Just as with the pitching representative in this ‘Phillies 50’ series from the 1980 team, Scott Munninghoff, their position player entry also enjoyed his only brief experience in Major League Baseball with that club.
Munninghoff was very young at age 21 when he appeared in four games over late April and early May. Even younger was 20-year-old outfielder Orlando Isales when he made three late season appearances.
Isales had signed with the Phillies out of his native Puerto Rico when he was only 15-years-old in February 1975. By the 1979 season while still a teenager, Isales had pushed his way up to Triple-A Oklahoma City where he would return in 1980.
When rosters expanded in September of 1980 the Phillies called up the youngster to provide some outfield depth and to potentially use as a pinch-runner. The latter role is how he would make his big-league debut.
On September 11, 1980 at Shea Stadium the Phillies used a two-out RBI double by Del Unser followed by a two-run single from Pete Rose to blow open a tight 2-1 game and take a 5-1 lead. Isales was then sent in by manager Dallas Green to pinch-run for Rose. He would be stranded there at first base as Bake McBride popped out. That win over the host and division-rival New York Mets would keep the Phillies within a half-game of the first-place Montreal Expos in the NL East Division standings.
Isales’ next opportunity would not come until the final week of the season, but it was during an even more important ball game. In that one, the Phillies romped past the visiting Chicago Cubs by a 14-2 score at Veterans Stadium. The win kept the team within a game of Montreal with just five left in the season. On that Tuesday night, September 30, 1980 he was given his first chance to play the field and come to the plate.
In the top of the 7th inning with the Phillies leading 10-1, Green replaced McBride with Isales in right field. Then in the bottom of the frame, with one out and a run already in, Isales came to bat for the first time to face southpaw Doug Capilla. The Cubs’ reliever promptly uncorked a wild pitch that scored Manny Trillo.
Isales then ripped a two-run triple into the right field corner, scoring Lonnie Smith and Bob Dernier to provide the final 14-2 margin. John Vukovich followed by grounding a ball to third base on which Isales was thrown out at the plate. It would be the rookie’s only plate appearance of the ball game.
The final appearance of both the season and, as it turns out, Isales’ big-league career came on the last day of the regular season. It was Sunday, October 5, 1980, a day game that followed after the Phillies had downed Montreal in extra-innings to clinch the NL East crown the prior night.
After that hard-fought, extra-innings, division-clinching victory, the Phillies had partied hard. So, Green gave all of his starters except Rose a rest, inserting Isales as the starting right fielder in the number three slot of his batting order. In the lone start of his career, Isales would go 1-4 at the plate.
The highlight came when he delivered a two-out RBI single in the top of the 4th inning to score Tim McCarver, a four-decade veteran who was playing in his final big-league game after appearing in 22 seasons going all the way back to 1959. The next batter, George Vukovich, knocked in Isales to tie the game up at 2-2. The host Expos would ultimately win 8-7 on a three-run walkoff homer from Jerry White in the bottom of the 9th inning.
Just as with his rookie pitching counterpart Munninghoff, Isales was not included on the postseason roster as the Phillies won a dramatic five-game NLCS vs Houston and the six-game Fall Classic against Kansas City.
After returning to play the entire 1981 season with Triple-A Oklahoma City, Isales moved on to play two more Triple-A seasons with Indianapolis in the Cincinnati Reds farm system. He would play for Aquascalientes in the Mexican League in 1984 and then reappear for a final season south of the border with Tabasco in 1986 before hanging up his cleats in organized ball at age 26.
Now age 63, Isales helps teach the game to the youth of his native country as a volunteer with the Roosevelt Baseball program in San Juan.