"I love playing in the 'Dome. This in gonna be fun. We beat 'em four out of six down there this year -- and we've proved to ourselves we can hit those guys." -- Pete Rose, Phillies
"That four out of six is nullified because I didn't play. Check it out.
When he comes back Saturday or Sunday and they've lost, ask him again. We're cool." -- Joe Morgan, Astros
On opposite sides in the National League playoffs, they go at one another with no less enthusiasm than when they were two pistons in the Big Red Machine. Pete and Joe, two kids nearing 40 still reminding us of the pleasures of pressure baseball.
Together in the '70s, they learned how to win. Apart in the '80s, they have tried to pass the lessons on.
"I think Joe was more valuable to us during the season than he is now," Houston right fielder Terry Puhl said. "We'd sit on the bench together when we weren't playing and Joe would just go on and on about what to watch for with this pitcher and that one.
"Hitting is why both of us stay in this game -- and he'd say, 'Look at how that guy goes deeper in his glove when he throws the curve.' That kind of thing. He's unbelievable about knowing a pitcher's pickoff moves. When you're on first, there's some pitchers that if you can see their noses they're gonna throw over."
The sixth inning of game two here was one of those times a pitcher could safely thumb his nose at Morgan by not showing it. At 37 and with a left knee gimpy enough to keep him out of the lineup during game one, Morgan surely was planted on first after a walk.
Morgan tried to steal second.
He made it, with a Rose-like, hands-first slide. The umpire said he was safe, but that had become a moot point 30 feet earlier, because Dick Ruthven's pitch to Jose Cruz had been ball four.
Three times during a game that had boredom and bombast in equal measures Morgan had walked. He wears a spiked left shoe at bat, because he needs especially firm footing to pivot on that weak knee, but changes to a rubber-soled model on the bases. While switching shoes, Morgan would glance up at first baseman Rose and mutter, "Tell him to throw strikes."
And Rose would smile.
"When he's Joe Morgan," Rose said, "he can do more than anyone in the league."
That he is less than that became evident when Rose, during batting practice before game one, made a playful tackling move toward Morgan's puffy knee. Morgan blanched.
"No," he snapped. "I just got a shot."
Startled, Rose backed off.
Reluctantly, Morgan backed off game one, then gave the Astros a shot of inspiration in game two.
In the eighth inning, between two of those walks, Morgan smacked a leadoff double off the allegedly unhittable Tug McGraw. Rose, backing up second on the play, yelled to Morgan as he pounded his hands together in satisfaction, "Don't worry. You're not gonna score."
He did, and Morgan's team won. It also will beat Pete's team twice in the Astrodome this weekend and win the playoffs, Joe said. Twisting himself to every bit of his 5 feet 7 -- and with that cocky air of a man familiar with overachievement -- Morgan said:
"No one can dominate our team. I was so upset with the papers here saying the Phils would win in three games. We didn't want a split. We came here wanting to win both games. And no one will dominate our pitchers -- not Mike Schmidt, not Reggie Jackson.
"The Phils will not dominate us. But we will dominate them."
A gold chain that said, "Live, love, laugh," hung from his neck. Look it up, Morgan kept insisting when somebody offered the Rose-colored logic that since the Phils had beaten the Astros four of six times in the Astrodome this year they would continue that pace over the weekend and win the playoff. Look it up, Morgan dared, you'll see I didn't play in those regular-season games.
Don't dare too often, Joe. With Morgan going one for three and two for four in the first two games of a three-game May set in Houston, the Phils won. With Morgan out of the lineup the third game, the Astros won. In the July series, Morgan was reduced to pinch hitting and playing part-time during the Phils' two-of-three conquest.
He says the knee will be "95 percent" by Friday. Presumably, he was fouling off the truth again.
But that has been part of the charm of Pete and Joe over the years. At Cincinnati, they would needle each other constantly around the batting cage, thought the points were corked rather than acid-tipped. If their teammates can become equally comfortable with playoff tension, they might be doing their Sunshine Boys act into the '90s -- or until they are 90.
Morgan went one for two, with three walks and two runs scored, in his one playoff appearance. In two games, Rose was four for six, with two walks.
When somebody wondered how well Nolan Ryan had pitched in the second game, Rose snapped, "I'm seven for 11 off him (this season). You're asking the wrong guy if you want to know if he's tough. He's headed for the Hall of Fame, though.
"But so am I."
Pronouns also were on Morgan's lips.
"I'm convinced they (the Astros) can handle this (playoff) pressure," he said. "I can, I know. I've been here before."