Phillies and Orioles show their mettle, storm into World Series
The frost may be on the pumpkin, but it won't be settling on the hand-stitched ''seeds'' known as baseballs this week. The World Series begins here tonight, and no matter what the temperature at game time, the Baltimore Orioles and Philadelphia Phillies will warm the moment with their competitive fire.
These neighboring teams have it in abundance. They also possess a great deal of skill and baseball savvy, as the playoffs so clearly indicated. The Orioles won the American League pennant three games to one, and the Phillies followed suit in the National League.
Against Baltimore, the Chicago White Sox swung what seemed like Swiss cheese bats in a vain attempt to hit superb Oriole pitching, teaching Chicago that if it could ''win ugly,'' it could lose the same way to a superior team.
In the National League playoffs, the Phillies ran roughshod over Los Angeles, which intoned the Dodger blues after commiting numerous mental lapses.
The outcome was in sharp contrast to L.A.'s near-total mastery of Philadelphia in the regular season, when the Dodgers won 11 of 12 games.
The Phillies, it would appear, felt they had something to prove, as they did all season. For despite being called ''Wheeze Kids,'' in a playful twist on Philly's 1950 Whiz Kids team, they showed people that those of advanced baseball years could win on cunning and craftiness, particularly when it counted most.
The Orioles had special incentive too. The players yearned to win a pennant without Earl Weaver, the pepperpot little manager whose personality magnetized the media and whose record hinted at genius (four pennants and one world championship in 141/2 years).
Under Joe Altobelli, Weaver's successor, the Orioles were given the chance to focus attention on their own individual and collective brilliance. Playing in baseball's strongest division, they rose to the occasion, winning the title by an impressive six-game margin. Then in the playoffs, they dismantled the only team with a better record, a White Sox club that romped in the highly suspect AL West.
In a very real sense, the Orioles have become baseball's ''Boys of Autumn,'' to recoin the title of Roger Kahn's best-selling book on the Brooklyn Dodgers. Since 1966, when they first won a World Series, the Birds have emerged as the surest fall feature in the majors, with more post-season appearances (seven) than any other club during 15 years of divisional play. Fittingly, club uniforms are trimmed in Halloween colors, black and orange.
Baltimore has built its reputation for understated excellence on solid pitching an airtight defense. The current roster is no exception.
Of course, every team needs offensive firepower, and the Orioles get their share from two ''franchise'' players - Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. Murray, a quiet first baseman with prominent sideburns and mustache, batted .306, hit 33 homers, and drove in 111 runs during the regular season. Ripken, a second-year shortstop, turned in comparable figures - .318 average, 27 homers, 102 RBIs.
It's rather ironic that Murray, a feared clutch hitter, began an 0-for-29, post-season batting slump in his only World Series to date, in 1979. The drought finally ended with a three-run homer in last Friday night's victory over Chicago.
Many Orioles, of course, remember the '79 Series with agonizing clarity, since they squandered a 3-1 lead to Pittsburgh, which won in seven games. The hero for the Pirates was Willie Stargell, a father figure called ''Pops'' by his younger teammates.
The Phillies, interestingly enough, have a handful players in the Stargell mold, at least in terms of major league experience. When the season began, they were the oldest club in the majors, listing four players - Steve Carlton, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, and Tony Perez - with 17 or more years in the big leagues. The club, appropriately enough, plays in Veterans Stadium.
With a nucleus of wily ''money players,'' the Phillies, world champions in 1980, were confident they stood a good chance down the stretch if they remained in the race that long. The club had to weather an odd upheaval at mid-season, when, with Philadelphia in first place, general manager Paul Owens replaced fired manager Pat Corrales.
Owens encountered opposition from third baseman Mike Schmidt, who led the majors with 40 home runs, but all was smoothed over at the end as the Phillies surged to their fifth divisional crown in eight years. Along the way Carlton, who refuses interviews, won his 300th game, becoming only the fifth pitcher to reach that milestone in the past 59 years, and set the game's new career strikeout record with 3,709 fanned batters.