A five-run outburst by the Phillies in the home half of the first inning, and a 4-for-4 day from Bake McBride, carried Danny Ozark’s NL East-leading squad to a convincing 7-3 win over the last-place Braves in the second game of a quick two-game set at The Vet on Wednesday night.
Philadelphia starter Randy Lerch (8-6) went seven innings for the win, with relief help from Tug McGraw, who assisted a tired Lerch by pitching a perfect eighth and ninth to cap the Phils’ 61st win of the 1978 campaign, and increase their lead over the second-place Cubs to 14 games. The Phillies swept the two-game series from the over-matched Braves, who fell to 39-60 and secured their hold on the West division cellar.
“This may be the best Phillies team I’ve managed,” said third-year skipper Ozark, from his office in the Veterans Stadium clubhouse. “If we can continue this pace, we should be a lock for the East pennant.”
When reminded of the Phillies collapse of 1964, when that team held a 6½ game lead with twelve to play, only to lose ten straight and finish in a second-place tie, Ozark simply shook his head and said, “That was a long time ago.”
After the Braves went down in order to open the first, the Phillies took control of the game by scoring five in the bottom of the frame, after leadoff batter Larry Bowa reached first base safely on a misplayed grounder by shortstop Darrel Chaney. Atlanta appeared to be on top of things when Garry ‘Mad Dog’ Maddox singled, and Bowa was thrown out trying to advance to third, but slugging third baseman Mike Schmidt sent a 2-2 offering from Preston Hanna deep to left for his twentieth home run of the season—the fifth consecutive year he’s reached the 20-HR mark—for a 2-0 Philadelphia advantage. Then, after nervously walking cleanup batter Luzinski on four pitches, Hanna allowed a single to Bake McBride before coaxing Bob Boone to fly out to shallow center for the second out.
Unfortunately for Atlanta, Hanna’s first pitch to Richie Hebner was hammered by the left-handed first baseman hard off the second deck facade in right field, good for his 17th homer, three more runs on the board, and a sudden 5-0 Phillies lead after just one inning. However, the Braves made it interesting in the top of the second, jumping on Lerch for four consecutive singles to open the inning, which resulted in RBI’s from Biff Pocoroba, Dale Murphy, and Jerry Royster and a now-manageable deficit of just two runs.
But the comeback bid stalled there, as Lerch and McGraw shut down the Atlanta offense the rest of the way, and McBride added some insurance with a two-run single in the seventh inning, complimenting a 4-for-4 night and putting the finishing touches on the 7-3 final.
For McGraw, it was his first appearance in a game since he’d missed five days after suffering from a sudden onset of dizziness, during a July 19th contest against Cincinnati; after surrendering a base hit and hitting a batter in his one-third of an inning pitched, McGraw left the game at his own request. He took part in light workouts and practiced with the team over the next few days, but team management made the decision to rest McGraw for most of the recent homestand as a precaution.
“I feel fine,” McGraw told reporters from his locker following his two innings of work. “I just lost my bearings for a few days.”
From here, the Phillies will have a day off before traveling to Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati for a weekend slate of games—including a Friday night twilight doubleheader—against the red-hot Reds, with all four games televised on Philadelphia’s WPHL-TV. The Braves, meanwhile, will try to salvage an 8-10 month of July with a four-game home series against the Expos, which will feature a Friday evening twinbill as well.