Pitchers rule early playoff games; pressure exceeds that in Series
''Good pitching will always beat good hitting,'' goes the time-honored baseball adage, and it's certainly been proved true in the early games of this year's playoffs.
Jerry Reuss and Tom Niedenfuer limited Philadelphia's supposedly red-hot lineup to five hits and one run in the National League opener, but even that wasn't enough, as Steve Carlton and Al Holland combined to stop Los Angeles cold for a 1-0 Phillies victory.
Dodger pitching was equally stingy the next night, this time with Fernando Valenzuela and Niedenfuer beating the Phillies 4-1. The Los Angeles attack wasn't exactly awesome either, with a pair of costly errors and a bloop triple adding up to three unearned runs.
None of this was too suprising, since the Dodgers and Phillies were both known more for pitching than hitting this year anyway, but one might have expected a bit more run production in the American League battle, what with the designated hitter putting an extra strong bat in the lineup, and with Chicago and Baltimore both ranking among the league's top teams offensively. But the pitchers took over in the opener of that series too.
LaMarr Hoyt, the White Sox' 24-game winner, mowed the Orioles down on five hits for a 2-1 decision. And again the losing side had nothing to be ashamed of on the mound as Scott McGregor, Sammy Stewart, and Tippy Martinez combined to limit Chicago to seven hits and two runs, only one of which was earned. The eventual winning run, in fact, scored in the not-so-thunderous fashion of a walk , an error, and a double play.
So after two days of playoff action, comprising three games, the teams had combined for nine runs, only five of which were earned. The pitching statistics were 53 innings, 37 hits (including just two homers), and an earned run average of 0.85. You don't get much better than that. Playoff pressure toughest
The World Series is still baseball's big show, of course, but as Pete Rose told a national TV audience during the first Phillies-Dodgers game, the players actually feel much more pressure during the playoffs.
The main reason is pretty obvious. After battling through a 162-game campaign to win a division title, one team in each playoff will go to the World Series, while the other will see its entire season go down the drain.
Once a team reaches the World Series, on the other hand, it has already achieved most of its season-long goals, and no matter what happens it is already a pennant winner. There's still incentive to win, of course, and undoubtedly Rose was exaggerating a bit when he said that after the playoffs the Series is ''a piece of cake,'' but there's no question most of the pressure is off by then.
A second reason that the playoffs have more pressure is that they are only best-of-five series - which heightens the chances of a tough break, or a questionable call, or an inopportune slump by a key player being decisive.
In hopes of more competitive fairness, therefore, many people have long advocated switching to the same best-of-seven format used in the World Series. Last winter the owners' Executive Council recommended such a change, but the Players' Association indicated its opposition, and the plan never came to a vote.
It could happen sometime in the future if player demands are met, though opponents (including some owners) contend that adding more games in October would just be asking for weather problems. There's also a fear in some quarters that making the playoffs as lengthy as the World Series might dilute the importance of the game's showcase event. No security for managers
Everybody knows losing managers don't last long, but winning isn't any guarantee of sticking around either. While Tommy Lasorda of Los Angeles, Paul Owens of Philadelphia, Joe Altobelli of Baltimore, and Tony La Russa of Chicago are guiding their teams through this year's playoffs, for instance, it might give them pause to ponder this statistic: of the 12 men who have been in the same position in the last three years, only three are still employed in the same capacity.
The latest to get his pink slip was Harvey Kuenn, who took Milwaukee to the seventh game of the World Series last year. The Brewers, minus relief ace Rollie Fingers and Cy Young Award winner Pete Vuckovich due to injuries, slumped to fifth place this year - and as usual in such situations, it was the manager who paid the price.
Kuenn was dismissed this week, as were Frank Howard of New York Mets and Russ Nixon of Cincinnati, while the Chicago Cubs announced that Charlie Fox, who moved from the front office to run the team in midseason, would not return as field boss. Kuenn has already been replaced by former Seattle manager Rene Lachemann, and Nixon by ex-St. Louis pilot Vern Rapp, while the New York and Chicago jobs are yet to be filled.
Besides Kuenn, division-winning managers of the last three years no longer in the same jobs are: 1982 - Gene Mauch, California; 1981 - Jim Fanning, Montreal; Bob Lemon, New York Yankees; Billy Martin, Oakland; 1980 - Dallas Green, Philadelphia; Bill Virdon, Houston; Jim Frey, Kansas City; Dick Howser, Yankees. The only holdovers are Whitey Herzog of last year's world champion Cardinals, Joe Torre of the 1982 Atlanta Braves, and Lasorda, whose Dodgers won the '81 Series.