NL playoffs have tough act to follow
With their pressurized, best-in-five format, and with the World Series awaiting the winner, baseball's annual league playoffs are just about guaranteed to produce high drama. This year's National League showdown between Houston and Philadelphia will have to go some, though, to match the incredible season-ending series that got the two teamshere.Skip to next paragraph
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In twin denouements no scriptwriter could have planned any better, both regular season races came down to the final weekend with the championship still up for grabs and the contender meeting head-on. The combatants played it for all it was worth, too, coming up day after day with game-winning home runs, late-inning rallies, or both, until the Phillies eventually subdued Montreal and the Astros hung on to finally beat Los Angeles.
Talk about tough acts to follow! Each of these windups was a mini playoff in itself, and the operative word for the current official championships series just has to be ant iclimax. And yet this match-up certainly has all the ingredients for plenty of excitement in its own right.
To begin with, the off-field images of the teams are as different as possible: the quiet, conservative straight shooters from MidAmerica vs. the fussin' and feudin' Phils, who often seemed to spend more time this year fighting among themselves or with the news media than trying to beat the opposition.
On the field there are some marked differences, too, with Houston relying primarily on speed, defense, pitching depth, and overall team balance, while Philadelphia, thought not exactly deficient in these areas, leans much more heavily on the super talents of individual stars such as the Mike Schmidt, the major league home rum leader, and 24-game winner Steve Carlton.
The Astros, of course, are the Cinderella team in this contest -- the expansion franchise seeking the first pennant in their 19-year history. They're also something of a sentimental favorite because of the way they fought back from the devastating loss of pitcher J.R. Richard in midseason. Furthermore, they're an exciting team, whose dashing style of play is fun to watch.
It's easy to cast the "big, bad Phillies" in the villain's role for this drama, yet anyone familiar with the city's history of diamond frustrations can hardly help thinking it is overdue for a little success of its own.
The Phillies have appeared in only two World Series in their long history -- in 1915, when they were able to win just one game, and in 1950, when they were swept 4-0 by the Yankees.
And more recently, of course, the team won the NL East title three straight years (1976, '77, '78), only to fail each time in the playoffs.
Whatever happens in this battle, therefore, the National League is certain to be represented in the World Series by a team that has never won the big prize. But despite their history of past failures, the 1980 versions of these clubs are anything but losers -- as both demonstrated decisively when the chips were down.