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Sampson's play erratic; Indy will try it again; `message pitches'

Ralph Sampson, the 7 ft. 4 in. forward of the Houston Rockets, has scored a much-discussed basket in each of his last two games in the National Basketball Association playoffs. The first hoop is the one Ralph would rather talk about, since it clinched Houston's surprising 4-games-to-1 semifinal victory over the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. The basket, an off-balance 12-footer incorporating the maximum degree of difficulty, was scored as the buzzer sounded to give Houston a 114-112 win. Sampson, incidentally, had 10 of the Rockets' last 13 points.

As for Basket No. 2, well, that is not so fond a memory for him. Oh, it came on a nice jump hook shot, but it was the lone basket Ralph scored in Houston's 112-100 opening game loss to Boston in the best-of-seven championship series.

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The second game will be played tonight in Boston, and for the Rockets to have any chance of beating the Celtics and winning the series, Sampson can't afford to be missing in action with another 1-of-13 shooting performance. He had been averaging 22 points a game up in the playoffs, but left his Twin Towers partner, 7-footer Akeem Olajuwon, to operate as the Lone Spire in Game 1.

Olajuwon kept the Rockets in the game in the first half, scoring 25 points as Sampson rode the bench saddled with three early fouls. But when Sampson needed to carry the team in the second half with Akeem in foul trouble, nothing happened.

Even after three years in the NBA, Sampson still seems prone to widely fluctuating performances. Partly it is because he does not play the pure power game of Olajuwon, but instead operates more from the perimeter, at times almost as an oversize guard, taking 17-foot jump shots and handling the ball.

One of the interesting footnotes to the present series is that the Celtics once offered Sampson a million-dollar contract to leave the University of Virginia before using up his four years of eligibility. Boston owned the top draft pick and figured the college superstar, who had just completed his sophomore year, might jump at the chance to play with the perennial NBA contenders.

When Ralph decided to stay in school, the Celtics traded the first choice to the Golden State Warriors for center Robert Parish and the draft rights to Kevin McHale, who are both stars on the present Boston team. And who did the Warriors select? Joe Barry Carroll of Purdue, a seven-footer who has never lived up to his advance billing and even spent a year playing in Italy after having his differences with management. Indy 500's soggy saga

During its 70-year history, the Indianapolis 500 has seldom grappled with weather delays. Rain, however, has really thrown a monkey wrench into the running of this year's race, which was sheduled last Sunday, moved to Monday, and finally pushed back to this Saturday. This marked only the second time since 1915 that the race failed to start on the appointed day, although rains have postponed the finish before.

Under any circumstances, a weather postponement creates major problems for the Indy 500, since many of the 300,000 spectators drive quite a distance to get to the Speedway, and a considerable number of workers on race day are volunteers with full-time jobs. This time, however, there was an additional catch. The race was slated to receive live television coverage for the first time, and with no backup programming, ABC Sports had to scramble to fill several hours while waiting last Sunday for a decision on whether to start the race. After rains wiped out the 500 on Monday as well, and more rain was reported on the way, race officials elected to try again this weekend, with ABC primed once more to produce live coverage. `Message pitches'

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Unless major league baseball can find an effective means of discouraging brushbacks and beanballs, brawls and mound-charging incidents are unavoidable. The problem is with pitchers who have given up a costly home run and then attempt to message subsequent hitters to, ``Back off the plate, buster.''

A case in point occurred in Tuesday night's Mets game, when Ray Knight was plunked by the Dodgers' Tom Niedenfuer on the first pitch following George Foster's grand slam home run. Knight went after Niedenfuer and both benches emptied before order was restored. There is often a pattern to the retaliatory tactics, one that could be used in policing the practice. Take the burden off umpires to judge intent and simply pass one inarguable rule:

A pitcher, or his replacement, shall be ejected from the game if, after giving up a home run, he hits either the next batter or the same player when he next bats.

Passage of such a rule would protect the chief targets of the ``message pitch,'' since if a batter is hit by a pitch accidentally or intentionally, the pitcher would be thrown out. Plate umpires would have to watch for batters leaning into inside deliveries, which shouldn't be difficult, and pitchers, of course, would have to be extra careful where they threw the ball in these situations.

The current rule states that if in the umpire's judgment a batter has been pitched at, the umpire shall first warn the pitcher and his manager that the next occurrence will mean immediate expulsion.

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