It took 10 innings and 3 hours and 34 minutes of exquisite torture for the Phillies to lose to the Houston Astros, 7-4, tonight and send the National league playoffs indoors tied at one game apiece. But the longest game in the history of the playoffs was interminable only if you were a Phillie.
They had so many chances to win it. They left 14 men on base, 10 in the last four innings. Twice, in the seventh, and the ninth, they left the bases loaded, and themselves open to criticism.
With the score tied in the bottom of the ninth, the Phillies committed hari-kari. With men on first and second and one out, Lonnie Smith dumped a single in front of right fielder Terry Puhl. Bake McBride, the runner at second, got within 10 feet of third base and stopped. Perhaps he was contemplating the idea of extra innings?
No, he had been held up by the third base coach, Lee Elia, who was thinking the ball might be caught. It wasn't, but the Phillies were caught with their doubleknits down around their ankles as McBride was stranded at third. When Manny Trillo struck out and Garry Maddox fouled out to end the inning, Bake and the Phils were cooked.
"There was a little delay on his part but it was no fault of Bake McBride's," Elia said later. "My hands went up as if to say 'stop' and at the same time I said, 'No, come on.' He saw my hands go up and stopped. I guess I'm putting a lot of pressure on myself but inside, I think that had I haul-assed him, he'd have scored. Unfortunately, for the ballclub and myself, it was a reflex action on my part."
A self-destructive one, some say comes so naturally to the Phillies.
In the top of the 10th, Puhl led off with a single and Enos Cabell sacrificed him to second. After Joe Morgan was given an intentional walk and Phillie Manager Dallas Green elected to stay with relief pitcher Ron Reed, Jose Cruz lined a 3-1 pitch to right, Puhl easily scoring the go-ahead run.
When the throw went beyond catcher Bob Boone, Morgan took third and Cruz second. Morgan, playing despite a gimpy knee, took himself out and was replaced by the swift Rafael Landestoy. It was a good move, because the pinch runner beat shortstop Larry Bowa's throw home on a fielder's choice, making it 5-3.
The Astros completed the four-run inning on a two-run triple by Dave Bergman.
And when it was over, a fan, one of the few in the record-setting crowd of 65,476 who stayed until the end, played a sardonic version of taps in the direction of the Phillies locker room.
Of course, the Phillies aren't dead yet; they're only tied. But now no one is seeing signs of rigor mortis in the Astros, who are in the enviable position of going home with a split, and facing three games in their own insulated backyard.
Tuesday, the Astros had a vulnerable Steve Carlton on the ropes and couldn't beat him. Tonight, the Phillies had the Astros, and their five pitchers (including winner Frank LaCorte) on the ropes and couldn't score a run when they needed one.
"I'm proud of this team," said Morgan. "They battled and battled, they came a long way. It's a character team.
Certain people are entitled to talk about character. Morgan is one of them. He started tonight's game at second base, despite a painfully sore left knee that kept him out of the lineup on Tuesday. He went one for two and scored a run.
Baseball is a game of inches and catalysts. Morgan is to the Astros what Pete Rose is to the Phillies. With two out in the top of the sixth, Morgan walked and tried to steal second base. He would have made it, but Phillie starter Dick Ruthven walked Cruz.
The attempted steal symbolized the Astro attack. They look like butterflies and sting like bees. And although they did not score in the sixth, they kept on buzzing for the rest of the game. t
In the top of the seventh, the Astros tied the game, 2-2, when Ruthven walked Astro starter Nolan Ryan with two out. Puhl, who had three hits in five at bats and two RBI, doubled past McBride in right field, moving Ryan to third. But the Express only came to a temporary halt there. Ryan scored when Manny Trillo took the cutoff throw and flung it past Boone.
In the bottom of the inning, the Phillies loaded the bases and derailed the Express, but could not score. Bowa singled to right and went to second on Boone's bunt single. Greg Gross, pinch-hitting for Ruthven, sacrificed the runners into scoring position.
Enter Sambito, a man honest enough to call the first game of the series boring. Sambito walked Rose intentionally to load the bases, and struck out McBride, just as intentionally. Smith was brought in to pitch to Schmidt. When Schmidt was caught looking at a called strike three, the crowd moaned, "Oh, Schmidt."