Power hitters Schmidt, Guerrero key performers in NL playoffs
Los Angeles — Any time a baseball team is fortunate enough to have a slugger capable of consistently hitting 30 or more home runs every season, tickets sell a lot easier, even if the club isn't always pennant material.
But if these two items become a parlay, then you've got a National League playoff series like the one currently going on between Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
The chief power broker on the Phillies is veteran third baseman Mike Schmidt, who led the majors with 40 home runs during the regular season. In L.A., the man with lightning bolts rippling up and down his forearms is 27-year-old Pedro Guerrero, who has just completed back-to-back years in which he hit 32 homers. And the importance of each was very much in evidence throughout Tuesday night's opener of the best-of-five series.
With two out and none on in the first inning, Dodger left-hander Jerry Reuss made what looked like a good pitch - low and just over the inside corner - but Schmidt went down and golfed a long drive over the left field wall. No one knew it at the time, of course, but that was the ball game, as Steve Carlton with relief help from Al Holland made it stand up all the way for a 1-0 Phillies victory.
Guerrero's importance was also apparent - not for what he did but for what the Phillies wouldn't give him a chance to do.
Pedro came up in the sixth with a man on third and two out - and despite the so-called ''book'' that says you don't put the potential winning run on base, the Phillies wanted no part of him. Carlton nibbled at the corners, trying to make Pedro swing at a bad pitch and obviously not caring much if he walked him. That's what happened, then Steve struck out Mike Marshall to end the threat.
In the eighth Guerrero came up again in a key spot - two on and two out - and once more Carlton pitched so carefully he walked him. It worked again, too, as Holland came in and got Marshall on a liner to right to end the inning.
Schmidt, once a wild swinger who struck out a lot, has matured over the years into a fine all-around hitter. The scouting report the Dodgers put together on the two-time National League MVP doesn't leave their pitchers with many options - unless you consider throwing behind him an option!
Mike used to take his hitting slumps seriously; even putting together a series of checkpoints several years ago to use as a basis for a quick recovery.
''The idea was great, except that eventually I began to realize that the thing never worked,'' Schmidt told me during this year's NL playoffs. ''What I do mostly when I'm in a slump these days is go out and take extra batting practice until I begin to feel comfortable at the plate. If you try to think too much about what you're doing, it only makes it tougher.
''Basically I'm a low-ball hitter who likes to guess,'' he added. ''My theory is that I hit a lot of low pitches for home runs because I play so much golf. Actually that may not have anything to do with it, but that's what I tell people. Anyway, when I guess fastball and I get a fastball, that's when the home runs come.'' In what must be some kind of record for long-ball consistency Mike has hit 45, 48, 31 (in the strike-abbreviated 1981 season), 35, and 40 out of the park in the last five years.
While Guerrero, who is seven years younger, might not yet have as selective a strike zone as Schmidt, his strength is such that he doesn't necessarily have to pull the ball to ride it out of the park.
Since arriving in Los Angeles to stay in 1979, Pedro has played six different positions with the Dodgers - first base (his favorite), second base, third base, and all three outfield positions.
The latest switch came this season when Los Angeles decided to work youngsters Marshall and Greg Brock into its starting lineup, which meant moving Guerrero from right field to third - not an entirely unfamiliar position since he had played there part time in the minors, but one that still needed to be mastered.
Pedro had some defensive problems, especially in the early going when a shoulder injury affected his throwing accuracy. His batting was never a problem, although even there Dodger coaches think he might have hit over .300, with a few more home runs if he hadn't been forced to put so much of his concentration into learning his infield responsiblity.
''In just over two years, Pedro has gone from a kid who had no discipline as a hitter to one of the best power men in the league,'' said batting coach Manny Motta. ''At first, instead of settling for a hit, he would try to ride every ball out of the park, even when it wasn't that kind of a pitch. Now he knows what to do in those situations, and he'll get better. The day when a smart pitcher could get Pedro out by teasing him with balls just off the plate are no more. Like Schmidt, I think he knows now when he's got a pitcher in a jam and how to take advantage of it.''