Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Game 57 - Mets
Recap and Then Some

Twins 2, Mets 1
Record: 28-29

Kaz Matsui struck out with a chance to break the game open. Then he booted a double-play ball with one out in the bottom of the ninth, which led to a spazmo Ty Wigginton (great snare, bad throw/decision) to Jason Phillips to Vance Wilson play which failed to prevent Jacque Jones from scoring from second. There's no way a play that awkward (not to mention a description that bumbling) that went through 1B could have gone on with Mike Piazza DH-ing, right?

Tom Glavine was as on as on can be, I must say, but the Twinkies squeaked one across in the seventh to tie it, and I just knew we were going to get screwed in the Hump-Dome. I figured it'd be Braden Loophole continuing his slide, but Mike Stanton and some unsightly D fit the bill.

Memo to the Kaz: turf bounces are truer and grounders should be easier to handle. If a college intramural softball team can use the artificial surface to go through a season without an infield error, surely you can make it through one game.

Memo to Mets hitters: Welcome to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, know affectionately as the Homer-Dome. Yes, I know they have made alterations to the playing field to lessen the homers over the years, but find me any other series of Twins home highlights that don't feature a drive over the baggie or into the wall of seats or whatever that atrocity is in right field (uh, other than the Twins getting held in check this night by Glavine). You know, that game-ending play was ugly, but this stadium has got to be the ugliest monstrosity in the history of Major League Baseball. And this is from a guy whose team plays at Shea. Forget the loss, boys, just marvel at the stupid dome.

* * *

Speaking of unsightly domes, Monday night I watched an unbelievable game which took place at the once-labeled eighth wonder of the world, the Houston Astrodome. Six weeks ago I griped, "ESPN Classic needs to step it up." I'm flattered that not only do the program directors there read this column, but they also heed our advice. (More advice: Give me your job.)

What with Cubs-Cards and Bucs-Rangers failing to adequately hold my attention, I headed for the satellite space usually reserved for The Bill Buckner & Rob Russell Torture Hour. To my delight, they weren't airing the same ol' same ol', but instead were showing a great game with which I wasn't wholly familiar: the 1980 NLCS Game 5.

In fact, earlier they'd shown A's-Reds World Series games (I'm guessing due to the interleague match-up of the same two clubs that night) in the abbreviated format that I have come to enjoy. The "Drive-Thru" version of classic games is a nice way to get all of the best moments and the feel of the game without having to spend three hours sitting in front of a game whose outcome you already know. Oh -- briefly, speaking of that, I do have a small bitch (not you, Rob) about the way they break for commercial in this format. When the inning ends and they say "Coming up . . ." they show a clip from the next segment, but not just any clip -- they show the key play of the next segment in its entirety, then cut to commercial like they didn't just give away the ending. For example, A's/Dodgers '88 Game 1, just as they cut away before Kirk Gibson's at-bat, they show the friggin' homer! What's my incentive to stay tuned?? Yes, dammit, I already know what happens without seeing that, but that's my point -- the only reason I've settled on channel 208 here is because I want the drama, the build-up, the emotions, the pure tension of that long at-bat followed by the spine-tingling result. This is utter TV premature ejaculation -- without paying the $5.99, though. Eventually I learned to flip to another channel as soon as I hear "Coming up . . ." but I'm not sure that's what those in charge in Bristol really want from their viewers. But I digress.

I didn't really remember the '80 NLCS, probably for a painful reason: I was still a ten-year-old Yankees fan back then, and the Yanks were in the process of finally losing to the Royals in the ALCS. The Yanks/Royals/Dodgers/Phillies dramatic rivalries of 1976-1981 were fantastic (excepting 1979, the bizarre year amid all of this when these four teams finished a combined 42 GB). Observe:

1976 Yanks over Royals, Reds over Phils, Reds over Yanks
1977 Yanks over Royals, Dodgers over Phils, Yanks over Dodgers
1978 Yanks over Royals, Dodgers over Phils, Yanks over Dodgers
1979 Orioles over Angels, Pirates over Reds, Pirates over Orioles (?!)
1980 Royals over Yanks, Phils over Astros, Phils over Royals
1981 Yanks over A's, Dodgers over Expos, Dodgers over Yanks

As a kid, it seemed like only these teams would be competing for a championship every year. (Snide, misplaced aside: who knew that 25 years later, thanks to factors that have little to do with baseball and everything to do with money, the Yankees would in fact compete every year?) Anyway, that Phils / Astros series of 1980 was an erased memory for the most part -- all I remember from that postseason is the Yankees losing, the Phillies winning it all, Tug McGraw jumping around, and every year since then hearing Phils fans bitch about the lack of national sad-sack sentiment for the Phillies a la Cubs/Red Sox just because they won one title in what is now 121 years of play. Truly, there is no sports team whose history quite so prolongedly inept as the Philadelphia Phillies. My friend Nick Luketic can expound upon his Phightin's travails humorously, and I may ask him to in this space sometime, but it's worth a look if you think your team has been bad for a long time. It all started with the 17-81 squad of 1881, and it never really got much better. Just look at the Roaring Twenties for a microcosm of suck:

1920 - 62-91 (8th place out of 8)
1921 - 51-103 (8th)
1922 - 57-96 (7th)
1923 - 50-104 (8th)
1924 - 55-96 (7th)
1925 - 68-85 (6th)
1926 - 58-93 (8th)
1927 - 51-103 (8th)
1928 - 43-109! (8th)
1929 - 71-82 (5th) ("that championship season")

and for good measure:
1930 - 52-102 (8th)

This Baseball-Reference page is a handy place to see the train wreck that is the Phillies' history.

The Phils won the opening game of the 1915 World Series against the Red Sox, then dropped four straight. They were swept by the Yankees in the 1950 Series. That had been their entire postseason history until the 1976 season. And then they lost three straight NLCS's. In a flash, their woes went from ineptitude every year to the close-but-no-cigar tragedies on which the Sox usually have a monopoly. Skip through the '79 aberration to the fall of 1980. This was the year of Philadelphia sports, also known as the year Rob Russell nearly gave up watching athletic competitions. The Eagles, Flyers, Sixers, and Phillies all made it to their respective championships. Of course, what brought Mr. Russell back to the fray was the Eagles, Flyers, and Sixers all getting pretty well stuffed in their finals. By October, the Phillies -- the club among the four with the longest legacy of lousiness -- were the only hope for the City of Otherly Love. (Sorry, that joke just doesn't work unless you can see the limp wrist visual.)

So, just to torture their rooters as much as possible while delivering the goods, the Phightin's muddled through what Howard Cosell called the most amazing five-game series he ever saw. The quick results are eyebrow-raising, yet don't even tell it well:

Game 1: Phillies 3, Astros 1
Game 2: Astros 7, Phillies 4 (10)
Game 3: Astros 1, Phillies 0 (11)
Game 4: Phillies 5, Astros 3 (10)
Game 5: Phillies 8, Astros 7 (10)

Every game was tight and tense, with leads and momentum see-sawing all over the place. Though not remembered as powerhouses of their day, Houston did have names like Nolan Ryan and Ken Forsch and Joe Morgan while Philly had Pete Rose and Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt. More interestingly for me Monday night, guys who've been mentioned on our site semi-recently kept popping up, guys like Forsch and Rose and Morgan and Danny Heep and Larry Bowa and Vern Ruhle and yes, Art Howe. (Nicely cue-balled already.) Beyond Heep (one of my favorites) there was a link to the 1986 World Series, because let's face it, that's the tie that binds on this site, right? Joe Sambito, last seen getting smacked around by the Mets in '86, was the Astros closer in '80. Not a great series to be a closer, Joe. Nice work.

Anyway, all of this is a complete and utter digression from anything relevant, or even interesting, but it's a tremendously long-winded way of saying if you happen to see this game -- or any of the 1980 NLCS -- rerun on ESPN Classic, catch it. Just be sure to flip away immediately after every third out.

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