MLB Rotation: Phillies Most Memorable Call Up? Marty Bystrom in 1980.

PIcture Unrelated. - Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

As a child, the first baseball team I ever really noticed was the 1980 Phillies. Marty Bystrom helped me to notice them. His story is amazing, even today, but his hair, oh Lord, his hair...

Listen up, Fans Since '09.  Beyond Thunderdome has much wisdom to teach us, if only you will listen:

Time counts and keeps countin', and we knows now finding the trick of what's been and lost ain't no easy ride. But that's our trek, we gotta' travel it. And there ain't nobody knows where it's gonna' lead. Still in all, every night we does the tell, so that we 'member who we was and where we came from... but most of all we 'members the man that finded us, him that came the salvage. And we lights the city, not just for him, but for all of them that are still out there. 'Cause we knows there come a night, when they sees the distant light, and they'll be comin' home.

In other words, "ill" young 'uns, you have some stuff to learn.

Tug McGraw famously said that his fastball to strike out Willie Wilson in Game 6 of the 1980 World Series was the slowest pitch ever -- it took 97 years to reach the catcher's mitt.  The Tugger was accurate in that respect -- the Phillies were moribund for decades, with brief, punctuated moments of sort of good, and occasional, but exceptionally rare, moments of really excellent.  The 1980 team was at the back end of the best period of Phillies baseball ever (to that point), but the team was clearly in decline.

The 1980 team was literally Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Tug McGraw, Bake McBride, Manny Trillo, and a bunch of guys.  This was a 91 - 71 team that had to charge furiously at the end of the year to win their division by a single game over the Montreal Expos and sneak into the playoffs.  And their charge, while dramatic, was somewhat less heroic than you might imagine.  It is a complicated story.

The year before, 1979 , the Phillies were fourth in the NL East, ahead of only the Chicago Cubs and the woeful New York Mets.  They were supposed to win earlier, but didn't, Wet Luzinskis and all that. Now they were getting old and fading.  They were slipping in the face of a coming Montreal team.

After a poor April and a strong May, the 1980 Phillies sputtered through June, July, and August with a 45 - 42 record.  They were 6 games off the pace to start August 11th, after being swept in a doubleheader by the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The Pirates and Expos were in a tie for first place.  The Phillies were 55 - 52 and headed nowhere, other than perhaps slowly circling the drain on yet another season as their remaining talent was frittered away with a window closing pretty quickly.

And then they woke up.

At the conclusion of August 31, 1980, the Phillies were a half game back of both Montreal and Pittsburgh in a three-way dogfight for first place in the NL East.  The Phillies had run to 68 - 60, going 13 - 8 from their nadir following the Pirates doubleheader, but much of that record was at the expense of dreadful teams like the San Diego Padres (.420 on 8/31), the New York Mets (.454 on 8/31), and the Chicago Cubs (.398 on 8/31).  Against respectable teams like the Giants and Dodgers, the Phillies struggled to a 2 - 4 record while going 11 - 4 against the Padres, Mets, and Cubs, including a 5 game sweep of the Mets from Thursday, August 14, 1980 - Sunday, August 17, 1980, with a doubleheader on the final day of the series. The 40 - 12 cumulative score was representative of the disparity between the teams.

In other words, the epic 1980 stretch drive resulted in no small part from the Phillies feasting on a soft schedule, allowing them to vault back into the race.  Lest you be sucked in by the legends of TWTW of manager Dallas Green or players like Pete Rose and Larry Bowa, remember that they climbed to the top on the backs of terrible competition.  Thank you, Mets. (We'll thank the Cubs later.)  When September started, the Phillies were still in a dead heat with the Pirates and Expos.

The Phillies needed some pitching when rosters expanded.  Carlton was outstanding, going 6 - 2 from September 1 on during a 10.2 rWAR year, and both losses were 1 run games.  Still, he was 35, and couldn't pitch every game  Dick Ruthven was having his best year as a Phillie and pitched well down the stretch, with a 4 - 2 record and 2 no-decisions with mostly good outings.  Bob Walk was a rookie and had decidedly mixed results.

Larry Christenson made his debut with the Phillies as a 19 year old player with a complete game win against the Mets in 1973.  By 1980, he was 26, but a veteran of playoffs and pennant races. And the DL.  He had an injury history, including elbow problems and a broken collarbone during the 1980 season.  He started on September 6th against the Dodgers, when he did not make it out of the second inning.  He did not pitch again until September 24th, but he did recover to start a critical game against Montreal in the final series of the year, and a game of the World Series.  Still, he was out now for some unknown period of time.

Into the breach stepped Marty Bystrom.  He was an expanded roster call up in September.  He had pitched a scoreless inning on September 7th in garbage time during a loss to the Dodgers, but the Phillies needed someone to fill Christenson's slot in the rotation for a start on September 10th against the New York Mets.

Bystrom was a 6' - 5", 200 pound twenty-one year old rookie.  The Phillies organization has always liked big frames on pitchers, I guess. This gangly kid stepped into an intense pennant race in a clubhouse that included Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, Bob Boone, Steve Carlton, Tug McGraw, Larry Bowa, Garry Maddox, and Manny Trillo. You think Larry Bowa was an asshole as a manager?  Try walking into a clubhouse where he's at least fourth or fifth deep on the "raging asshole" roster.  Try doing it with a pennant on the line when you are 21 years old and a totally green rookie who has never sniffed a major league jockstrap.

Dallas Green was not a warm and fuzzy manager likely to hold anybody's hand.  The Phillies were regularly putting crowds of 40,000+ into Veteran's Stadium, likely thinking this would be the last hurrah for an increasingly grizzled team, though the rotation, other than Carlton, was all under 30 years old.  The fans had been disappointed terribly multiple times. The media was jaded. Someone recently described Philadelphia as having all the warmth of a pocket full of tacks.  This was a reputation earned during the late seventies and early eighties.

Good luck, kid.  Now don't blow it.

Bystrom caught a break with his first start.  He was to face the Mets at Shea.  The Mets were beyond terrible.  They were drawing fewer than 7,000 fans a game to Shea.  This was a team managed by Joe Torre that featured Jeff Reardon, Mookie Wilson, Wally Backman, and Claudell Washington, but none of them had found their sea legs yet, and the team was adrift at 59 - 80 on the way to a 67 - 95 year.  It was a perfect team for a young pitcher to face, backed by a Phillies lineup that desperately wanted playoff redemption after stinging losses to the Dodgers and a miserably disappointing 1979 season where they missed the playoffs completely.

Naturally, Bystrom threw a complete game shutout, striking out 5, walking 2, and giving up 5 hits.  The Phillies won 5 - 0, and had a three game winning streak going.  More importantly, they were now 75 - 63, keeping pace with the Expos, who beat the Cubs that day to remain a half game up on the Phillies.

With Christenson out, and with a performance like that in the books, Bystrom was slotted to start again on September 14th against a St. Louis Cardinals team that was only marginally better than the Mets in 1979, though they would break out in a few years.  In 1980, they already had players like Tommy Herr and George Hendrick on the field, along with Keith Hernandez, who would later go to the Mets.

Bystrom pitched 7 strong innings, giving up no runs on 5 hits with 2 strikeouts and a walk.  Bystrom got the win on the strength of a 6 run 3rd inning by the Phillies which included a three run homer by Bake McBride. The Phillies won 8 - 4 (Sparky Lyle coughed up 4 runs in the eighth inning as he closed out the final two frames).

The Phillies again needed the win to keep pace with the Expos, who beat the fading Pirates 4 - 0 behind Bill Gullickson.  Bystrom was helping the Phillies go toe-to-toe with the Expos during what was an epic, month-long race to win the NL East.  For those of you counting, he started his career with 17 shutout innings and two wins in the heat of a pennant race. The opposition was terrible, but this was a 21 year old kid jumping feet-first into a raging fire.

After play concluded on September 19th, the Phillies were 1.5 games behind Montreal with 19 games to go.  They had lost to the woeful Cubs on a walkoff in front of fewer than 5,000 fans in a day game at Wrigley (they all were day games in Wrigley back then).  The delightfully hirsute Warren Brusstar took the loss, but McGraw was on the mound when the winning run scored.

The rookie started Saturday, September 20th following that gut-wrenching loss in front of fewer than 12,000 fans at Wrigley.  He was facing a lineup with some dangerous hitters, like Dave Kingman and Bill Buckner.  It also included the memorable Ivan DeJesus' later acquired by the Phillies for the low, low price of Larry Bowa and FHOF Ryne Sandberg.

Bystrom gave it his best, but went only 5.1 innings, the shortest outing of his magical 1980.  He gave up three runs, scattered 8 hits, walked 2 and struck out 2.  The big blow was a two run homer by Kingman in the bottom of the fourth.  Fortunately, the Phillies started in the top half of the first with a three run homer by Schmidt.  The Phillies cruised to a 7 - 3 win with Kevin Saucier and Dickie Noles pitching effectively in relief. Still, Bystrom was 3 - 0, and the Phillies were 80 - 67.  The win let them keep pace with the Expos, who also won again.

When Bystrom pitched again on September 25th, it was to be against the lowly Mets again, but this time at the Vet.  It was the middle of the week, and only 20,000 fans showed up.  The Phillies were a half game behind the Expos, and a win was critical.  Bystrom held the Mets scoreless until he gave up a run in the 7th inning on a fielder's choice after he had loaded the bases with three consecutive singles.  Dickie Noles relieved him and put out the fire to preserve a 2 - 1 win. The Phillies had posted 2 runs in the fifth on a lead off triple by Manny Trillo and three singles.

The importance of this game is that Montreal finally lost on a night when the Phillies won, so the Phillies climbed into a half-game lead in the NL East with their 84 - 68 record.  Bystrom got the win, pushing his record to 4 - 0, with an ERA of 1.24, and the Expos rolled into Philadelphia for a weekend series that drew 144,000 fans to the Vet. The Phillies, in typical fashion, lost 2 of 3, and headed into the final week of the season down a half game to Montreal.

The Phillies' remaining 7 games included the final three of the year at Montreal in Olympic Stadium.  Before that final showdown, though, the Cubs came to Philadelphia for a four game set, and Bystrom had his final outing in the regular season.

Bystrom pitched the second game of the Cubs series on September 30th.  The Phillies had won the first game, keeping pace with the Expos and keeping the deficit from growing.  The Phillies made it easy for Bystrom, scoring 14 runs on 15 hits and 5 walks.  With a 4 run first, the game was pretty much over, and Bystrom cruised for 7 innings, striking out a season-high 6, walking 4, and giving up 2 runs on 5 hits.  And the Phillies kept pace with Montreal.

The Phillies swept the Cubs in four games, and evened the number of games played with the Expos to eliminate the half game difference in the standings.  They headed to Olympic Stadium for a three game set needing to win two of three games to secure a playoff spot.  This was a pennant race playoff series before there was a wild card.

The Phillies won the opener 2 - 1 behind Dick Ruthven.  The second game of the series was do-or-die for Montreal, since a loss would eliminate them.  The Phillies sent Larry Christenson to the hill, as he had recently returned from the injury that had allowed Bystrom to have a shot at the rotation.  Christenson started instead of Bystrom and was effective, going 6 innings and leaving with a 2 - 1 lead.  There was bullpennery even in 1980, and the Phillies coughed up the lead by throwing the ball around in the 7th, combined with a sac fly and a double, the latter by Rodney Scott.  The Expos led 3 - 2.

A Pete Rose lead off walk in the top of the ninth gave the Phillies a shot to tie.  Rose was erased on a fielder's choice, putting McBride at first.  Schmidt moved him to second with a ground out and McBride raced home, hair bobbing as he rounded third, tying the game on a Bob Boone single.  We'll ignore that Schmidt was probably safe on the prior play, as Boone's single erase all doubt.  Besides, Schmidt had his revenge later.

In extras, the Phillies won it on Mike Schmidt's 48th homer of the year - a two run shot in the 11th off Stan Bahnsen.  McGraw sent the Expos down in order in the 11th to seal the NL East title for the Phillies in game 161 of the 1980 season.  Listen to Harry's call on Schmidt's homer, folks.

The 1980 NLCS is one of legend, and it likely needs a post of its own.  The NLCS was a five game affair in those days, and Marty Bystrom, rookie call-up, ended up starting Game 5 against a Houston Astros team that had pushed the Phillies to the limit and beyond in the NLCS.  The final four games of the series were decided in extra innings.  Game 5 was decided after 10 innings, 5 lead changes, and a monster 5 run 8th inning that allowed the Phillies to come back from a 7 - 2 deficit against a guy you might have heard of: Nolan Ryan.

Bystrom pitched effectively.  He gave up 2 runs, 1 earned, in 5.1 innings.  He left with the game tied 2 - 2, having struck out 1 batter and walked 2.  He gave up 7 hits.  It was not an outstanding outing from the perspective of a pitching line, but he was a 21 year old on the biggest possible stage, and he did everything that could be expected of him.  This game took on legendary status based on later events, including the huge comeback off Ryan and Ken Forsch, and the Garry Maddox hit scoring Del Unser in the top of the 10th may never be forgotten by Phillies fans of a certain age.

The World Series gave Bystrom his last shot of a whirlwind final two months of the 1980 season.  After the Astros series and the showdown series with the Expos, these Phillies were showing that they might be the team to exorcise the demons of playoff disappointments against the Dodgers and of decades of fan frustration.  Carlton's 2 wins, Schmidt's MVP, the Pete Rose catch of out 26 in Game 6 off Bob Boone's glove, and McGraw's strikeout of Willie Wilson are all indelible "top 10" moments in Phillies history, but Bystrom played a role, too.

The Phillies and Royals split the first four games of the World Series in 1980, with the home team winning each game.  When Game 5 rolled around, Dallas Green went with Bystrom to start the final game to be played at Royals Stadium.  The winner would have two shots to close out the series.

Bystrom answered the bell for Game 5 on October 19th, 1980.  On the road, he was hit around, but he did not give up a big inning.  He gave up 10 hits to an excellent Royals team.  Bystrom gave up just 3 runs, though, and struck out 4, walking 1.  He left without retiring a batter in the 6th, having given up a homer to Amos Otis and then allowing two singles.  Dallas Green had seen enough, and he had Ron Reed relieve him with the game tied 2 - 2  Reed allowed inherited runner Clint Hurdle to score, and Bystrom was charged with the third run of the game.

The Phillies pulled the game out in the 9th with hits by Schmidt, Unser, and Trillo scoring two runs off Dan Quisenberry.  This staked the Phillies to a 1 run lead, which McGraw barely held on to as he walked the bases full before striking out Jose Cardenal for the final out.  This was as gut-wrenching as a game could be for a young baseball fan, let me tell you.  This set the stage for Game 6 on October 21, 1980, when the Phillies won their first World Series.

Remember that Bystrom had never thrown a single pitch in the majors before September 7, 1980.  By the time he walked off the mound in Kansas City 42 days later on October 19th, he had helped the Phillies win 5 games during a pennant race that required every last victory.  He started the fifth game of one of the most compelling National League Championship Series in history.  In that start, he faced off against a future first ballot, inner circle Hall of Famer in Nolan Ryan, and he left with the game tied.  He pitched a good enough game to give his team a chance to win Game 5 of a tied World Series, which was enormously important.

And he was just 21 years old.

Was he the most memorable call up in Phillies history?  He's the Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of call ups.  The Forest Gump of call ups.  Without him, the Phillies probably do not end their championship drought until 2008.  The fabulously talented 1970's/1980's Phillies never win a title. Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton's careers get the "but they never won a title" asterisk [1].  Greg Luzinski is just another dude selling sandwiches.  Nobody remembers Bake McBride.

There are other players who had significant roles as call ups - K-Rod, David Price, etc.  But Marty Bystrom is ours.  He is part of your heritage as fan of the Phillies.  And now you know about him, too, ill Phan.

[1] "...with the Phillies.  I was reminded by an observant reader that Carlton was on the World Series winning 1967 Cardinals.  But Carlton, as he existed as a Phillie, was not born until after the Rick Wise trade. 8/27/13. /Obi Wan'd

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