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Only 90 Wins, Just Enough
From the start, Mike Schmidt knew something was different. “They’ve done something to the ball,” he said, following the Phillies opening night loss to Bob Forsch and the Cardinals, before 45,000 adoring fans at the Vet. After two straight 101 win seasons, Philadelphians were convinced – these guys were good. Not as good as before (90-72), but good enough to win the National League East for the third straight year. If they were not yet a dynasty, they were trending in that direction.
Schmidt was right about the ball – something was different. When all the numbers were added, subtracted, divided, compared, dissected , digested, and examined after season’s end, even the most hard-nosed statistician would agree that, with more than 70,000 at-bats to look at, the differences were significant, statistically, or otherwise. Comparing 1977 with 1978, here are the numbers for selected categories:
Runs scored HR BA ERA
Phillies – 847 – 708 186 -133 .279-.258 3.71-3.33
League - 8,556- 7,742 1,631-1,276 .262-.254 3.91-3.57
Mike Schmidt 114-93 38-21 .274-.251
The viewing public was left to puzzle about what happened; but they were too busy to notice, caught up in the tight-skinned pennant race that ground down to the final four-game series in Pittsburgh. Beginning with a Friday twi-night doubleheader, the Pirates, after a furious September charge, were in position to win the pennant with a four-game sweep. Three games behind the front-running Phillies, they sent Bert Blyleven and Bruce Kison, out to hold the fort, against the Phillies’ Dick Ruthven and Steve Carlton, needing only a single win to clinch the pennant.
In Game One, before 45,134 hopeful Pirates’ fans, Willie Stargell’s sixth inning 3-run homer gave the Pirates the lead, and the fans something to cheer about, but Bake McBride hit his second, two-run double in the seventh to tie it at four. Ron Reed began the ninth on the mound for the Phillies in a tie game. Pirates’ catcher Ed Ott led off with a linedrive to centerfield that Phillies’ gold glove centerfielder Garry Maddox misplayed into a base-circling winning run.
The second game pitching matchup of Carlton against Kison seemed heavily in favor of the Phillies, given that Kison was 6-6 on the year compared to Carlton’s veteran presence and reputation. Bruce Luzinski homered in the second for the run that Phillies’ fans hoped would be enough. Kison had other ideas; he was a .138 hitter with but three hits all year, but none of that mattered when he unloaded a game-tying home run in the 5th inning, to the stunned disbelief of the millions of people on the other side of the state of Pennsylvania who were watching on television and listening to announcer Harry Kalas lament, “Can you believe it?” “Hard to believe, Harry,” came the reply from Kalas’ announcing partner, Rich Ashburn.
Carlton was still toiling in the ninth, tied at one, determined to hold on for the pennant. But once again, the slick-fielding Maddox in center field made a crucial error. Dave Parker, led off with a double to center and went ot third on Maddox’s misplay. Carlton loaded the bases on intentional walks to Bill Robinson and Willie Stargell. Warren Brusstar relieved Carlton and promptly committed a balk to end the game.
On Saturday afternoon, only 28,905 people showed up to see what might be the last game of the 1978 season. Or not. Willie Stargell was at it again. He got his team off to a 4-0 lead in the first inning with a grand-slam homerun off Phillies’ lefthander Barry Lerch. Lerch took matters into his own hands after that by hitting a pair of 2-out solo homers in the 2nd and 4th innings. In the 6th, Jose Cardenal pinch hit for Lerch and struck out. “Hard to believe, Harry.” Luzinski hit a 3-run homer for a 6-4 lead, and Rich Hebner’s base-clearing double in the eighth padded it.
Down 10-4, the Pirates refused to give up, and got to Tug McGraw, who was trying for a three-inning save. Ron Reed relieved McGraw and fanned the fearsome Stargell, representing the tying run. The Phillies had won their third consecutive National East Division Championship.
The Phillies failed to reach the World’s Series for the third straight time, falling once again to the Dodgers.
Bob Boone, Larry Bowa, Mike Schmidt, and Garry Maddox won Gold Gloves.By max blue