The final pitch was his Jameson, Tug McGraw was saying. Then he offered the translation: "That's the one that goes straight. I drink my Jameson straight."

He was near the mound once again, a half-hour after saving perhaps the most important victory in Phillie history, the one in which a Bull played Babe The Blue Ox and lifted the pressure that surely felt anvil heavy off 25 players. Tug was tugging at the groundskeeper's patience.

"You've gotta do something about that mound," he said. "Put some clay where we step (after releasing the ball) and then water it. It's powdery as hell.And it was worse for the other. It's pulverized from being changed for football so much.

"Help us, okay?"

"First day is always bad," the dirt sweeper assured him.

"There's a big hole to fill in," McGraw insisted.

"Guarantee it'll be done."

Earlier, Greg Luzinski had filled perhaps the largest hole imaginable for the Phils, the void that always haunts them in the playoffs. In desperate need once again for a clutch hero, against a plucky collection of sleepwalkers called Astros, they actually found one.

Twice the Phickle Philly Phans had enthusiastically greeted Luzinski with his nickname this opening game of the National League playoffs. They had entirely different meanings.

When he was introduced before the game, having endured a nearly season-long slump that had him benched in favor of a rookie during some of the most important games of late, he heard the boos and derisive shouts:


Fans here have a special way of making that ugly.

In the last of the sixth inning, after he had all but clinched the Phils' first home postseason victory since Woodrow Wilson was president and gave them perhaps just the lift they need to soar into the World Series with a two-run home run, Luzinski trotted around the bases to the affectionate version of "Bull" he no doubt has heard in his dreams.

Symbolically, the homer carried further than in the cool air of the Vet. It certainly was no coincidence that the team began to play with flair and confidence unseen in three prior playoff disasters in the last five years.

Until this year, perhaps until Luzinski's rocket off an Astro, the Phils have been cursed by being the best players in baseball who always battled two teams in October -- the opposition and themselves. If Reggie Jackson has been Mister October, the Philles have been Missed October. Like the leaves, they annually have been stiff and ready to fall once the regular season ended.

The circumstances for a dramatic change in their playoff lives seemed at hand. They had the Astos reduced to playing 14 hours after a cross-country flight and using their third-best pitcher, Ken Forsch. They had the best streak hitter in baseball (Mike Schmidt) on a torrid tear, the best pitcher in the National League (Steve Carlton) on the mound and the best reliever in the league (McGraw) in the wings.

Yet for five innings the Phils were all too phamiliar.

Of their first four hits, only two left the infield. Shortstop Larry Bowa was tentative in the field, balls bounced off players at exactly the wrong moments. Carlton was not pitching exceptionally well, but well enough to win if somebody could get more than balsa wood off Forsch.

Luzinski could. He is the one Phil who has not pholded in the phall. He had at least one hit in all 11 Phillie playoff games in the '70s and hit four home runs. Clearly, he was due this season. And, with Pete Rose on first, his high ball landed just below an area known as The Bull Ring and lifted the team to a high they needed so badly, the jugular. Maddox suddenly was flying. He stole third -- and scored on a looping fly to left by pinch-hitter Greg Gross.

That gave the Phils a 3-1 lead. In truth, it was a run more than they needed, for McGraw came on in the eighth. And the Astros probably were doomed the instant he set foot on that crater-pocked mound.

Hard to believe?

Believe it.

Or at least believe Pete Rose.

"The man is -- I hate to say unhittable," Rose said. "But face it. Nobody's gotten anything off him lately. He's been amazing. He comes on and the game's ours. I know one thing. I'd sure rather play first than try to get to first with Tug on the mound."

McGraw has gone from his worst season (4-3 and 5.14 era in '79) to his best (5-4 and 1.47 era). And in his typically delightful fashion, with a variety of pitches he calls:

The Peggy Lee -- "That's the one where the hitter asks if that's all there is."

The Cutty Sark -- "It sails."

The Bo Derek -- "It's got a pretty good tail on it."

With one last Jameson, McGraw grounded the Astros. The hole he kept landing in after releasing each pitch was deep enough for him to have felt as though he was going to hell. The Phils considered it a routinely divine effort.