Philadelphia story gets new sorry chapter


PHILADELPHIA -- I am watching this game with a towel over my face.

I am trying to sit here with a straight face as I take in the majesty and the grandeur of the World Series and all the time I am worried that a little car is going to pull up and 50 clowns are going to jump out and start chasing Mitch Williams around the field.

I am here for the world championship of baseball and I am watching the fat man's softball game at the company picnic.

This is the silliest baseball game I have ever seen. This is the silliest baseball game I have ever heard of. This is baseball with a screw loose. This is baseball having a nervous breakdown right here in front of 62,731 Phillies' fans and a national television audience.

This has to be happening in Philadelphia, of course. It has to be happening to Philadelphia. That is because if the Phillies go on to lose the World Series -- and it looks very much as if that is what is going to happen now -- this game will earn a place at the very top of the page where this star-crossed city's certified sports disasters are listed.

The 1964 Phillies can move over after this one. One more loss and it will be safe for Gene Mauch to show his face in public again. All those crummy Eagles teams, never mind. That 76ers team that won only nine games will have company forevermore.

The Phillies blew a five-run lead and lost a game that would have gotten them all even at two games apiece with the Blue Jays in the World Series. They lost two five-run leads before losing, 15-14, in fact, and that is not an easy thing to do.

It should not be an easy thing to do, that is, but last night it was. It was because while this was a wonderful game to watch if you had the stomach for it and while it was a wonderful game to come to the plate with a bat in your hand, it was a terrible game to be a pitcher.

What with all the agonizing, brainstorming, teeth-gnashing, nail-biting and candle-lighting Cito Gaston engaged in while trying to decide whether or not to put Paul Molitor in the Blue Jays' lineup, it is a wonder the obvious solution never occurred to him.

He should have let Molitor pitch.

Could Molitor have done the Blue Jays any more damage than Todd Stottlemyre or Al Leiter, their first two pitchers, who allowed the Phillies 12 runs in the first five innings? I think not.

Not that Stottlemyre or Leiter had anything to be ashamed of when compared with Phillies starter Tommy Green, or relievers David West, Larry Andersen or Williams.

At one point in the midst of all the madness, it was reported that the bullpen phones had gone out and the teams were making do with walkie-talkies. Actually, the phones were working just fine, but the relief pitchers kept saying, "Let it ring. Maybe they'll forget about us."

You want to know how bad it was for the pitchers? Aside from the fact that the Blue Jays batted around in two different innings, I mean? Aside from the fact that the Phillies did it once themselves? Aside from the fact that the two teams combined to set a record for runs scored in a single World Series game?

It was so bad that Milt Thompson drove in five runs for the Phillies, which is not bad for a guy who had 44 RBI all year and who was benched Tuesday night because manager Jim Fregosi didn't think he was hitting very well.

It was so bad that Tony Fernandez drove in five runs for the Blue Jays, which is not bad for a guy who had 50 RBI all year.

It was so bad that Dave Hollins, the Phillies third baseman, got a five-run rally going in the fifth inning with a bunt that proved he is as accomplished a liar as he is a hitter.

"I won't be bunting," Hollins said before the game when asked if his team might test Molitor, who was playing third base for the first time in three years. "I don't think we'll change our game plan because Paul Molitor is playing third."

But Molitor got his revenge in the eighth inning when he boomed an Andersen pitch past Hollins into the left-field corner -- it was ruled a two-base error by a very demanding official scorer -- that made the score 14-10 but also did something far more important. It brought Williams into the game. Five batters later, the Blue Jays had a six-run inning and the lead.

The Phillies had two more shots at winning, but there was no Houdini escape for Williams this time. No getting off the hook in some wild and wacky way. For once, there was no last-minute rally to save him..

That is because in the eighth and ninth, Blue Jays relievers Mike Timlin and Duane Ward did something nobody had been able to do all night. They retired six batters in a row. It was a shockingly easy conclusion to a game that had to be seen to be believed.

Wait, I take that back. I did see it and I'm still not sure I believe it. The fans in Philadelphia do, though. This is the kind of thing they were born for. This is their fate, to sit here with towels over their heads and curse their fate and wait to see what awful thing can possibly happen to them next.

The Phillies get one more chance at the Blue Jays tonight. I think they are bringing in Gene Mauch to throw out the first ball.

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