The Philadelphia Phillies left the World Series on base tonight. A week hence, this third Series game, won 4-3 by Kansas City in 10 innings, may be remembered as the chill evening when the historically tortured Phils stranded a world championship when it was crying to be theirs.
This 77th Classic was in Philadelphia's hands all evening and they wouldn't take it. Leading two games to none, the Phillies held the ax over the necks of the Royals for all 10 innings, but never let it fall. The Phils put 20 men on base in their 200-minute agony of clutch failure. Thirty Phils stepped to the plate with runners on the sacks. Only two could drive home a run, and one of those was by Royal mistake.
In all, the tormented Phils stranded 15 men as the Royals escaped by skill, by daring and by dumb luck. In eight of this night's 10 amazing and exasperating innings, Philadelphia left 11 men in scoring position. Such a game would unnerve a team of Hall of Famers, let alone these Phils whose team confidence and esprit is newly minted and not-yet firmly cast.
A clutch single in any one of 12 different situations would have given Philadelphia a three-games-to-none Series lead, an edge which no team has ever squandered. Just one single in a timely spot, and the Phils would have been nearly certain to win their first world title since they joined the National League in 1876. The absolute symbol of Phil frustration was Mike Schmidt, who, although he hit a solo homer, came to bat five other times with 10 runners on and drove home none.
Instead, the Royals, who stranded only five men while capitalizing on solo homers by George Brett and Amos Otis, won this game with a bizarre extra-inning rally in which both teams tried with staggering earnestness to give the contest away. In light of the long lineages of failure linked to both these franchises' history, it has been said that this will turn out to be the first World Series that neither team will win. Certainly, this bottom of the 10th, which ended with Willie Mays Aikens slicing a two-out game-winning hit to the wall in left-center off Tug McGraw, was a mutual embarrassment.
First, Larry Bowa side-stepped an inning-opening one-hop smash by U. L. Washington instead of holding his ground.The ball undressed his feeble backhand attempt for a hit. Then, McGraw, assuming Willie Wilson was trying to sacrifice bunt, threw four consecutive high and hard-to-bunt fast balls. All four were called balls. Take your base. For shame, Tylenol Tug, giving all of Philadelphia a headache.
Next the Royals went into their act. Frank White missed two bunt attempts. What did they teach at the Royals Baseball Academy? Knitting? Washington, another graduate of that K.C. player factory, got himself trapped midway between second and third on White's second fluff. Revoke their diplomas.
That wasn't the worst. After White completed his strikeout, his third of the night. Wilson took it into his head to steal second base. The official Royals line will defend this rash act. The Phils pitched out and had Wilson dead. But Bob Boone's one-hop wide throw let Wilson reach second. Even Wilson's success was a mistake since the Phils then intentionally walked Brett who already had a homer, a double, and a 400-foot fly out.
But instead of being a faux pas, Wilson's gamble (and Manager Jim Frey's tacit decision not to give the speedster a "no steal" sign) lucked into being genius. Aikens, who had tripled in the fourth inning and scored on a Hal McRae's single, then drove a 2-1 pitch into the alley left where Garry Maddox, who plays infuriatingly shallow, could not run it down.
That blow made a winner of Dan Quisenberry (who got the last seven outs), a loser of McGraw, and brought up a Fourth Game match-up between K.C.'s 20-game winner Dennis Leonard and Phillies five-game winner Larry Christenson.
This game was everything the Royals had hoped for-inspirational to them, demoralizing to the previously high-flying Phils.
"Now, people will talk about, 'Here come the Royals," Frey said. "If we'd lost, they'd have said, 'There go the Royals."
The Royals did not play this game the way they wanted to. "We need to play with reckless abandon and kill somebody," said McRae before the game. During the fray, however, one Royals official had an apt description: "We look so tight we squeak."
Afterward, however, the Phils were silent and morose, despite their lead -- curses at blank walls -- while the Royals were suddenly blithe even though they were still down two games to one. "The pain is all behind me," cracked Brett, who had his painful hemorrhoids lanced on Thursday and played with much less apparent pain tonight than in Game Two. "No, to tell the truth, the pain . . . the work . . . is all in front of us. But that's good, 'cause if we'd lost, then everything would probably have been behind us."
This was the sort of game, so packed with egregious mistakes, that the winning team gladly laughs and forgets the whole horrible thing, while the loser must deal with the problem of letting its failures fester.
"When we win, I forget the screwups," Frey said. What about Washington getting trapped off second? "Just a case of a young guy getting a little flustered," he grinned. What about the awful, possible game-losing play in the second inning when, with the bases loaded and one out, starter Rich Gale not only botched a perfect inning-ending, double-play one-hopper back to the mound, but then threw to first base instead of home plate, allowing a totally unnecessary run to score? "He was just a little excited," smiled the forgiving Frey. "We were all yelling, 'home,' but the way he was spinning around, looking toward second base, I was kinda glad to see him even get one out."
Ha, ha, ha. What fun the World Series is. When you win.
"The whole night was extremely uncomfortable," said Frey with an enormous understatement of a game that was one long Perils of Pauline for the hots. "We had a game in Phillie Tuesday when we got 19 men on base and only scored four runs. So, tonight, they just did the same thing."
Nay, nay. This game was far more frustrating than Game Two.
Don't ask the Phillies to laugh on a night when they squandered nine excellent innings of eight-hit work by starter Dick Ruthven. "We gave it to them, and then they tried to give it right back," Bowa growled.
The Phils will remember how Lonnie Smith committed the cardinal sin of bad outfielders -- he tried to make a great play. Instead of making a full-speed, shoestring, backhanded grab of Aikens' slice liner in the fourth, he missed it, landed on his head and turned a routine double into the first triple of the lumbering Aikens' major league career. Since, with one out, McRae's subsequent RBI line single went directly through the normal second baseman's position -- had he not been pulled in with a man at third -- Smith's adventure may have ment a run.
It will not please the Phils either when they realize that only old Pete Rose could get a clutch hit all night. After Otis had put the Royals ahead, 3-2, in the seventh, Rose tied the game again with a two-out, handle-hit looping liner over second in the eighth on a jamming fast ball that should probably have been past a 39-year-old codger. But Rose broke his 0-for-10 Series slump and showed the Phils how. Unfortunately, the lesson didn't take.
As seems almost inevitable, the Phils prototype was Schmidt. He came to bat six times. The one time nobody was on, he hit a 400-foot homer. If that blow had come in any other at bat, the Phils would have won.
Schmidt had a right to smash things tonight. He filed out with the bases full in second. In the sixth, he ended the inning on a foreceout grounder into the shortstop hole that, replays showed, should have been a bases-loading infield hit if the ump hadn't missed the eyelash close call. Then, it got worse. In the eigth, men at the corners, two outs, Quisenberry just arrived. Schmidt had a brilliant idea -- a totally unexpected bunt. It was a beauty. Brett never had a prayer. And it rolled foul by two inches.
Then in the 10th, the torture redoubled. With two on one and one, Schmidt stepped up, hot from the indignity of the Royals intentionally passing Rose to get to him -- the guy who leads the world in homers. Schmidt cracked a liner past the mound. But who should be there but White for a shoestring catch and a double play with Boone trapped off second. "I don't hit two balls a year there," Schmidt said.
It's tough to have 10 ducks on the pond and not drive in any. Especially hard when you've MVP. When White caught that last 10th-inning drive, Schmidt was so furious that he took his bat, still in hand, and prepared to fling it in rage. Then, suddenly, he realized that Brett, trotting off the field, was only a yard from him. Brett leaped in the air, as though skipping rope. Schmidt stopped in time. Brett, playing in pain, grinned like a kid on Saturday afternoon. Schmidt, only in psychic pain, glowered like a midwestern cyclone.
The Phils still have their lead, and the Royals their self-doubt. But if such a thing as momentum actually exists in baseball, then it changed hands tonight.