The first pitch Dodger lefthander Jerry Reuss threw to the Phillies' Gary Matthews last Saturday night in the fourth game of the National League Championship Series was a venomous fastball just below the knees that Matthews narrowly dodged by leaping aside in the manner of a pedestrian eluding a speeding taxi. The next pitch Reuss threw—a decidedly less lethal fastball—was hit by Matthews on a tremendous are into the upper deck of Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium for a three-run homer that won the pennant for the Phils. The ball was hit with such force that Matthews felt no cause to watch its lordly flight. "I didn't have to watch the ball because I knew it was going out," he explained later. "I can't remember hitting a ball that far before."
Matthews not only devastated the Dodgers in the four games of the playoffs—setting or tying records by getting five consecutive hits, by driving in eight runs and by hitting homers in three straight games—but he also vindicated himself for an otherwise subpar season.
Matthews hit .429 in the playoffs after a .258 season. A regular from his rookie year, 1973, with San Francisco through last season, when he played in every game for the Phillies, this year Matthews was platooned by Manager Paul Owens, who descended from the general manager's office to take field control on July 18. Matthews bore his humiliation in manly silence, but he seethed inside until he ripped into a Dodger team that suddenly seemed pitifully overmatched. "This doesn't make up for a tough season," said Matthews of his playoff heroics, "but now the people of Philadelphia know I can still play."
Matthews wasn't the only Phillie who felt rejected this season. In fact, his story is a familiar one at the Vet. Golden oldies Pete Rose and Joe Morgan were also benched and both had wretched seasons, Rose hitting .245 and Morgan, despite a 29-point burst in September, only .230. When the 58-year-old Owens took over from the fired Pat Corrales, he instituted some Earl Weaverish lineup juggling, seeking, as he put it, to replace the "I-ism" with "We-ism." Philadelphia wasn't an easy team to manage, he conceded, "with so many potential Hall of Famers at the ends of their careers."
The Phillies had won 25 of their last 32 regular-season games and were the hot team entering the playoffs. But the youthful Dodgers—the Baby Blues—had beaten Philadelphia in 11 of the teams' 12 meetings during the season and had held the Phils to a composite average of .187. Youth, in short, had prevailed.
The Phillies did have an advantage in the series opener in the person of Steve (Lefty) Carlton, the Broad Street sphinx. The Dodgers had proved themselves vulnerable to lefthanders, losing 21 of 30 decisions to them in the season. Opposing Carlton was Reuss, who with an 0-6 record is now the losingest pitcher in playoff history. Mike Schmidt hit a homer for the Phillies in the first inning of what would be a 1-0 game. Lefty went 7‚Öî innings, and Al Holland, also a lefty, worked the rest of the scoreless distance. Carlton not only beat the Dodgers, he embarrassed them. When leadoff hitter Steve Sax singled in the first for Los Angeles, Carlton quickly picked him off, a scenario that would be repeated in the final game.
The Dodgers made a few more mistakes in Game 2, but still rode home 4-1 winners behind the stout pitching of stout Fernando Valenzuela, who, except for the first of Matthews' homers, held the Phillies in check. Valenzuela was denied a complete game when Lasorda brought in Tom Niedenfuer in the ninth, after a mini-rally threatened Los Angeles' precarious lead. On being removed, Valenzuela responded with what appeared to be angry gestures in the dugout. He isn't much more informative in postgame interviews with English-speaking reporters than is the silent Carlton because Valenzuela speaks through an interpreter. "I was only stretching my arms" was the interpretation of Valenzuela's reply to a question about his gestures. Valenzuela later insisted that he was angry over an official ruling that had given Garry Maddox an error after he'd chased down Valenzuela's long fly to deep right center in the fifth inning. Maddox had the ball in his glove but slipped on grass dampened by an overnight rain, the ball squirting free as he fell on his backside. Valenzuela wound up at third with what he thought should have been recognized as a triple.
The game was won when Dodger Pedro Guerrero's twisting liner to right in the same inning bounced away from Sixto Lezcano for an undisputed two-run triple. A similar shot by Morgan, with two Phillies on base, was caught by a diving Mike Marshall in the seventh. "Guerrero's fell and Joe's didn't," said Owens, summing up.
The first two games in warm and hazy Dodger Stadium revealed an ominous L.A. penchant for bonehead plays that are symptomatic of impetuous youth. Sax set the pattern by being picked off before most of the Game 1 spectators had been seated. In the fourth inning of the second game, Marshall, on third base, was nailed in a rundown between third and home after Bill Russell, on first, was caught yards short on an attempted steal of second. "There was no double steal on," said Marshall. "Bill got caught so far from the bag, he just stopped. I decided to go home to create a little chaos." The chaos denied the Dodgers a scoring opportunity. And after the three-base Maddox muff, Valenzuela made a big error of his own, attempting to score from third on Greg Brock's soft bouncer to Schmidt at third. Valenzuela was out by a lot.
The Dodgers didn't let up on the silly stuff in Game 3. In the second inning one run scored when, on successive pitches, Los Angeles' Alejandro Pe√±a threw a wild pitch and Jack Fimple committed a passed ball. A second run in that inning scored when Guerrero fielded Ivan De-Jesus' grounder at third and threw to first instead of home, where Greg Gross would have been cut down easily. "I can't look at the ball and the runner," Guerrero alibied. "I should get help from somebody. The catcher was there, the pitcher, the shortstop." Guerrero obviously wasn't the only one with a dim view that day. In all three of the twilight games, visibility was poor. Even third-game Plate Umpire John McSherry acknowledged that he couldn't see the ball clearly in the fading light.
The third-game goofs, egregious as they were, weren't the cause of the Dodgers' penultimate 7-2 loss. For all practical purposes, the Angelenos were goners when Starter Bob Welch was obliged to retire in the second inning after throwing only 31 pitches. The reason: bursitis in his left hip, an affliction that had troubled him since late last month. "He never feels it in warmups," said Dodger assistant trainer Paul Padilla, who examined Welch on the mound after he walked the first two hitters in the second. "It's that little extra he extends himself in a game." Welch's departure forced Lasorda to use Pe√±a, whom he had intended to start on Saturday, in long relief. Pe√±a, a reluctant reliever, was ineffective, partly because he said he'd thrown 100 pitches warming up in the bullpen during Game 2. Pe√±a's successor, Rick Honeycutt, allowed two runs in only a third of an inning. Honeycutt, traded to the Dodgers in August from Texas, actually finished as the American League's ERA leader at 2.42. His earned run average for two playoff appearances was 21.60.
Lasorda felt he had no choice after the third-game loss but to come back with Reuss in Game 4, though he'd not started with three days' rest all season. Owens, for his part, benefited in the third game from a brilliant pitching effort by rookie Charles (Don't Call Me Charlie) Hudson, who pitched in A ball last year and was not promoted to Philadelphia from Triple A Portland until May 31 of this year. He finished the season at 8-8, but won five straight in one stretch and was within two outs of a no-hitter against Houston on July 20. Staked to a snappy 3-0 lead, Hudson hung a curveball to Marshall in the fourth, and Marshall belted it for a two-run homer.
After Hudson retired the side, he plopped down by himself on the dugout bench. John Denny, a nine-year veteran who had gone six innings in the loss to Valenzuela on Wednesday, soon joined him. "You're losing your concentration," Denny firmly advised the 24-year-old Hudson. "Stop throwing the slow-breaking pitch. You've got good motion on your slider today. Use it." "After that," said Hudson later, "I got it together." Indeed, the Dodgers didn't get another hit. Matthews did, countering Marshall's homer with one of his own leading off the Phillies' fourth. "It was the biggest hit of the series," said Schmidt, "coming right after their guy had given them a lift. It was demoralizing to them."
That night, Matthews and Morgan had dinner with an old pal, Dodger Dusty Baker, at Bookbinder's Restaurant on the Philadelphia waterfront. Matthews was relishing his big four-RBI day, and Baker, according to Matthews' wife, Pamela, "was always saying something to bring him back down." "Before the playoffs," Baker said later, "Gary and I talked about how we were going to do. I said I was going to be the hero, and he said he was. I lied. He didn't."
True. In Game 4 the Phillies never trailed after Matthews' epochal first-inning blast, and Schmidt chipped in with three hits, an RBI and three runs. Lezcano hit a two-run homer, and Rose, who went 6 for 16 in the series, had two hits. Carlton, suffering from stiffness in his lower back, went six innings before giving way, first to Ron Reed and finally to Holland. Reuss gave up five runs in four-plus innings. The Phillies had duplicated their 7-2 win of the day before.
There was the obligatory champagne squirt in the clubhouse afterward, and Owens embraced veteran players who only weeks earlier had felt their careers threatened by him. Pitcher Larry Andersen put on the rubber mask of an old man and slipped into one of Owens' uniform shirts, adding to the hilarity.
There was, of course, no dousing the spirits of the series' Most Valuable Player, Matthews. When Coach Bobby Wine interrupted one of Matthews' dissertations to the press with the admonition, "You can't stand here talking for four hours," Matthews had a quick retort. "Hell, I didn't play for three months," he said. "Let me talk." There was no question he had something to talk about.