As the World Series shifts from Ohiladelphia to Kansas City for Game 3, with the Philies leading 2-0, we should pause just a moment for this gentle reminder.
Although they call it baseball, pitching is really the name of the game. No manager ever had enough. And it isn't just a case of making sure you've got quality in your starters; a team must also have protection in the bullpen.
Hitting will occasionally dominate a game, even a couple of games -- that's understood. But whoever wins this year's series will probably be the team that has had the most from its pitching staff.
So far that has been Philadelphia, which got outstanding relief from left-hander Tug McGraw in Game 1 (Phillies 7, Royals 6) and from right-hander Ron Reed in Game 2 (Phillies 6, Royals 4).
The pitching match-up for tonight's game, barring an unexpected switch, has Rich Gale (13-9) going for KC and Dick Ruthven (17-10) for the Ohillies. Both are right-handers; both have the same number of complete games (6); both have earned-run averages close to four per game; and both have struck out more hitters than they have walked.
If either is around at the finish, even with the help of the designated-hitter rule, most National and American League baseball people will be surprised. Neither is the ace of his team's pitching staff.
IDeally a manager wants the hurler who consistently won the pressure games for him during the regular season to lead off his World Series pitching rotation.
On the Phillies that's left-hander Steve Carlton, who was 24-9 this year. But Carlton started twice against the Houston Astros in the National League playoffs (winning one game and not being involved in the decision in the other), so for Manager Dallas Green to come back with Steve against the Royals in the series opener would have been to pitch him with only two days' rest. That might have been all right in 1915, when baseballs didn't yet have jack rabbit interiors that today permit even 155-pound infielders to hit home runs.
So Green, without much choice anyway, since he'd used up most of his pitchers to eliminate the Astros, went with rookie right-hander Bob Walk in Game 1.
Green was probably thinking: "If I can get just five innings from Walk, and we aren't more than a run or two behind, maybe our hitters and our bullpen can win it for us."
Walk, even though he gave up six runs on three homers, lasted seven-plus innings. He got that far mostly on the strength of a five-run third inning by the Phillies, including a three-run homer by Bake McBride. After relieving Walk in the eighth, McGraw pitched shutout ball to nail down the first-game victory.
Green, of course, couldn't have been happier. His team had taken a 1-0 lead, he had his best pitcher (Steve Carlton, with three days' rest) ready to work Game 2; and he had "bought" some much-needed rest for his overworked mound staff.
Although Steve didn't pitch Wednesday night with his usual effectiveness, giving up four runs in eight innings while throwing 159 pitches, he managed to work well enough in the clutch to leave 11 Kansas City runners stranded on base. Ron Reed, who pitched the ninth inning for Philadelphia, was never in any serious trouble.
So what you have is a keyed-up Phillies team taht has beaten the Royals' best left-handed starter (20-game winner Dennis Leonard) and chased their best right-handed starter (18-game winner Larry Gura). Philadelphia in Game 2 also had no trouble hitting and beating Kansas City's top relief pitcher, sinkerball specialist Don Quisenberry, who had 33 saves during the regular season.
After the double loss, KC Manager Jim Frey talked a lot about the importance of the Philadelphia crowd, whose verbal support seemed to have a strong effect on the Phillies' ability to come from behind.
Frey, fo course, likes having the next three games (if necessary) in Kansas City's ballpark, before the Royals' highly partisan fans, and, he hopes, with a healthy George Brett at third base. Brett, who hit .390 during the regular season, left Wednesday's game in the fifth inning with a physical problem and may not return to the lineup.
After Game 2, George told reporters: "We're in a situation now where we almost have to sweep the Phillies at home. It's tough to win three straight games against anyone, but we did it in the playoffs against the Yankees and we did it consistently during the regular season."
But as Phillies' third baseman Mike Schmidt countered: "Even if the Royals should win two or even three games at home, they still have to come back to Philadelphia for Games 6 and 7. Knowing that has to help us."