It's a beautiful day for baseball," said Willie Stargell as he stepped into the batting cage in Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium last Saturday and crashed one, two, three balls over the wall in disdainful succession. Though the scoreboard was flashing all kinds of peculiar news from Boston—one, two, three errors in the first inning?—the Pittsburgh strongman insisted that "these playoffs only seem a little weird sometimes because everyone is watching, everything is magnified."
Nine innings later, after Cincinnati's Joe Morgan launched what would become a demolition derby on the base paths and Don Gullett not only held Stargell hitless but drove in one, two, three very magnified runs, Willie still stuck to his apparition theory. Nothing unusual, he said of the Reds' 8-3 win in the playoff opener. "They just did and we didn't."
After a week of stat-happy prognostications, Stargell's oversimplifications were refreshing, but the day's beauty clearly lay in the eyes of Riverfront's Reds-mad, world-championship-starved beholders.
"This time," said Tony Perez, "we have a little bit more of everything good." Morgan proved that when, with the Reds trailing 2-1 in the first game, he was walked by Jerry Reuss, stole second and then impudently stole third on the next pitch, eventually scoring the tying run. Those thefts plus an earlier one by Morgan set a single-game National League playoff record. Much more was to come. "I just can't stand to be behind in a short series," said Morgan. "It really bothers me. So I ran on Reuss. I've worked harder at stealing bases than he has at holding me on them, so why shouldn't I be better?"
Though the Reds won a runaway 108 games this year, Gullett contrived to find a whole new way to win this one when he hit the first home run of his six-year career, a two-run shot that caused him to leap like a cheerleader on the base paths. "I feel like a music teacher watching a great pianist at work when Gullett is out there," said Reds Pitching Coach Larry Shepard. "He gives me goose pimples." "Donny is so good he gives me chills," said Manager Sparky Anderson.
In the second game, a 6-1 five-hitter won by Fred Norman with an assist from Rawly Eastwick, Morgan & Co. went merrily amok, Joe stealing another base, Ken Griffey stealing three, Dave Concepcion two and George Foster one. Ah yes, there were a dozen Cincinnati hits, too, including a two-run homer by Perez. Batting way down in seventh position Griffey had knocked in three runs the day before; now he added another.
As the woebegone Pirates moved to Three Rivers Stadium for their third gasp, Stargell groped for sustenance. "When things appear to be the darkest," he said, "that's when we play our best baseball."
Was he thinking of a one, two, three Pittsburgh sweep? Now that would be weird.