- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
In Philadelphia they are advertising a patriotic pennant, with bumper stickers reading THE STAR-SPANGLED PHILLIES, a red-white-and-blue media guide and plans for an Opening Day gala featuring the completion of a Boston-to- Philadelphia horseback ride. Meanwhile, the cry on Society Hill is: the Phillies are coming, the Phillies are coming!
Can Philadelphia win its first pennant since 1950? Possibly. Last year the Phillies finished second, a respectable 6� games behind the Pirates, despite an inordinate number of injuries. Shortstop Larry Bowa, who averaged .305, and Centerfielder Garry Maddox (.272) missed long stretches, and the pitching staff was forced to rely heavily on 21-year-old rookies Larry Christenson, who had an 11-6 record, and Tom Underwood (14-13). Now Philadelphia's pitching looks dramatically improved. Erstwhile stopper Steve Carlton (15-14) has recovered from bursitis, and the Phils have acquired two proven starters—Jim Kaat (20-14) from the White Sox and Ron Reed (13-13) from the Cardinals.
With a good year from Relievers Tug McGraw, Tom Hilgendorf and Gene Garber, the Phillies easily could lower their 3.82 ERA, the fourth worst in the league. And thanks to First Baseman Dick Allen, the team's good hitting (.269) should get better. Last year Allen held out until May, reported out of shape and batted .233. This March he was running five miles a day.
But even the Liberty Bell has cracks. The powerful (84 homers, 277 RBIs) all-right-handed heart of the batting order—Allen, Leftfielder Greg Luzinski and Third Baseman Mike Schmidt—struck out 440 times, much to the dismay of Bowa and Second Baseman Dave Cash (.305), who were frequently left on base. The worst offender, league home-run champ Schmidt, had 180 strikeouts and only one sacrifice fly to go with his 38 homers.
The Phillies also need consistency. "We spent too much time worrying about one team," says Bowa. "We would beat the Pirates, then get blown out by somebody else." Most often that someone else was Chicago, which defeated Philadelphia 12 times in 18 games. Regardless of the opposition, the Phils will get a lift and a laugh out of the league's best double-play combination, Cash and Bowa. Last season they released a record called Ting-A-Ling, Double Play. "Three-year-old kids like it," says Bowa's wife Sheena.
Philadelphia kids of any age will not relish comparisons between their team and the Pirates. For one thing, while the Phillies are loaded with former 20-game winners of possibly declining talents, the 1976 Pirates could have their first 20-victory man since Vernon Law in 1960. The most likely candidate is Lefty Jerry Reuss. In 32 starts last year he had an 18-11 record. John Candelaria (8-6), Jim Rooker (13-11) and Doc Medich (16-16 with the Yankees) also have the potential to win 20.
The Pirates believe their bullpen, which consists of righthanders Dave Giusti and Kent Tekulve and lefthander Ramon Hernandez, is underrated. In truth, all Pittsburgh pitching has been unduly maligned. Last year the Pirates gave up fewer earned runs (3.01 per game) than any team in the league except Los Angeles, and fewer homers (79) than anyone.
Pirate pitchers can blame their lack of recognition on Pirate hitters, who have been attracting most of the applause for years. Pittsburgh had four batters—Leftfielder Richie Zisk, Rightfielder Dave Parker, Third Baseman Richie Hebner and First Baseman Willie Stargell—who contributed 10 or more game-winning hits. Second Baseman Rennie Stennett set a modern major league record with seven hits in a nine-inning game, while underrated Centerfielder Al Oliver batted for power (18 homers and 84 RBIs) and Catcher Manny Sanguillen for average (.328).
Despite perennial doubts about Pittsburgh's overall quality, almost every year the Pirates win. "People say we don't run enough," says Manager Danny Murtaugh. "We don't need to. They criticize our relief pitching and defense. There have been times when our fielding has been inconsistent, but it usually all happens in one game." Indeed, Pittsburgh made seven errors in one game last season. But such rare instances of total collapse should not be enough to prevent the Pirates from finishing first—and the Phils from ending up second—once more.
And what of New York, the only club in the East to overtake Pittsburgh since 1969? The Mets were in trouble even before spring training began. First, they created a stir by trading popular Outfielder Rusty Staub, who had just driven in 105 runs and hit 19 homers, for 35-year-old Pitcher Mickey Lolich, who had just lost 18 games for Detroit. The club brass argued that .302-hitting Mike Vail would provide more speed than Staub in right field. Then Vail dislocated his foot in a basketball game, and he may not have any speed until midseason, if then. As a result, so-so fielder John Milner will take over in right. The power-hitting duties fall on Leftfielder Dave Kingman (36 homers and 88 RBIs last year, but 153 strikeouts, a .231 average and weak defense) and Milner, who averaged 20 homers between 1972 and 1974, then spent most of last season on the bench. No wonder Rookie Manager Joe Frazier—who played in 1,776 minor league games, Bicentennial fans—already has a furrowed brow.