Back in those
dear dead days of spring and summer when winning was virtually a daily
occurrence, the Phillies were fond of describing themselves in trendy baseball
idiom as a team without "peaks or valleys." So emotionally anchored
were they that the joy of victory and the agony of defeat (what little there
was of that) were nearly indistinguishable. The Phillies simply rolled over the
stiffs in the National League East, toasting themselves at their team wine
tastings, practicing their transcendental meditation, whiling away a perfectly
splendid summer in the manner of gentlemen scholars on sabbatical.
in recent weeks, both on the field and off, have established that the Phillies,
contrary to their earlier image, have more peaks and valleys than Tibet.
Granted, the protagonist of the present unpleasantness is Dick Allen, a man of
such consummate mischievousness that he could incite a riot in a Trappist
monastery. Still, the Phillies have proved themselves as frail as the rest of
us. Ordinarily this might be regarded as an encouraging development by the
Reds, the Phils' opponents in the National League championship series. It
might, that is, if the memory of another team boiling with internal disorder
were not so vivid. Compared to the A's of 1972, the '76 Phillies are models of
deportment, but the A's overtook Cincinnati in the World Series of four years
ago, and the Reds have been wary of intramural squabblers ever since.
will help them, the Phillies should be thankful for it, because they will need
every edge they c�n get against the reigning world champions. For when the
playoffs begin this weekend in Philadelphia, the home team will be the underdog
in the sort of series the owners were dreaming of when they established the
divisional setup in 1969 but have rarely gotten in the ensuing years. According
to their regular-season records, Cincinnati (102-60) and Philadelphia (101-61)
are the two best teams in the majors. However, that fact alone is not what
makes these playoffs so enticing. It is the hitting of the
antagonists—long-ball hitting, line-drive hitting, lay-it-down-and-beat-it-out
hitting—that promises to turn this into a special series. There will be runners
on base—lots of them. That means there will be plenty of opportunities for
stealing, an endeavor at which both teams are proficient. And for scoring, a
category in which they held wide margins over the rest of the National League.
And for big innings, a specialty of both clubs. Right down to the socks of
their almost identical uniforms, Philly and Cincy both are Big Red Machines,
the sobriquet given long ago to Cincinnati because of its prolific scoring.
The problem for
the Phils is that the Cincy machine is a little better at just about everything
except pitching, which the Reds define as a group activity intended to limit
opponents to no more than 10 runs a game. Cincy's batters may be counted on for
at least 11. George Foster led the league with 121 RBIs, and Ken Griffey was
second in batting with a .336 average. Centerfielder Cesar Geronimo, a .257
hitter in 1975, batted .307 this year, and the Establishment—Pete Rose and Joe
Morgan—enjoyed routinely sensational seasons. Rose hit .323, while Morgan had a
.320 average, 27 homers and 60 steals. Rose, Morgan and Griffey all scored more
than 100 runs, and Foster and Morgan batted in more than 100, with Tony Perez
close behind with 91 RBIs. Collectively, the Reds hit .280 to, of course, lead
the league. They scored more runs than anyone and had more homers and stolen
bases, too. Johnny Bench is still probably the best defensive catcher in the
game, Dave Concepcion is among the finest shortstops, Morgan is an outstanding
second baseman, and Geronimo has considerable range and one of the strongest
But to win in a
short series, baseball savants insist, a team must have good pitching. The
Reds' pitching is merely adequate, but they won a World Series with it a year
ago and it is no worse now. In fact, rookies Pat Zachry and Santo Alcala give
additional depth to a staff already distinguished more for numbers than names.
Seven Cincinnati pitchers have won 10 games or more—an esoteric accomplishment
that is, nevertheless, unequaled in National League history. So what if none of
them won more than 15 or completed more than eight games? As the expression
goes, there is always activity in the Reds' bullpen. Rawly Eastwick appeared in
71 games and had 26 saves, Pedro Borbon pitched in 69 and Will McEnaney worked
in 55. Of these earnest toilers, only McEnaney can be said to have had an off
aside, the Reds play as a team. In Morgan's familiar words, "We do the
little things better." The Reds run the bases, they advance their runners
expertly and, when they have them in scoring position, they generally score.
And their defense is hardly generous.
Only a little
more than a month ago, the Phillies would have merited equivalent accolades.
They, too, can hit, run and field. In Mike Schmidt, who led the majors with 38
homers, Greg Luzinski and Allen, they have power hitters comparable to the
best. Outfielders Luzinski, Garry Maddox and Jay Johnstone all hit better than
.300. Dave Cash and Larry Bowa, who form the Phils' skilled double-play
combination, and Maddox are good base runners. And Philadelphia has two
stoppers, Steve Carlton (20-7 and 13 complete games) and Jim Lonborg (18-10),
to Cincinnati's none.
For a long while,
it seemed that the Phillies might win more games this year than the Reds. Few
teams have opened a season more impressively. After losing three of their first
four games, they launched an amazing streak in which they won 51 of their next
69 games and effectively disengaged themselves from the rabble in their
division. They moved into first on May 9 and were 15� games ahead of the
second-place Pirates on Aug. 25. The next day, they won the first of a
four-game series with the Reds that was looked upon as a playoff preview. It
was their seventh victory over Cincy against two losses. But they dropped the
final three games to the Reds, then lost five more in a row. In the days that
followed, they won only five of 21 games. By Sept. 17, the Pirates were only
three games back.
During this time,
the Phillies were playing without Allen, who absented himself from the team in
late July, earning a suspension that was subsequently lifted when it was
learned he had an injured shoulder. Allen rejoined his teammates on Sept. 3,
but, hurt and slumping, he was unable to arrest the descent.
With the Pirates
almost upon them, the Phillies rallied, winning seven of nine games before
clinching the division title in Montreal on the 26th. Allen celebrated this
signal triumph, the first Phillie championship since 1950, in the solitude of
the dugout while his teammates sprayed champagne in the clubhouse. He left the
team immediately afterward, eschewing a three-game series in St. Louis in favor
of some restful days with the home folks on his farm in Perkasie, Pa. He took
off this time with the alleged permission of Manager Danny Ozark, although
reporters accompanying the team suspected permission was granted only after the
departure. Allen accompanied this latest defection with the pronouncement that
he would not participate in either the playoffs or the World Series unless his
old pal, 40-year-old Infielder Tony Taylor, was placed on the team's 25-man
roster for postseason games.