SI Vault
E.M. Swift
September 03, 1979
Pete's gone, Tony's gone and Joe's not as joltin', but Cincinnati is pressing for first place in the National League West
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September 03, 1979

Say Hi To The Little Red Machine

Pete's gone, Tony's gone and Joe's not as joltin', but Cincinnati is pressing for first place in the National League West

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Morgan has been having anything but. He has long been a favorite of Riverfront fans, but he has been booed repeatedly this year. After starting out well—he hit .330 the first six weeks of the season—Morgan injured an ankle and slumped miserably. Because it pained him to take his normal stride, he altered his swing, falling into such bad habits as pulling back and using too much top hand. Since the All-Star break he has hit a puny .185, dropping his average to .245. Last week the normally well-mannered Cincinnati fans were giving it to him. But he broke out of the 0 for 13, 6 for 48 slump by slapping a ball to right in a game against the Expos. Upon reaching first, he was greeted by his old friend Tony Perez.

"Want the ball?" Perez asked him.

"Sure, give me the ball," Morgan said.

Perez halted the game to retrieve the memento.

"I remember when Perez hit that homer in the seventh game of the 1975 World Series to bring us within 3-2," says Little Joe. "It felt like we were ahead. We knew we'd get some more. [It was Morgan himself who drove in the winning run with a two-out single.] With those teams of '75 and '76, when we were behind 2-0, it seemed like we were ahead. With this team, when we're down 2-0, it seems like we're behind."

Morgan was looking more like his old self when he went 7 for 15 last week. The flurry of hits followed a session with the Reds' mammoth batting instructor, Ted Kluszewski, who encouraged him to meet the ball further out front in order to get some snap into his drives. "I'm not a big guy," Morgan says. "The difference between me and other little guys is that I can generate power. But I have to use my legs. I'm not strong enough to hit the ball from the waist up. I can't pull off the ball and hit. All I need is a good game or two."

He had one last Friday. Clued in by Klu, Morgan drilled the ball to rightfield in the first inning for a double, his first extra-base hit in 13 games. Then, with two out in the eighth inning and the game scoreless, he singled sharply. Up stepped Concepcion, who had already made a sparkling bare-hand play in the field. He doubled to right, and Morgan, who can still run even if he can't always hit, scored the game-winner.

The Reds may not win with the well-lubricated ease of the Big Red Machine of yore, but right now they have just as much faith in themselves. "If we were as good as those teams of '75 or '76, we would already have proved it," says Bench. "We would have won a lot more games than we have. We played very sloppy early in the year and gave away six, seven, eight games. But right now things have fallen into place. With this club, it has to be a team effort. The important thing is to be in first place at the end of the season. It's not how much you're there by."

McNamara would certainly agree with that. "This club has a lot of character," he says. "We've had some embarrassing games, like opening day, when we committed five errors at home. Another time Los Angeles humiliated us 17-6. But the guys on this team know how to put yesterday behind them and play for today."

Embarrassment? Humiliation? Not McNamara's Band.

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