Phils Need Shades of 1980 in Final Weekend

The Phillies can spend a lot of time looking back on lost opportunities. For now though, all they can do is look ahead to a weekend series in Washington that needs to be swept. Perhaps, they can afford just a slight glimpse back to the magic of 1980 and a final weekend that sent the Phillies into the playoffs.

For Phillies fans, this season has seemed much like 1980 at times. A team that seemingly was underachieving, that at times looked unbeatable and at other times looked almost futile. A team that looked for all the world like they were simply going through the motions and waiting for some sort of wake up call to wake them from their slumber; a sleeping giant if you will.

Sure, there are differences. There was no Dallas Green to launch into a well deserved tirade and there was no Paul Owens to descend from the front office to do the same. Our closer, although a left-hander, wasn't as cute and cuddly as Tug McGraw. He's more like Larry Bowa, who at one point of the season 25 years ago, was heard yelling "worst (insert expletive here) fans in baseball," at the top of his lungs in the Phillies clubhouse. You can draw character comparisons between Pat Burrell and Mike Schmidt, the main power sources of the two clubs, but Burrell doesn't appear to be a Hall of Famer at this point in his career. And speaking of Hall of Famers - or would-be Hall of Famers - there was no Pete Rose on this club to rally the troops. There certainly was no Steve Carlton on this 25th anniversary club, either.

There are some differences in how the two teams are finishing up their seasons as well, but there are also a number of similarities.

In 1980, the Phillies and Expos were tied for the division lead heading into the final weekend of the season. As the scheduling gods would have it, the two teams were set to square off in Montreal. The Phillies came into Montreal and picked up a 2-1 win in the series opener, with an ill Mike Schmidt hitting a homerun and offering up a sacrifice fly to give the Phillies all the runs they would need. The next day, the game was delayed by rain for more than three hours as fans and players alike waited to see what would happen. Once the game did start, it was a classic. Bob Boone, mired in a 2-for-25 slump, drove home Bake McBride to tie the game in the ninth. In the eleventh, Mike Schmidt launched his 48th homerun of the season as the Phillies made seemingly quick work of the Expos and won the division.

Now, here we are in the final weekend of the 2005 season and the Phillies are headed into Washington to play the Nationals - the reincarnation of the Montreal Expos - and they need wins. Unlike 1980 though, their destiny is not in their hands. As the Phillies went to Montreal 25 years ago, the mission was win the series, win the division. This weekend, the Phillies can't say that. They could sweep in Washington and still wind up short of the playoffs. Instead, they need to watch the scoreboard to see what's happening in Houston as the Astros enter the final weekend of the series at home against the Chicago Cubs. The Cubbies, who won 2-of-3 from Houston last weekend and won the first game of their four game set in Houston Friday night, hold the fate of the Phillies in their hands. Chicago needs to take two of the remaining three games against Houston for the Phillies to have any chance. If the Cubs win two games of the three and the Phillies sweep, we would be headed to Philadelphia for a one-game playoff Monday at Citizens Bank Park. If Chicago can sweep, the Phillies could steal the wild card with a sweep of their own in Washington.

The Phillies have Cory Lidle (12-11, 4.65), Brett Myers (12-8, 3.71) and Jon Lieber (16-13, 4.22) going against Livan Hernandez (15-9, 3.95), John Patterson (9-6, 2.90) and Hector Carrasco (5-3, 1.73) this weekend. Hernandez and Patterson have been key parts of the Nationals' rotation this season and are the two toughest starters that Washington can throw at you. Carrasco was 4-3, 2.04 in 59 games as a reliever before Washington inserted him into the starting rotation. In four starts, Carrasco has gone 1-0 with a 0.83 ERA, striking out 23 in 22 1/3 innings of work.

The Nationals are coming off a sweep of the Florida Marlins in which they outscored the Fish 26-8 in three games. Washington put 11 runs on the board in each of the last two games against Florida. The offensive explosion has been new to Washington since they rank last in the majors with a .252 average offensively this season. Not surprisingly, they also rank last in the majors in runs scored with 629. Pitching has been the key to the Nationals' season, with their staff ranking fourth in the National League in ERA at 3.81.

It's not 1980 and the mission going into the last weekend of the season is much more difficult for this version of the Phillies than it was 25 years ago. The truth is that players will need to step up to be the Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose and Steve Carltons of 2005. They will also need players on the Chicago Cubs to step up and do the same if the drama is to equal that of 25 years ago.

Columnist's Note:  Questions, comments and suggestions are always welcome. Please e-mail them to Phillies1964@att.net.


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