By the end, Veterans Stadium was reduced once more to its customary autumn pall. The crowd of 40,305 sat in disgusted silence, bending, folding and multilating their Philadelphia Phillies programs and wondering how the most bizarre misfortunes can befall their maroons.
Between each late inning, as nefarious shadows crept toward the center field wall, it took six hustling grounds crewmen just to clean up all the paper airplanes built by idle hands and tossed like malicious darts out of the upper deck at the Phils.
Yes, this time it was shadows that helped knock the Phils out of first place. Don't dare say that in Montreal where credit is rightly being given to five-hit pitcher Steve Rogers and two homer catcher Gary Carter for the Expos' 8-3 victory today. But folks here know why the Phils ended this day staring at their shoetops as though the sky had fallen, even though they are an infinitesimal half-game behind the Expos and tied in the lost column. It's always ghosts and goblins that undo the haunted Phillies, this team that can, after a centruy's practice, spot an evil portent a mile away. So, at sundown this evening, it was shadows. A fly ball lost in the glare and gloaming will do nicely.
Perhaps the ultimate Phillies' poster would be a blown-up photo of Garry Maddox today as he ran in for a routine liner in the sixth inning, then suddenly threw his hands over his face like he was being strafed with machine-gun fire as the ball flew past his ear and rolled to the center field wall for a two-run game-exploding triple. A mere 2-1 Montreal lead became 4-1, then, moments later 5-1, as Chris Speier, the man who hit the humble flare, scored on Rogers' though a drawn-in infield. That was far more than enough against the battery of Rogers -- 1.95 ERA in his last eight starts -- and Carter, the best catcher in baseball who now has 29 homers and 99 RBI.
Like every act of Phillie immolation, this episode had foreshadowings. On the last day of August, Maddox missed consecutive fly balls in San Diego when he forgot to take his sunglasses to center field. He was chastized and even offered to apologize in a meeting. All was forgiven. Today, he remembered to take his sunglasses. He just forgot to put them down.
As often happens, the Phils were left with just cause for rightous indignaion. ABC-TV dictated that game-time be moved back from the sunshine of regular game-time (1:30 p.m.) to 3 p.m. "It's a disgrace," said Mike Schmidt before the game. "Pitches look like a small black pea at the plate." s
"I don't think TV people have one iota of understanding of the problems they cause," said Phil Manager Dallas Green. "And I doubt if they care . . . but there's no use complaining about it. It's never going to change . . . no hope."
Perhaps TV is in the saddle and rides mankind. But a center fielder still has a right to defend himself with sunglasses. Maddox didn't.
"It was tough out there," said Maddox, who, instead of being called the Mighty Burner, might be called the Gentle Victim for the sad, quiet way he often seems to explain his well-inentioned mistakes. "I got a good jump and didn't lose the ball until the end. It was a terrible feeling . . . but it's crying to make excueses. No, I never put the glasses down."
Fair or not, that may stick in many Phillie craws.
"I can make sure he wears glasses out there," said Green, "but I can't flip 'em down for him. We talked about this last time. He says they don't help him . . . that he doesn't need them. But I say they can't hurt him; and if he'd put 'em down, it would remove the doubt from all our minds. We wouldn't have to ask ourselves, 'What if. . .'"
In Maddox's defense, it should be pointed out that this was Green's day to tell folks exactly what was on his mind. In the eighth inning he was ejected for arguing with umpire Eric Gregg."I told him," said Green, ""that he used to be a good umpire before he got too fat to walk and too lazy to care."
Who says you have to cuss to get heaved?
While the Phils fumed. Green even intimating that he might bench Bob Boone (0 for 19), Greg Luzinski (two for 21) and Pete Rose (two for 31) in favor of Keith Moreland, Lonnie Smith and Del Unser, the Expos were exultant.
"We won both Saturday (on NBC) and today because we didn't want to favor either network," said Manager Dick Williams.
Asked about who who was feeling "pennant pressure," Williams answered, "After we lost Friday, you didn't see any of our guys hiding from reporters, did you? We try to be as nice as possible, even with me as manager." Needless to say, the Phils have, once more, gone to earth in the trainer's room in time of crisis.
The rhetoric of this race may flip-flop suddenly again when the Phils play the humble Cubs while the Expos host the hard-hitting Cardinals. But perhpas Expo relief pitcher Woody Fryman sees the stakes involved in this final regular-season week most clearly.
"You've gotta win the pennant once to know how good you really are," said Fryman. "Some teams, like the Phillies, have never gotten over the hump. They get stuck. If the Phils had beaten Los Angeles in the playoffs in '76, they might have won two to three World Series by now. A team only stays at its peaks for five or six years. And then you gotta go down.
"If this (Expo) club does win the pennant this year, they're going to be at the top for a lot of years.
"But you never know until you do it."
The Phils are at the end of their cycle of greatness. They know it. After six years of excellence, they still have no Series rings as booty. The Expos, now in their second year of excellence, don't want to get "stuck" as the Phillies have, bedeviled by memories of late-season failure.
Those memories, unfair and quixotic as they are, become the heaviest weight a club must carry. As those paper airplanes wafted sorrowfully onto the field this afternoon, the Phils could hardly help but recall other chilly fall afternoons of sullen discontent. One huge cardboard craft, bigger than second base, landed behind the mound in the eighth inning. The Phils stared at it, but none would move, as though they refused to recognize the handiwork of the fans with whom they have shared so much high hope and disappointment.
Finally, Rose dashed over, scooped up the plane and dispatched it. His memories are good -- from other towns in other years.
For the moment, the Phillies are in danger of remaining stuck in the past, while the Expos are hungry for the future. If the Phillies can overcome this extra weight, this added and unfairly cumbersome handicap, then their accomplishment will be all the finer.