It seemed a Royal mismatch. Pitching for Kansas City was Dennis Leonard, redheaded, bearded, solemn of mien, a 20-game winner this year and three times overall, the ace of the K.C. staff. On the mound for Philadelphia was Bob Walk, whose very name connotes incompetence. Walk is a gangling, pimple-faced 23-year-old rookie whose teammates call him Whirly-bird. Walk has been known to come to bat without a bat and to warm up without a glove or ball. The first pitch he threw in a major league ball park was as an 18-year-old from the leftfield pavilion at Dodger Stadium. He threw a tennis ball at Houston Centerfielder Cesar Cedeno. He was yanked from that game by a security officer.
Walk would be pitching this night for the first time in 12 days because he was the only Philadelphia starter who hadn't worked in the agonizing Championship Series against the Astros. At World Series time a year ago he was pumping gas in Newhall, Calif., harboring few dreams of glory. Walk would be the first rookie to start an opening Series game since the Dodgers' Joe Black faced the Yankees in 1952. Philadelphia hadn't won a World Series game since Grover Cleveland Alexander beat the Red Sox 3-1 on Oct. 8, 1915. The Phillies lost the next four in that Series and four straight to the Yankees in 1950. And now Philadelphia was counting on a kid named Base-on-Balls.
The worst fears of cynical Phillies fans seemed realized all too early when Amos Otis in the second inning and Willie Aikens in the third hit two-run homers to give the Royals a 4-0 lead.
But the Phillies had come from behind in all three of their playoff wins, and they would do it again this night, although somewhat earlier than usual. Larry Bowa started the rally with a one-out single in the third. He stole second and was doubled home by Bob Boone, who scored himself when George Brett, who had cut off Willie Wilson's throw from the outfield after Lonnie Smith's single, unaccountably went to second base to nail a trapped Smith instead of holding Boone on third. Still, the Royals had a 4-2 lead with two outs and no Phils on base as Pete Rose came to bat. Rose wouldn't let the rally die. By his own admission, he allowed Leonard's 1-2 pitch to hit him on the calf. If the umpire had known that, he would have called the pitch a ball and the inning might have been different. Mike Schmidt then walked, and Bake McBride cracked a three-run homer to rightfield. The Phils had the lead for good, adding single runs in the fourth and fifth innings. The Royals made it a final 7-6 in the eighth with Aikens' second two-run homer off Walk, who was instantly replaced by the inevitable Tug McGraw, pitching in his fifth straight postseason game.
Until McGraw arrived, Walk had shut out the Royals for four consecutive innings. (His supposedly superior opponent, Leonard, had been sent packing in the fourth.) McGraw held the Royals in check in the eighth and ninth with his infamous screwball and his assortment of fastballs—the Peggy Lee ("Is That All There Is"), the John Jameson ("Straight, the way I like my Irish whiskey"), the Cutty Sark ("It sails"), the Bo Derek ("Has a nice little tail on it") and the Frank Sinatra ("Fly Me to the Moon"). McGraw's father, Frank Sr.—Tug is a junior—and his brother Hank, who once played in the Phillies' farm system, were in the audience during Tug's customary postgame standup routine. Asked if pitching were mostly mental. Tug replied. "If that were true I'd be in the trainers' room right now soaking my head in ice."
A shudder of apprehension passed through the Kansas City camp when it was learned that Brett, the electric presence in the Royals' lineup, was suffering from hemorrhoids, an affliction both embarrassing and excruciating. Brett was in pain by the finish of the opening game, and he underwent treatment as late as 4 a.m. on the day of Game 2. And still he hurt. But he played, cracking out two hits and drawing a walk before succumbing to increasing discomfort in the sixth inning. The Royals were trailing 2-1 when Brett limped off, but they rallied for three runs in the seventh, two scoring on Otis' bases-loaded double past Schmidt down the leftfield line. Then Manager Jim Frey confidently summoned Dan Quisenberry to protect the new two-run lead. Quisenberry, the sub-sidearm sinkerball specialist, had saved 33 games and had won 12 others during the regular season, so Frey seemed justified in his confidence. His starter, the lefthanded Larry Gura, had thrown well enough, pitching a perfect game for the first four innings before giving up two runs in the fifth, his only rocky inning. But Gura grew weary, and Quisenberry seemed like money in the bank.
Indeed, in the seventh he set the Phillies down in ground-ball order. But in the eighth he came a cropper. As happened throughout the playoffs, it was the Phillies' bench that did the cropping. This time it was Del Unser, a knockabout 35-year-old 13-year veteran whose father, Al, played in the major leagues before him. With Boone, another second-generation major-leaguer on first, Unser lined a Quisenberry sinker into the gap in leftfield for a run-scoring double. Unser was advanced to third by a Rose ground-out and he scored the tying run when McBride bounced a hopper off the hard Tartan Turf over a drawn-in infield. The floodgates were open. Schmidt got his second postseason RBI in 1980 by doubling home McBride for the tiebreaker, and Keith Moreland, inserted as the designated hitter when Greg Luzinski came down with an intestinal virus, singled in Schmidt with the cushion run. Final score: Phillies 6, Royals 4.
Steve Carlton won his first Series game, but once again he wasn't the Lefty of lore. He threw 159 pitches in the eight innings he worked, walking six and allowing 10 hits while striking out 10. "Lefty was struggling out there," said Manager Dallas Green, "but he was struggling not because of Lefty but because of baseballs." Naturally. He wasn't throwing them over the plate much. No, said Green, "the baseballs we were given tonight were as slick as any I've ever seen. Boonie told me those things were just like ice. Lefty has to have a feel for his slider, and he didn't have it tonight."