dodgers now face the unpleasant prospect of having Jack Frost—not to mention Steve Rogers, Gary Carter, Chris Speier and Jeff Reardon—nipping at their noses when the League Championship Series moves to Montreal for a little Chilly Ball this Friday.

Actually, the Expos thought they had the division title iced when they left Montreal last Thursday with a two-games-to-none lead over Philadelphia. They should have known about Phillie Ball, though. Last year's world champions play best when they haven't a prayer. They tied the series 2-2, and the Expos were presented with the task of having to beat Steve Carlton—again.

They did just that. For the second time in the series, Rogers outpitched Carlton, giving up only six singles. He also drove in the Expos' first two runs with his second single of the game, a grounder through the middle off a hanging slider with the bases loaded in the fifth inning. "I'm from the hitting school known as 'whale and bail,' " Rogers modestly allowed after the game.

Elsewhere in the clubhouse First Baseman Warren Cromartie glanced at a TV picture showing the Phillies' victory parade last year. "Not anymore!" he shouted. "Not anymore! We beat the world champions!"

It was in the first game of the series that the Expos discovered how to bat against Carlton. "You have to be patient," said Speier, who had two game-winning hits, a game-saving catch and a .400 average in the series. "If you start chasing his low sliders, it's Katie-Bar-the-Door." The Expos showed their patience by putting the leadoff man on in every inning en route to a 3-1 victory. Even though he outpitched Carlton, Rogers allowed 10 hits before giving way to reliever Reardon with two men on for the final out—a frightening line drive by Manny Trillo that Leftfielder Terry Francona snared on the warning track. Carter, Speier and Cromartie all had RBI doubles off Carlton.

It was cold the night of the second game. As Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe wrote, "The temperature was 7 degrees Celsius, 46 degrees Fahrenheit and 72 degrees Kuhn." The commissioner watched the game from Expo President John McHale's box, taking off his coat in favor of a sweater, and he revealed to one reporter that—gasp!—he wore no undershirt. Actually, Bowie was cheating, because his vantage point was under a heat lamp.

Warming the cockles of Expo fans' hearts, though, was Speier's single to drive in the first run in the second inning and Carter's towering two-run homer in the third. In the meantime, starter Bill Gullickson shackled the Phillies on three hits over the first seven innings. After Gullickson gave up a double, single and double with two outs in the eighth, Reardon came on to face Mike Schmidt. With the count 2-1, the Expos' neophyte manager, Jim Fanning, ordered Reardon to walk Schmidt intentionally, thus putting the potential winning run on—an ill-considered move according to baseball traditionalists. The ploy worked, though, as Reardon got the next hitter, Gary Matthews, to foul out on a 3-2 pitch and then pitched a perfect ninth.

The Phillies, stung by criticism from Manager Dallas Green and unsettled by reports that he was headed to Chicago to run the Cubs' front office, came right back to tie the series with 6-2 and 6-5 victories. Strangely enough, the Expos showed as much character in their second loss as they did in any of their wins. They trailed 4-0, but tied the score at 4-4 before falling behind again, 5-4. Woe Canada.

The old Expos might not have come back after that. But this time they did—and that ability is a cold truth the Dodgers will have to face.
—STEVE WULF

I love these situations. I'm a lot happier being a participant than a spectator," said Houston's Nolan Ryan late Saturday, the night before the Astros and Dodgers met in the fifth game of the National League West Division championship. Ryan had good reason to be joyous. In his two previous starts against the Dodgers, he had pitched a no-hitter and a two-hitter and struck out 18. Before beating L.A. 3-1 with a two-hitter in Game 1 on Tuesday, Ryan had boldly announced, "The Dodgers aren't going to beat me." Asked now if he felt as strongly again, Ryan replied, "I'm not any less confident."

But he was less correct. Before 55,979 fans at Chavez Ravine, the Dodgers had the last laugh, becoming the first team in baseball history to win a five-game playoff series after trailing 2-0. For 5‚Öì innings Ryan fought off the Dodgers. But then L.A. erupted for three runs on three hits, and Ryan was gone. Only one of the runs was required, because Los Angeles lefthander Jerry Reuss, mixing whiplash fastballs and good sliders, shut out Houston on five hits. The 4-0 victory sent the Dodgers on their way to the National League Championship Series against Montreal and made Ryan's Dodger Stadium record 0-6.

Reuss's shutout capped an amazing performance by Dodger pitchers. In their three home victories, they held Houston to two runs—one in the Astros' last 24 innings. In none of the games did either club resemble the '27 Yankees. The '06 Chicago Hitless Wonders would've been more like it. We're not talking slugfest here. In 42 of 91 half-innings, the Dodgers and Astros went down in order. For the hitters, this series wasn't a war. It was a pillow fight.

The Astros batted .179, scoring three runs in 42 innings off Dodger starters Reuss, Fernando Valenzuela and Burt Hooton. "With a lead, we're tough to beat," said Astro reliever Billy Smith. "But a bullpen's nothing if there's nothing to protect." Meanwhile, L.A. was hitting all of .198. Except for Steve Garvey, who had six hits, including two important home runs, the Dodgers greatly resembled the anemic Los Angeles teams of the early '60s.

The Astros got off to what, for them, was a winging start at home on Tuesday, winning the opener 3-1 as Alan Ashby, who had hit 30 homers in his nine-year career, cracked a two-run, two-out shot into the rightfield mezzanine in the bottom of the ninth. Ryan faced only 29 batters, two over the minimum. He struck out seven, walked one and polished off Los Angeles with 104 pitches—his low for the season.

Valenzuela didn't exactly struggle either, allowing six hits and a run before exiting for a pinch hitter in the ninth. It was Dave Stewart who gave up Ashby's homer, and Stewart again who surrendered the winning hit in Game 2. That came when pinch hitter Denny Walling belted a bases-loaded single with two out in the 11th to give the Astros a 1-0 win. The Dodgers stranded 13 base runners and wasted Reuss's nine shutout innings. With quick elimination at hand, L.A. Manager Tommy Lasorda suddenly hit the roof—or at least the wall in his office with a shoe. "Our two guys pitched outstanding baseball, and it breaks my heart for us to get them one run in 20 innings," he said.

Houston scored two runs in the next 18 innings at Dodger Stadium, and Los Angeles swept Games 3 and 4, 6-1 and 2-1, respectively. On Friday Garvey socked a two-run homer in the first, and Hooton and relievers Steve Howe and Bob Welch shut down the Astros on three hits. Now the Dodgers were visibly relieved, though clearly not by Stewart. Houston's 11 losses in its last 13 games at Chavez Ravine prompted Garvey to say, "I'm quite sure we've forced the Astros to think about where they are." While Garvey spoke, Reuss stood out of reporters' sight in an adjacent room, stage-whispered, "Psst, Stevie," and shot Garvey a moon. The next afternoon Valenzuela shot a dandy four-hitter. The Astroo wore out of ammunition.
—MIKE DELNAGRO

The American League East mini-series between Milwaukee and New York last week was very heavy drama.

Act One: The show opens to less than full houses in Milwaukee, whose working-class citizens continue to protest the summer strike informally. At County Stadium, capacity 53,192, crowds of 35,064 and 26,395 attend the Wednesday and Thursday games. Just as well, because the Brewers don't appear to be there, either. They lose the opener 5-3 when Left-fielder Ben Oglivie allows the go-ahead run to score by throwing to the wrong base in the fourth inning. In contrast, Yankee Third Baseman Graig Nettles makes a rally-killing circus catch in the third. Long-dormant New York veterans Oscar Gamble (two-run homer) and Bob Watson (three hits) come to life at the plate.

The next afternoon the Yankees shut out the Brewers 3-0 on homers by Lou Piniella and Reggie Jackson. In the two games four hard-throwing New York pitchers—starters Ron Guidry and Dave Righetti and relievers Ron Davis and Goose Gossage—have struck out 26 wildly swinging Brewers. One victim, Paul Molitor, becomes disoriented and refers to Gossage as "Goosage."

"We're pressing," says Sal Bando, one of three Brewers who have been in the playoffs before. "It's one thing to dream about it, another to be there," says Manager Bob Lemon of the Yankees, 18 of whom have.

Act Two: The Brewers arrive in New York seemingly prepared to concede defeat. On Friday they are assaulted with a display of New York emotion, patriotism and violence. The son of Yankee Pitcher Tommy John, 2-year-old Travis, throws out the first ball less than two months after suffering a near-fatal fall from a third-story window. The Yankees honor the widow of World War II hero Will James, who has received a posthumous Distinguished Service Cross. And in the seventh inning an allegedly inebriated fan—from Connecticut—comes out of the stands and attacks third-base Umpire Mike Reilly. By this time the Brewers are losing 1-0 and haven't scored in 19 innings. But this is drama, not life: The Brewers come back to win 5-3 as Ted Simmons cracks a two-run homer in the seventh and adds a run-scoring double in the eighth.

On Saturday afternoon, enter Brewer Pitcher Pete Vuckovich, who looks as if he chews glass. His start has been twice postponed because of a high fever, but he sets down the Yankees 2-1 with cutie-pie pitching, featuring breaking balls on 3-2. Meanwhile, Oglivie stops "overextending" himself at bat and drives home the eventual winning run with a nice, deliberate swing. The Yankees? Bad base running takes them out of two innings.

Those mistakes are the cue for owner George Steinbrenner to storm into the clubhouse after the game. The Prod of the Yankees, as he has been called, harangues his players and threatens to do the unthinkable—break up the Yankees.

Act Three: Years from now Steinbrenner will credit Sunday night's clinching victory to his Saturday night diatribe. Maybe his prodding is a factor. But stealing the final scene is Reggie Jackson. Before the game Jackson reflects, "I keep hearing about how great I am in the clutch. Well, if I'm ever going to do anything, it ought to be tonight."

It is. With Larry Milbourne on first and the Yanks trailing 2-0 in the fourth, Jackson belts Moose Haas's first pitch into the upper deck of the rightfield stands. Oh, there are other heroes. Gamble, a .556 hitter in the series, and Cerone each homer, and Gossage racks up his third save. But the 7-3 win serves mostly to embellish Jackson's Mr. October mystique. By going 3 for 4 he raises his lifetime postseason batting average to .303. In his 61 playoff and World Series games Jackson has 16 homers and 42 RBIs. This time he ignites the rally that keeps the aging Yankee dynasty alive. Curtain.
—JIM KAPLAN

The Kansas City Royals were down 4-1 but rallying in the top of the fifth inning of the third and, as it turned out, decisive game of their divisional mini-playoff with the Oakland A's last Friday night. Clint Hurdle and John Wathan had hit consecutive singles to open the inning, and now U.L. Washington was at bat hoping to advance them to third and second, respectively, with a sacrifice bunt. Washington, a switch hitter batting lefty against A's righthanded Rick Langford, squared away on a 1-1 delivery but didn't offer at a Langford fastball that sailed outside. Hurdle, often a capricious base runner, had moved as if to run to third but retreated as Oakland Catcher Mike Heath gloved the ball. Moving somewhat faster toward the base was A's Shortstop Fred Stanley, whose right hand was held aloft to catch Heath's attention.

In a lightning motion Heath fired what the bewildered Hurdle would later describe as a "BB" to second. Stanley and the ball arrived a fraction of a second before the runner. Hurdle was out and, for all intents, so were the Royals. They had four singles that inning but scored not at all. Heath and Stanley's alertness—and Hurdle's inattentiveness—had taken the Royals out of the game. K.C. could do nothing against the excellent relief pitching of Tom Underwood and 22-year-old Dave Beard, a fireballer of Goose-ian promise. The A's lead held fast, and they dethroned the Royals as East Division champions.

Not that Kansas City had any business getting that far. Only the addle-brained poststrike format allowed the Royals, a team that finished the total season three games under .500, to become the so-called second-half champs in a year when titles were numerous and cheap. Confronted with a team of championship credentials, which Oakland truly is, K.C. played so sloppily in the three games that Dwayne Murphy, the A's splendid centerfielder, said, "It seemed to me they were ready to go home." Which they swiftly did after losing every game and scoring a grand total of two runs.

It's unfortunate that a team as fundamentally solid as the A's should be burdened with the Billy Ball label and its intimations of opèra bouffe. In all three games they did what they were supposed to, and when the Royals goofed, as they so frequently did, the A's made them pay for it. In the first game George Brett, who had a dreadful series afield and at bat, threw away a Tony Armas grounder in the fourth inning with two out and Murphy, who had walked, on second. Oakland Third Baseman Wayne Gross, another of the A's strolling band of unsung infielders, then punished his opposite number by hitting a three-run homer. "Not to criticize George," said Gross critically, "but anytime I see a ball hit to him, I say to myself there's a chance he'll throw it away and I'll get a chance to drive in a run." An inning later, Gross speared a Frank White line drive with the bases loaded and transformed it into an inning-ending double play. That was it for K.C. in Game 1, as Mike Norris, throwing mostly screwballs and off-speed pitches—"slop," as White petulantly put it—tossed a four-hit shutout.

While the Royals groused in their clubhouse, the A's fairly gamboled in theirs. Perhaps a dozen interviewers, mostly TV and radio savants, crowded around Norris' locker listening to a slender young black man discourse at length on pitching technique. It was only after Norris entered the room that they discovered the garrulous interviewee was, in fact, Mike Davis, a reserve outfielder. Said Pitcher Matt Keough to Norris after hearing both interviews, "Davis was better." Steve McCatty, who won 14 games in the irregular season, put the Royals to rest the next night on a 2-1 six-hitter. After singling and moving to second base on Cliff Johnson's sacrifice bunt, Murphy scored the deciding run in the eighth inning when Brett let Armas' smash go between his legs for a double.

Brett had only two singles in 12 at bats and was booed by his own fans. The darling of millions only a year ago, he was a sorry figure as he departed the visitors' clubhouse in Oakland. He managed a brave enough smile and unsparing self-assessment: "I was horsebleep." He wasn't alone.
—RON FIMRITE

PHOTOThe Expos piled on their gratitude after Rogers beat the Phillies for a second time. PHOTOGarvey's home runs left Baker slaphappy. PHOTOSteinbrenner fumed, but Reggie October laughed it off with a mighty two-run homer. PHOTONorris had the Royals bent out of shape.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)