August 31, 1979: The Green Era, Day One

This is the fifth in a series of 6 monthly columns remembering memorable Phillies games on their milestone dates. This column spotlights Dallas Green's first game as manager of the Phillies in 1979. Today is the 25th anniversary of that occasion.

Following the Phillies loss to the Cincinnati Reds at Veterans Stadium on August 29, 1979, the team was sitting in fifth place in the National League East, 12 ½ games behind the division-leading Pirates. General Manager Paul Owens decided that a change needed to be made. He fired long time skipper Danny Ozark, who had amassed a 65-67 record so far in 1979, and replaced him with farm director Dallas Green, a towering former Phillies pitcher with a booming voice and fiery temper. Owens believed that the team needed a swift kick in the pants, and Green was just the man to do it.

The 1979 season had started out strong; after the 23-22 defeat of the Cubs in Chicago on May 11, the Phils sat atop the east with a record of 24-10. The team proceeded to drop 28 out of the next 43 games, and, after a double-header loss in St. Louis on July 1st, was now mired in fifth place. Ozark was desperate for wins, showing in such moves as batting pitcher Steve Carlton in the number eight slot in the batting order (newly acquired Bud Harrelson batted ninth), but the Phillies still lost to Cincinnati, 4-2.

There were bright spots, evidenced by Steve Carlton's one-hit gem against the Mets on July 4th. But the roster was changing, as well. Longtime pitcher Jim Lonborg was released on June 16th to make room for youngster Kevin Saucier, and veteran bench players Rudi Meoli and Jose Cardenal were sold over the summer. But on August 31st, the biggest change was made, in the dugout.

The first thing Green did as manager was shuffle the lineup. Pete Rose, who had been batting leadoff, was dropped to the number three slot, and Bake McBride was elevated from the seven-hole to leadoff. Larry Bowa and Manny Trillo swapped positions in the order, with Bowa now batting eighth. Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, Bob Boone, and Garry Maddox all went down a notch, from spots three through six to spots four through seven. And Green's starting pitcher for his first game, in Atlanta against the woeful Braves? Reliever Doug Bird, he of the 5.18 ERA in 26 appearances. All signs pointed to another possibly dreary night in humid Atlanta.

The Phillies manufactured a run in the first inning when McBride singled off Braves starter Tony Brizzolara, stole second, went to third on a throwing error by catcher Joe Nolan, and scored on Trillo's sacrifice fly. It seemed so simple when, in the third, Mike Schmidt hit a two-run home run, his 41st of the season, to give Bird a three run cushion.

But the Braves answered with two in the bottom half of the inning, when Dale Murphy blasted a homerun to left with a mate aboard, and the Phillies lead was cut to 3-2.

In the fifth, five consecutive singles by Trillo, Rose, Schmidt, Luzinski, and Boone, led off the inning and pushed three runs across, and the lead was now 6-2, in favor of the Phillies. Bird stranded Jerry Royster on third in the bottom of the fifth, to preserve the four run lead. Singles by McBride and Trillo in the sixth went for naught.

In the bottom of the sixth, Dale Murphy led off by popping out to Bowa, and the skies opened, and the game was delayed. Plate umpire Joe West eventually called the game on account of rain, and Dallas Green had his first win as manager of the Phillies, albeit a rain-shortened one, thanks to a complete game by a journeyman long reliever. It was that kind of season.

The Phillies went on to record a record of 18-11 in September to finish 84-78, 14 games behind Pittsburgh, in fourth place in the N.L. East, but the die was now cast. The team had come together in the last month of the 1979 season to make the campaign respectable. Key players such as Lonnie Smith, Keith Moreland, and Dickie Noles all debuted in 1979, forming the basis for a strong bench and bullpen the following season. Green wasn't sure he would manage the team in 1980, but he relented and accepted the job.

Looking back, little did anyone know that the 1980 season would be so stormy, but would end on a clear, crisp night in October with Green and Owens hoisting the World Series trophy after the greatest moment in Phillies history. And it all began on a rainy night in Georgia in 1979.

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