A writer was asking Pete Rose, who had just stepped out of the batting cage, if the Philadelphia Phillies would eventually beat out Pittsburgh and Montreal in the National League East. It was a natural question, prompted by the fact that the Phillies have played very well since the July All-Star break.
Although Rose's affirmative reply was not unexpected, the statement that followed had too much spontaneity and emotion in the way it was said to be put down merely as a ballplayer wanting to make himself look good in the newspapers.
"I want the Phillies to win the pennant this season more than I ever wanted the Reds to win one, and, if you remember, I played in Cincinnati for 16 years," Pete volunteered."It's still one of my favorite towns and I'll always have a lot of friends there.
"It's just that those Philadelphia fans have been teased so much when it comes to championships [Rose was also pointing at the failures of the 76ers, flyers, and Eagles] that they really deserve a World Series," he continued. "Hey, I'm not even a native and I know that the Phillies haven't ben in a World Series since 1950. But if we continue to play the way we have and we continue to get food pitching, we'll change that."
One of the things Philadelphia manager Dallas Green seldom has to worry about is his team's hitting. The Phillies lead the National League in that department , and they have great get-on-base men in Rose, Bake McBride, Manny Trillo, and Lonnie Smith and two exceptional power hitters in Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski.
Defensively, shortstop Larry Bowa has not played this year like the infield vacuum cleaner that made only six errors in 147 games in 1979 and who often ranged behind second base to turn sure singles into routine outs. Schmidt has also had some problems in grabbing balls on the short hop at third base.However, Pittsburgh has made virtually the same number of team errors as Philadelphia, and Montreal even more.
Asked why the Phillies hadn't done better in the first part of the season, Rose replied: "For a while we weren't getting enough pitching, either from our starters or out of the bullpen.We also had some injuries that set us back. Mainly it was too much win one, lose one, without ever putting together a long winning streak.
"I think the key to our season was in mid-August when we went into Pittsburgh and lost four straight to the Pirates," he continued. "At that point I felt we either had to turn around and do something big or probably play our way right out of the race.
"Well, shortly after that we won five straight from the Mets in New York, the pitching straightened out, and we became a team. To me we've played well ever since, even when we've lost, and since most of our players are veterans, we know what it's like to go through a tight race."
Although Rose continues to flirt with a .300 batting average, his chances of getting 200 hits again this year seem remote. Had Pete thought about it?
"Yeah, I've thought about it and if it doesn't happen but we still win the pennant, I don't care," he said. "Look, I've done it 10 times, which is one more time than Ty Cobb did it, and right now there isn't anybody around who can take that mark away from one.
"Individual records are great and I love 'em. I know most of my statistics by heart. But anytime you've got a chance to win a divisional title or a pennant, you're crazy if you dont't put the team first. No record beats playing in the World Series.
"Right now the Phillies have me batting second instead of first in the lineup. That means with a man on first base and nobody out that I'm going to have to give myself up at the plate so that the runner can get into scoring position. But at this point I couldn't care less about myself or my average as long as we stay in the race."
Philadelphia, with 9 of its final 12 regular season games at home, would appear to have an easy schedule -- except for one thing. Its last three games are against the Expos, in montreal. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is playing two games with the Chicago Cubs at home.