Bill Conlin: In 1983, it was the Dodgers who wheezed

Reprinted from yesterday's Daily News:

THERE ARE October underdogs and there are 6-feet underdogs. When the 1983 Phillies - the "Wheeze Kids" - went against the Los Angeles Dodgers, they were 6-feet underdogs.

Cole Hamels got stronger as he went along.

It would be three-and-cut-free for aging Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and a winding-down semidynasty that had given the town an 8-year run of five division titles, two pennants and the 1980 World Series trophy.

But there surely would be no World Series appearance in '83. That much seemed evident as Tommy Lasorda's Roman proboscis. The Dodgers had ended the Phillies' World Series dream in 1977 and '78, each time in four games in best-of-five series.

Now, the team that had fired manager Pat Corrales on July 17, while tied for first place with the Cardinals, had been slapped silly by the Dodgers during the regular season. Lopsided is an inadequate word to describe a 1-11 humiliation.

But wait . . . You can win one out of 12 and still be competitive. Lose one-run and extra-inning games. Have some bad luck to hang a tattered hat of hope upon. Nope. The Phillies dug their own graves, climbed out with shovels at "present arms'' and stood passively at attention, waiting for the firing squad to march into position.

In those 12 games, the ERA of Lasorda's pitching staff was 1.09. Fernando Valenzuela and Co. had eight complete games. Five of them were shutouts, two by No. 4 starter Alejandro Pena. Bob Welch fired a one-hitter. In the five shutouts, the Phillies averaged 3.6 hits. In the 11 losses, they averaged 5.8 hits. In addition to Valenzuela, Pena and Welch, they were shut out by Rick Honeycutt.

Naturally, the Dodgers had homefield advantage. Most of the LA media packed for a week on the road. The World Series would open in Baltimore or Chicago.

The Phillies remained in character when they arrived at their headquarters in the Wilshire Hyatt Hotel. After a Monday afternoon workout the day before Game 1, Paul Owens, who had gone from the general manager's office to the dugout for the second time in his career, was enjoying the cocktail hour in the bar off the lobby when farm director Jim Baumer showed up. It didn't take long for thrown punches to accompany angry words.

Round 1 was quickly broken up by members of each man's corner. The Pope had done a slow burn all summer as he began to catch on that Baumer had helped persuade club president Bill Giles to ask Owens to replace Corrales and manage a team nobody thought was good enough to win. If Owens failed, Giles would complete the plan to be his own GM at the head of a committee - the scenario that induced Dallas Green to leave the Phillies for Chicago after the 1981 season. The Pope would be reduced to an emeritus role and Baumer would move up the ladder. Before the first punches, Owens snarled, "You bleepers sent me down there to fail. Well, I showed you bleep-bleepers.''

He sure did. Led by Joe Morgan's player of the month performance, the Phillies unfurled a club record 22-7 September to win the easiest division title of the Owens era.

Owens and his unofficial bodyguard, bullpen coach Irish Mike Ryan, arrived in the mezzanine bar and restaurant showered and shaved for the dinner hour phase. I witnessed Round 2. Baumer arrived with several scouts and it was back on right away. While Owens was being pulled off his farm director, he threw a straining punch and the 1980 World Series ring gleaming on his right hand drew blood from Baumer's left cheekbone. It flared again as Irish was stuffing his boss into the same elevator where Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was allegedly accosted during the 1981 World Series by two Dodgers fans, suffering a broken hand.

"That's more hits than we usually get out here,'' a member of the traveling party deadpanned.

Game 1 went as unexpected. Steve Carlton pitched a shutout and Mike Schmidt beat lefthander Jerry Reuss 1-0 with a first-inning homer.

Game 2, Valenzuela outpitched 1983 Cy Young Award winner John Denny, 4-1. But Gary Matthews did some foreshadowing with a second-inning homer.

On to Philly. The glass-half-empty set grumbled, "Big deal, they scored two whole runs in Dodger Stadium.''

Game 3 was a mismatch on paper, rookie righthander Charles Hudson vs. 15-game winner Welch. Fortunately, the game was played on the Veterans Stadium turf. Hudson pitched a nine-strikeout four-hitter. Sarge Matthews was 3-for-3 with a homer and four RBI. The scars were still too fresh and deep for us to realize it was payback for Black Friday 6 years before.

By Game 4, we knew the Dodgers were five-grain whole wheat toast. The clincher was sweeter than 36-degree Yuengling Lager. It was a Carlton vs. Reuss rematch. Sarge sewed up the NLCS MVP trophy with a three-run homer in the first inning and the Phillies never looked back. With a 7-1 lead after six, Owens went to his rested bullpen. Ron Reed and closer Al Holland finished the most lopsided postseason championship in franchise history and the only easy pennant of the Owens era.

Giles brought Owens back to manage in 1984, the Orwellian year that established the Gang of Six and plunged the Phillies into a 10-year drought. *

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