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The wives of Montreal First Baseman Tommy Hutton and Philadelphia Pitcher Dick Ruthven stopped talking to each other, which wouldn't be noteworthy except that they're twin sisters. Ozzie Virgil Sr., the Expos' third-base coach, has a fowl name for Ozzie Virgil Jr., a Phillies reserve catcher. But there's good reason for this familial discord. The Phillies and the Expos are fighting for the championship of the National League East, sort of the Black and Blue Division of baseball.
Last weekend the Expos brought their battered bodies into Philadelphia for a three-game series with the Phillies and their bruised psyches. The teams split the first two games, which were wildly and mildly exciting, respectively, and then Montreal took the rubber game by a resounding score of 8-3. When things finally settled down in Veterans Stadium Sunday night, the Expos were a half-game up on the Phillies with a week left to play. The week will end with a three-game rematch between the two rivals in Montreal. Watch out.
For the Phillies, a division title would mean a shot at the World Series, which would mean a shot at redemption, not only for the playoff el pholdos of 1976, '77 and '78 and the collapse of 1964 (never let 'em forget that), but for all time. In their 97 years of play, the Phillies have won two pennants (1915 and 1950) and nary a world championship.
In a season when they weren't expected to win and with many of their players having off years, these aging Phillies are nonetheless making what could be their last bid for a championship. Says Reliever Tug McGraw, "Time is beginning to pass us by, and we don't want to have to look back on these years as wasted."
However, were it not for Mike Schmidt, who should be a shoo-in for National League MVP, with 44 homers, 114 RBIs and a .281 average; Steve Carlton, another shoo-in as the Cy Young winner, with a record of 23-9 and an ERA of 2.41; and McGraw, who has an ERA of 0.63 and 11 saves since coming off the disabled list on July 17, this might have been another lost year for the Phillies.
For les Expos, a division title would mean recognition. The team is almost as beloved in Montreal and Canada as les Canadiens, but south of the border the Expos remain a faceless bunch of lanceurs, receveurs, voltigeurs and interieurs. "We're just an unknown club from out of the country, so we try to be as nice as possible, even with me as the manager," says Gérant Dick Williams. "I don't think you'll see any of our players hiding out in the clubhouse."
Williams' remark was actually a verbal shot at the Philadelphia players, who generally treat the press as history has treated their team. They were truly ecstatic after their 2-1 victory Friday night, but as soon as the reporters walked into the clubhouse, the players sobered up. In Philadelphia's defense, this has not been an easy season. Catcher Bob Boone, Leftfielder Greg Luzinski, Centerfielder Garry Maddox and even First Baseman Pete Rose have been struggling at the plate, and Larry Bowa, of all shortstops, has far more errors (17) than usual. A reckless story originating in the Trenton Times linking the Phillies—or "Pillies" as some called them—with drugs upset the team. And Manager Dallas Green has been playing the role of wicked stepfather all season. On Aug. 10, between games of a doubleheader loss to Pittsburgh, Green gave the Phils a royal chewing. And since then Philadelphia has gone from six games back to a half-game out, with several brief layovers in first place. "Dallas upset some players," says Tim McCarver, the catcher-turned-broadcaster-turned-broadcaster-catcher. "But he also gave us a sense of reckoning. You can't perform just by putting a uniform on."
The Expos have had to overcome their almost universal dislike for Williams, who may be the least beloved skipper since Captain Bligh, and a ceaseless series of injuries. They have been able to field their regular starting lineup in only 23 games this year. Montreal headed into the final week without the bats of Left-fielder Ron LeFlore, who has a broken left wrist, and Rightfielder Ellis Valentine, who has a sprained wrist. LeFlore's legs, which have given him 93 stolen bases, are still available for pinch running. "Every day is another obstacle," says First Baseman Warren Cromartie. "But it builds character."
When the Expos arrived at Veterans Stadium on Friday, the Phillies had a precarious half-game lead, thanks to two one-run victories over the Mets. In the 10th inning of a scoreless tie on Wednesday night, Del Unser, 35, led off with a pinch-hit single. Then McCarver, 38, who came down from the broadcast booth for September just to play in his fourth decade, laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt, and the 39-year-old Rose singled in the game's lone run. The next night the Phillies' rookies won it, 2-1, as 22-year-old Marty Bystrom pitched 6⅔ innings of one-run ball and 24-year-old Lonnie Smith, who's batting .336 as a part-timer, drove in what proved to be the winning run. The Expos lost that day 5-4 to the Cubs, making Philadelphia the division leader.
In the meantime, the defending-world-champion Pirates were playing themselves out of contention and Sue Harper Ruthven and Debby Harper Hutton were playing themselves into a state of contentiousness. Seems that Sue called Debby, who lives in California, to ask if she'd be in Montreal the last week of the season. "Sue told Debby that the Phillie wives were all going to be up there when the Phillies clinched it," according to Tommy Hutton, who introduced Sue to Ruthven when he was a Phillie. "Debby said, 'What do you mean when the Phillies clinch it?' The fight wasn't very big, and everything's O.K. now."