This one took your breath away. "This is bad on your heart," Pete Rose said, lifting high champagne to let it fall, a waterfall of victory, on the head of Ruly Carpenter, the president who was wise enough to cough up $3.2 million to hire Pete Rose two springs ago. What the Phillies always needed was a will to win, and tonight a Niagara of champagne roared in the clubhouse so long the dusty lair of losers.
Oh, they were ready in Philadelphia for another loss. It has been 30 years since the Phillies won a National League pennant, a dry spell that the natives have not accepted kindly. "They already have the machine-gun nest set up at the airport," said Mark Whicker of the Philadelphia Bulletin.
But on a grand night of baseball, three hours and more of theater so intense they'd need Brando to play Pete Rose's part, on a night when the teams used 10 pitchers and 37 players in a drama equal parts cerebral and physical -- in pitched battle with the war ebbing to and fro, the Astros twice leading, the Phillies three times the winner -- in a game . . .
Oh, the hell with it.
This was so much fun I can't stand it.
Philadelphia 8, Houston 7.
We take you now to the Philadelphia clubhouse.
Larry Bowa, the shortstop, is dancing on a training table. His smile reaches from here to South Philly.
Del Unser, the outfielder who drove in the tying run in the eighth and scored the winning run after doubling in the 10th, is wandering around the clubhouse, his hair shining with champagne. He is dazed by his heroics. "It was a fast ball," he says, and no one knows whether he's talking about the eighth inning or the 10th.
And Unser says, "My dad has waited 67 years for this." His father was a player, a manager, a scout. His father saw Del play four years for teams as mediocre as they come, The Washington Senators of 1968-71. And now, in wonderful victory, the son wanders through the champgne spray, looking to share the moment with his old man.
Mike Schmidt is kissing Pete Rose.
The big third baseman is kissing Charlie Hustle on the ear, and now Rose is saying, "Ain't it great? Gawddamn, winning is great."
Ever the winner, fully aware that on this grandest night in Philly history big Mike Schmidt went zero to five and finished this playoff five-for-24 with a single run batted in -- one RBI by the man with 48 home runs on the year -- always looking for a way to win some more, Pete Rose said more softly into Schmidt's ear, "You'll get 'em in the World Series."
And then Rose runs into Ruly Carpenter, 40, who took over the Phillies from his father eight years ago and watched in pain as they lost three league championship playoffs in 1976, '77 and '78. Carpenter bought Rose after the '78 failure, and now they come together in the clubhouse.
"I can't believe it Ruly," Rose shouts. "This is what we play for, this right here."
"Scatter so they can't get all of us with one burst," said a Philadelphia pitcher, Frank Sullivan, on one of those bad old days when the Phillies came home expecting gunfire. They ought to get out the ticker tape in Philadelphia this week, because the World Series starts there Tuesday night, and this gang of Phillies has done good work indeed.
By winning two straight extra-inning games in the Astrodome, surviving in the middle of 45,000 screaming Astro-maniacs, rallying both games to win victories that seemed out of reach, these Phillies should have put to rest forever any idea they are less than brave.
"Three runs down is really difficult," Rose said.
Houston led tonight, 5-2, when the Phillies came up in the eighth inning.
The day before, Houston led by two runs when the Phillies hit in the eighth. The phillies scored three times then.
Tonight they scored five times.
And if you wanted to, if you wanted to look for a key that unlocked as tingly an inning as any baseball lover ever sat through, you could look at Pete Rose's time at bat in the eighth.
It was a classic, the $800,000 singles hitter, Pete Rose, coming up against the $1 million flame thrower, Nolan Ryan.
The bases were loaded with nobody out.
Come, for a second, back to the sixth inning when Rose smashed a line drive directly into Ryan's glove. Rose did something unusual then. Instead of simply trotting back to the dugout, he made a wide swing into the infield, coming within 30 feet of the pitcher's mound so that he could say something to the $1 million man.
"I told him, 'Throw me that curve again if you think it's so good,'" Rose said later. "We've been buddies all year, and we were teasin' back and forth."
Ryan's narrowed eyes followed Rose into the dugout. He lifted his cap in acknowledgment of the implicit challenge.
Teasing? Or gamesmanship? Rose wins.Rose was eight for 15 against Ryan when he came up again in the important eighth inning with the bases full and nobody out, the Phillies three runs down.
With the count two balls, two strikes here came the Ryan curve to Rose, the curve they'd teased about, the curve that is Ryan's pride.
Ball three, low and inside.
Now a fast ball, low. A strike.Rose foul tipped it, but the fans thought he missed it and they cheered like crazy.
To the customers, Rose turned up his palms as if to say, "Hey, nothing happened folks."
And on the next pitch, Ryan walked Rose to force in a run. It was Ryan's last pitch. The man who won over 100 games and lost only two when given a lead entering the eighth inning left this game when he couldn't throw a strike to the man who challenged him face to face.
Three hitters later, the game was tied. Four later, the Phillies led.
And when it was over, Schmidt said, "You may not see a World Series as good as this series has been. It was unbelievable. The crowd noise was so loud I thought my eardrums would burst."
Del Unser, still wandering, said, "He jammed me, he made a good pitch up and in." He still didn't say whether he meant in the eighth or the 10th. But he was still happy.
Pete Rose said of the little bitty Astros who kicked sand in the face of the big boy Phillies for a long time: "They played the hell out of baseball."
And at midnight, one of the Astros, pitcher Joe Sambito, walked across the empty diamond toward the Phillies' clubhouse to tell the winners the same thing.