Old school Philadelphia Phillies' fans watched the San Francisco Giants defeat the St. Louis Cardinals 6-1 in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series over the weekend. The experience served as a reminder of when the Phillies forced a deciding NLCS game to be played against the Houston Astros many years ago.
After taking the first game (3-1) of the 1980 NLCS in Philadelphia, the Phillies dropped the next two contests. They lost at home in Game 2 (7-4) and in Houston at the Astrodome in Game 3 (1-0). Those extra-inning defeats put them in a deep hole, as baseball's playoff format only allowed for five-game League Championship Series to be played at that time.
Hardcore fans who had suffered through three consecutive Championship Series' defeats (Cincinnati Reds in 1976, Los Angeles Dodgers in 1977 and 1978) felt the Phillies were cursed as the NLCS seemed to be one game away from completion.
A bizarre "triple play", that was changed to a double play, became part of the early story in Game 4 as the Phillies were batting in the fourth inning. Trailing 2-0 heading into the top of the eighth, Dallas Green's squad scored three runs (which were credited to starter Vern Ruhle) to take the lead. Warren Brusstar allowed a run in the bottom of the ninth, which set-up another extra-inning game.
Pinch-hitter Greg Luzinski's double in the bottom of the tenth enabled Pete Rose to give Astros' catcher Bruce Bochy a massive forearm shiver to the head as he crossed home plate. Manny Trillo followed by knocking in "The Bull", who had advanced to third on the previous play, for an insurance run (5-3). Tug McGraw earned the save, which forced the deciding game.
Phillies' rookie pitcher Marty Bystrom allowed two runs (one earned) in 5.33 innings in Game 5 before veteran Larry Christenson was charged with three earned runs in the bottom of the seventh. Optimism wasn't rampant among the faithful in Philadelphia when Nolan Ryan took the mound in the top of the eighth inning as his team was leading 5-2. By the time the Astros had recorded three outs one of the greatest pitchers off all-time had been pulled from the game, two other pitchers had replaced him and the Phillies had taken a 7-5 lead.
McGraw surrendered the lead in the bottom of the eighth, no runs were scored by either team in the ninth and a fourth consecutive extra-inning game was set to continue. Gary Maddox knocked in Del Unser with a double in the top of the tenth and Dick Ruthven disposed of three straight batters in the bottom of that final inning.
The last out, which was caught by Maddox in center field, allowed the Phillies to win the game 8-7 and raise their first pennant in three decades. The ensuing on-field celebration and subsequent locker room interviews rank among the most joyful moments in franchise history.
My brief summary of the historic 1980 NLCS isn't meant to be a definitive statement on that incredible quintuplet of baseball games. Other presentations about this deeply enjoyable subject have been presented in the past and will continue to be seen through many digital platforms for as long as the game is played.
(One fitting postscript obviously is: On the night of October 21, 1980 Tug McGraw struck out Kansas City Royals' outfielder Willie Wilson to end Game 6 of the World Series and give the Phillies their first-ever championship.)
Pushing the baseball envelope
The Cardinals trailed the Texas Rangers 3-2 in last season's World Series and then came back to win in a thrilling fashion. So, it's very compelling to see the Giants push the "Redbirds" to the brink in this season's NLCS.
The 2012 American League Division Series now stands as the polar opposite to this National League battle, because the New York Yankees were simply dismissed by Jim Leyland's Detroit Tigers.
Whoever wins this year's National League pennant will be primed to face their American League opponent in what hopefully will become another great Fall Classic.
Sean O'Brien is based in the Philadelphia region. He began his professional career in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons' front office (the Philadelphia Phillies former Triple-A affiliate), later worked as a freelance sports writer and is currently a Featured Contributor in Sports for the Yahoo Contributor Network! You can follow him on Twitter @SeanyOB and also read his daily Sports Blog: Insight.
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When Philadelphia Phillies' Pitcher Tug McGraw Stood On That World Series' Mound