Gradually, everything is falling into place for the once-struggling Philadelphia Phillies, who now have won three in a row after opening the second season by dropping seven of nine games.
Another one of Manager Dallas Green's concerns was erased tonight when Steve Carlton returned to his prestrike form by settling down the Houston Astros, 6-0, before 30,630 fans at Veterans Stadium.
The Phillies' ace had lost both his starts since the strike was settled and everyone on Broad Street knows the team can't hope to repeat as National League champions without a strong contribution from Carlton.
Carlton pitched seven strong innings, allowing just two hits and two walks while striking out seven before Tug McGraw finished up. The Astros got only one runner to second base against him and could not put two runners on in the same inning.
The three-time Cy Young award winner got all the runs he needed when Mike Schmidt and Garry Maddox doubled in the second inning, but his job became much easier after Schmidt hit a grand slam over the left field fence in the third inning.
"Lefty can still do it when he sets his mind to it," Green said afterward. "He aired it out pretty good for seven innings. It looked like he was shooting for a one-hitter.
"Carlton is getting closer and closer with each outing," the manager continued. "Tonight was close to vintage Carlton. He's still a little concerned with stamina, but that will come with work -- and Lefty works."
Carlton had no desire to work a complete game, Green said.
"Lefty and I have an understanding," Green said. "When he gives me a look, I go right to the bullpen. He's on a four-day rotation now and he had thrown 93 pitches."
In addition to the pitching of Carlton and the hitting of Schmidt -- both of which are expected here -- the most significent aspect of this winning streak is that young Keith Moreland has been behind the plate each time.
Although he hit two home runs in Saturday's 8-4 victory, many were surprised that Moreland was in the lineup with Carlton pitching.
"No, I didn't discuss it with Lefty," Green said. "We talked about this happening some time ago and he said, 'Do what you have to do to win.'
"That's a direct quote," the manager added with a laugh, "and there's not many times you can use a quote from him."
Carlton has not been speaking to the media for two seasons, but he still managed to post a 24-9 record last season and now is 10-3 this year with 111 strikouts, second in the league.
Moreland's sixth starting assignment in the last eight games seems to indicate that he will be the club's No. 1 receiver, replacing long-time favorite Bob Boone.
Boone, a major spokesman for the Major League Baseball Players' Association in the recent strike negotiations, is batting just .227 with three homers and 20 RBI.
The Phillies broke on top in the second inning, just as they did Saturday. Schmidt hit a long drive to the base of the right center field wall for a double. He moved to third on Moreland's long fly to right and scored when Garry Maddox's towering fly to short center fell between three Astros for a double.
Carlton opened the third with a looping single down the left field line. After Lonnie Smith was hit by a pitch, Pete Rose lined a single to right, loading the bases.
Matthews hit a low liner to third, which momentarily handcuffed Art Howe. The third baseman recovered in time to throw home and force Carlton. Schmidt then hit the second pitch from Bob Knepper over the fence for the fifth grand slam of his eight-year career.
"It was a fast ball, a little inside," Schmidt said of his 20th homer of the season, most in the league