SI Vault
 
TWO SMASHUPS AND A SLIPUP
Ron Fimrite
October 16, 1978
Garry Maddox proceeded solemnly among the multitudes that had come to rejoice in his humiliation, opening a narrow path through them as he trotted almost leisurely in from centerfield. It was as if rushing away from the disaster would acknowledge that it had actually happened, as if moving at a measured pace would make it a mere illusion. When he crossed into foul territory, Maddox slowed to a walk as dozens of agile youngsters leaped from the dugout roof and alighted all around him like vultures approaching carrion. He paused for an instant at the lip of the dugout and dreamily rubbed his sleeve over his eyes. Then he dropped from sight.
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October 16, 1978

Two Smashups And A Slipup

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Garry Maddox proceeded solemnly among the multitudes that had come to rejoice in his humiliation, opening a narrow path through them as he trotted almost leisurely in from centerfield. It was as if rushing away from the disaster would acknowledge that it had actually happened, as if moving at a measured pace would make it a mere illusion. When he crossed into foul territory, Maddox slowed to a walk as dozens of agile youngsters leaped from the dugout roof and alighted all around him like vultures approaching carrion. He paused for an instant at the lip of the dugout and dreamily rubbed his sleeve over his eyes. Then he dropped from sight.

So ended the 1978 baseball season for the Phillies, 4-3 losers to the Dodgers in the fourth and last game of the National League Championship Series last Saturday. And what an unhappy ending it was for them. The Phillies had come to Los Angeles after dropping the first two playoff games at home, in Veterans Stadium, where they had won 54 of 82 regular-season contests and were considered virtually unbeatable in important games. They departed Philadelphia with the boos of their volatile fans resounding in their ears and the notion firmly implanted in most onlookers' minds that the Phillies did not belong on the same field as the Dodgers. After all, hadn't Los Angeles outscored Philadelphia 13-5 in the first two games? And hadn't the Phillies played in such lackluster fashion and the Dodgers in such a sparkling manner that even the lopsided scores were too modest an indication of the disparity between the clubs? While Philadelphia seemed to be raising the error of omission and the double-play grounder into art forms, the Dodgers were hitting five home runs, fielding with aplomb and getting superb stints from pitchers as different in style as they are in age, 35-year-old Tommy John and 21-year-old Bob Welch.

But on the flight west the Phillies hit on a devil-may-care approach to their dilemma. Down two games to none in the best three-of-five series, about to play the Dodgers in their home, chided by even their most devoted followers as perennial choke artists, they decided to laugh at danger. As Coach Billy DeMars explained it, "We knew we had done lousy. We got on that plane and thought, 'What the hell, let's enjoy ourselves.' We drank a lot of beer and had a lot of fun."

The Dawn Patrol, tomorrow-we-die stance worked, at least briefly. Behind the hitting and pitching of Steve Carlton, the least jaunty of a usually cheerless bunch, the Phillies won 9-4 on Friday at Dodger Stadium and, miraculously, seemed to find old confidence in the newfound buoyancy. On Saturday they tenaciously matched the Dodgers tit for tat and homer for homer, in the process threatening to turn what promised to—and ultimately would—be a rout of a series into a cliffhanger. They loaded the bases on lefthander Doug Rau with nobody out in the first inning but failed to score. No matter. When the Dodgers got a run in the second, they came back in the third with Greg Luzinski's two-run homer. Ron Cey's home run in the fourth tied the game, and one by Steve Garvey, who was the Dodgers' most destructive force in the series with four homers, a triple and a double, put Los Angeles ahead 3-2. So? In the seventh Philadelphia's Bake McBride, pinch-hitting for Relief Pitcher Warren Brusstar, hit one into the Phillies' bullpen. The score held at 3-3 into the 10th. After three laughers, this game had become the grueling, tense sort of struggle that should epitomize championship baseball.

Then in the bottom of the 10th, with two outs and Cey on base after a walk, the Dodgers' Dusty Baker lined a Tug McGraw pitch to dead centerfield. Maddox, a three-time Gold Glove winner who may be the best centerfielder around, moved in for the catch. It was past four in the afternoon, and the smog that had settled on the diamond like a veil was fast being supplanted by fading sunlight and deepening shadows. But Maddox had the ball clearly in sight. It dropped into his glove as expected. Then it dropped out and fell at his feet for an error. There were now runners at first and second, and Phillie and Dodger fans alike had the sense there was great portent in Maddox' gaffe. Indeed, the next hitter, Bill Russell, hit McGraw's second pitch into center for a clean single. Maddox, desperate to atone for his blunder, raced toward the ball, hoping somehow to cut down Cey at the plate. He tried to scoop it up one-handed for a quick throw, but it rolled away from him. No matter. He would have had no chance to catch the jubilant Cey even if he had made the play cleanly. There was nothing to do now but undertake the long trek through the celebrants to a clubhouse that would once again be as devoid of cheer as an all-night coffee shop.

The Maddox Muff was remarkably similar to the most infamous boner of them all, the Giants' Fred Snodgrass dropping Clyde Engle's fly ball in the 10th inning of the final game of the 1912 World Series in Boston. The Red Sox went on to win that game 3-2, and poor Snodgrass, like Maddox an excellent player, achieved a dubious immortality.

After the game Phillie Captain Mike Schmidt complained that his team hit in deplorable luck all day, that the Dodgers were dropping mortar shots into unoccupied ground while Phillie rockets were finding populated areas. Take the first inning when Jose Cardenal hit one with the bases loaded that sought out Shortstop Russell's glove for a harmless second out. Similar loud outs were recorded by Philadelphia's Bob Boone in the fourth and ninth innings, by Starting Pitcher Randy Lerch in the second and fourth, by Luzinski in the sixth and by Schmidt himself in the seventh. A foot or two either way and.... The dreary fact is that the Phillies are either unlucky in postseason games or they are perpetually swallowing the apple, because their record of futility in the "crooshals" is unequaled. They lost to the Red Sox four games to one in the 1915 World Series; to the Yankees 4-0 in the 1950 Series; to the Reds 3-0 in the 1976 playoffs; and to the Dodgers 3-1 both this year and last, a total of three wins and 17 losses in championship competition.

Phillie Manager Danny Ozark, a good, gentle man with a face like a deflated football, could only say that some changes seem imminent on a team that has won three consecutive division titles. One of them, he did not add, might well involve Ozark himself, who suffers annual rumors of his own dismissal. "There isn't a guy in this room," said Pitcher Dick Ruthven after losing the second game, "who isn't disappointed as hell, and there isn't a guy in here who isn't trying his damndest."

Try as they might, the Phillies did not have enough to match the "emotionally high" Dodgers. "Emotion plays an important part in the playoffs and the Series," said Los Angeles Captain Davey Lopes, a taut wire himself. "You can tell when a team is high. You can tell by how vociferous they are in the dugout. You can tell by their facial expressions. You play with guys for a time, you can see these changes. There is so much at stake—pride, money." As if such factors were not motivation enough, the Dodgers were spurred on by a wish to win their rematch with the Yankees and to dedicate a world championship to Coach Jim Gilliam, who lay in a coma at a Southern California hospital last week after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage on Sept. 15. "We just love this man," said Manager Tom Lasorda, who wears his own emotions on his sleeve of Dodger blue. "The Devil," the nickname used by Gilliam's confreres in tribute to his genius as a cardplayer, "may not be here physically," said Lopes, "but he's here spiritually."

The Dodgers were off and winging in damp, chilly Philly last Wednesday, winning the opener 9-5 as Steve Garvey, who was named the series' Most Valuable Player, homered twice and tripled, and Lopes hit one out. Welch, a hard thrower in the Sandy Koufax mold although he is a righthander, came on to rescue Starter Burt Hooton in the fifth inning and gave Philadelphia only two hits the rest of the way.

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