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“YOU LEARN PRIDE WHEN YOU COME TO THIS BALL CLUB” - The Big Red Machine - Part 7




The Phillies and Reds finished the regular portion of the 1976 season on Sunday, October 3. The teams would begin their league championship series on Saturday, October 9. That gave them almost a week to prepare, plan and re-plan for the clash that was impending. On the Monday, Sparky Anderson named rookie Pat Zachry as his starter for the first game of the series. Was it really what he intended or was it a ruse to get the Phillies prepping for something that might not come?


The Reds would workout at Riverfront Stadium and fly to Philadelphia on the Friday. The early concern for the Phillies was the speed of some of the Reds’ runners. Phils’ manager Danny Ozark referred to Cincinnati’s penchant for taking “too many extra bases”. The issue for Ozark, the Phillies and their fans, was that their projected starter for the first game would be their ace, Steve Carlton, and he was not the strongest at holding runners on first. Couple that with the fact that his personal catcher, Tim McCarver, did not have the strongest arm in throwing to second on steal attempts and there existed a recipe for some apprehension.


McCarver did his best to pooh-pooh that notion. Firstly, he said he was throwing “as well as I’ve thrown in years.” He then added, “There are two or three key guys we’ve got to keep off base, guys who if they get on consistently, will steal off anybody. We’re a great club and so are they. If we both play according to our capabilities, it’s going to be one bleeping series.”


Phils’ shortstop Larry Bowa chimed in, “Pitching and defense will be the factors. They might have a little better hitters but I think we have the edge in power.” For Philadelphia, however, one of their main sources of power, their all-star left fielder, Greg Luzinski, was having knee issues. That knee had been bothering him for a good chunk of the second half of the season and he missed the last four games with what the team described as “a hamstring pull in his left leg.” But Ozark figured that ‘The Bull’ would be ready come the following Saturday.


For the Reds, Zachry had a record of 14-7 with a 2.74 earned run average and a team-leading 143 strikeouts. Before 1976, his baseball journey had taken him to such places as Bradenton, Sioux Falls, Tampa, Trois Rivieres and Indianapolis. Before the season, he wasn’t sure how things would go with himself and the club.


“When I went into spring training, it was all up in the air. Then when I did make the team, I was relegated to the bullpen at first. Finally, I got my chance to start, and I was able to make the most of it.” As a starter, he’s had to develop his own routines, and a part of that was actually getting physically sick before each pitching start. Before this series, his priority was “getting the right mental attitude.”


*

Every team has fans who are absolute die-hards. The Phillies were no exception. “Bring on the Big Red Machine,” said 100-year-old Elizabeth (Bess) Blundin on the Monday. Among her souvenirs was an autographed baseball signed by the 1976 Phils. Her favourite players were Dave Cash and pitcher Tom Underwood.


According to a story in the Lexington (Ky.) Herald, Blundin managed a summer hotel in Ocean City, New Jersey and she once rented a room to Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1915. That happened to be the year that Philadelphia won their first pennant. Bess wasn’t necessarily sure about Danny Ozark as a manager though. She described him as an “in-and-out” skipper and said “Sometimes he doesn’t use good judgement.


He got the team to the NLCS, didn’t he?


Ozark spoke to reporters on the Tuesday of the week and there were questions to the manager about preparation for a series like this. His message was that you play it the same way you did through the season. “You have to take the same outlook that you had all year. You have to forget that it’s a short series. The main thing is to execute fundamentals the way you have all year, throw to the right base, keep the double play in order, take the extra base.”


“I’ve seen pitchers change their delivery entirely (for postseason games), guys who won 18, 19, 20 games. The catcher plays a big part. He has to resist not calling for the curve because he wants to throw out a runner. The hitter will be thinking with the catcher, looking for the same thing. We can’t change our pattern on a hitter.”


He talked about base running as well. “A runner can’t say to himself that he’s not going to steal because Johnny Bench is catching, and he has a great arm, and he can’t steal against him.” He said he also has to manage the same way he did during the season as well. “You can’t immobilize a whole squad by changing the way you did things for 162 games. You have to play a normal game.”


Someone asked Ozark if his players might be nervous given that they have far less playoff experience than the Reds did. “If a player isn’t nervous, he doesn’t belong on this ball club. It’s no more than like opening day. Cincinnati will be just as nervous as we are. I don’t care how many times you do it. I think players thrive on pressure. They get stronger, run faster, throw harder.”


Reporters also went over to pick Sparky Anderson’s brain as well. He talked about his pitching plans for the series and how they may have changed. Originally, Anderson planned to go with Zachry, Gary Nolan and Jack Billingham for the first three games. But Billingham suffered from some unnamed issue with his throwing arm and now, everything was up in the air.


So, who would start the first game now? “I know right now who it will be but I’m not saying. I’ll name all three Friday,” Anderson quipped. The Phils power rested mainly on the right side of the batters’ box. Tony Perez explained a little of what Sparky was thinking. “All their power is right-handed. They saw nothing but right-handers in the last month and that’s why they nearly went down. That’s what Sparky’s thinking too.”


There was some speculation mid-week that Anderson was mulling a decision between Zachry and Don Gullett for the first game of the series. The Phillies had a nice group of starters to choose from. Anytime your choices fall between Steve Carlton, Jim Lonborg, Tom Underwood and Larry Christensen, you’re probably doing okay. Some in the media decided that, because of this, the Phils had the stronger of the two starting staffs.


By Wednesday, it appeared that Anderson was leaning toward Don Gullett as his series starter on Saturday night. In 1976, the whole world of baseball free agency and athletes playing without a contract in the following season was something wild and new. The fact that Gullett didn’t have a contract for the following year seemed, to reporters, to be a serious issue.


What seemed to be even more pressing was the fact that Gullett could be without a contract for 1977 and still about to possibly start the opening game of the playoffs. Sparky Anderson was not treating it as the big issue that the media was, but he did have some concerns. “I say this,” Sparky said as he addressed it, “nobody has left here yet.”


Anderson seemed to take the whole situation personally and hoped there was a way for Gullett to remain a Red come 1977. “I will be the most disappointed man (if Gullett signed somewhere else). I will feel if that ever happens, that I have failed in my job somewhere, someplace. And I mean it.” Anderson felt that a big part of his job wasn’t just managing the games but dealing with the people on his team and creating a welcoming atmosphere as well.


“I failed him. Somewhere along the line, if we lose him, I failed him. There has to be more than baseball involved (when a player decides where he is going to play). There HAS to be. To me, baseball is not dollars and cents. There has to be the pride of being a part of something. If baseball comes to dollars and cents – if that’s what it comes down to – then I say, somewhere along the line, we’re all failures.”


“To me, managing’s 25 percent in the dugout, 75 percent in the clubhouse, in that airplane, on that bus. A manager becomes part of those people. It is no player’s job ever to understand that manager. It’s the manager’s job to understand that player.” Oh, and Anderson was still not committing to anyone that Gullett would be on the mound in the first inning of the first game of the series. But a lot of people seemed to be expecting that as the series approached.


And contract or not, Sparky would only be sending someone out there if he knew he’d get their best. “He’s (Gullett) a great athlete. He’s a good fielder. He swings the bat. He does a lot of things that will help you more than just pitch. If I send him out there on Saturday night – IF I do, I’m not sending somebody out there where I can say later, ‘You didn’t see the real Don Gullett’. If I send him out there, I’m sending him out there with the idea this is the real Don Gullett.”


As everyone was counting the days down to Saturday evening, reporters were looking for different and perhaps more unique angles to go at the players with. Somebody asked Pete Rose about the American League Series finalists and which team he might rather face in a possible World Series matchup. Many players might hesitate to respond to a question like this but not the 34-year-old Rose.


“If we get in again, I’m hoping we face the Yankees. I’m pulling for them.” Why’s that, Pete? “I know their pitchers. I’ve faced Catfish Hunter, Ken Holtzman and Dock Ellis before. The only one I haven’t hit against was Ed Figueroa,” Rose said. The Reds had played Oakland in the 1972 World Series when Hunter was a 21-game winner.

Rose upset some people in Oakland when he said that Hunter “wasn’t a super pitcher”.


Rose victimized Hunter by hitting a home run off him. The Reds totaled just three homers in that entire series. In the 1975 Series, Rose told anyone who would listen that he’d be able to hit Boston’s pitchers because he’d seen them in the past. He went out and hit .370 in that epic series. He had ten hits in that series, just three off the World Series record of 13, held by Bobby Richardson of the 1964 Yankees and Lou Brock of the 1968 Cardinals.


Over the course of the season, Rose batted .442 against Philadelphia. He loved playing at Veterans’ Stadium. “It’s one of my favourite parks. The field is like an ice rink. The turf is hard and the ball shoots through.”


If the Phillies were to have a chance in this series, they had to neutralize the top third of the Cincinnati order – Rose, Ken Griffey and Joe Morgan. Over the course of the 1976 season, Rose had hit .323, Griffey had an average of .336 and Morgan batted .320. Keeping those three off the basepaths would be a difficult chore for any pitcher. Morgan didn’t see anyone being able to do that.


“It’s not going to be a pitcher’s series,” Morgan told the press. “I respect all of their pitchers, but I don’t think anyone can dominate us.” If those three men were able to dictate terms to the Phillies’ pitchers, it could be a short series. Opposing pitchers might have trouble with that top third, but there was at least one Cincinnati hitter who had been slumping for a little while heading into the postseason.


George Foster finished the 1976 campaign having led his team in both home runs (29) and runs batted in (121). But looking a little more closely, he hadn’t hit a dinger since September 5. In his last 25 games, he couldn’t get a ball out of the park. Foster pointed to a two-week road trip during the ‘dog-days’ as the point in his season from which he went to a productive power hitter to a slumping one.


On Friday, August 13, the Reds were in Queens to play the Mets at Shea Stadium. Foster had three hits that night including a homer and four RBIs. He hit two after that the rest of the year and batted only .229. “After that road trip, I was physically and mentally tired,” Foster told reporters. “I was trying to be durable and productive, but I wasn’t being patient at the plate. I was over-aggressive. I was swinging for home runs instead of going the opposite field.”


“I would see the pitch there and I would swing too hard instead of relaxing.” This six-day window was a godsend for Foster, and he wanted to make the best of it. “I want to get physically sound. And mentally, I want to review in my mind what the Philadelphia pitchers throw, what pitches I hit, what pitches they got me out on.”


“I realize I’ll be an important part of the lineup because of the left-handers the Phillies have. But I’m not going to try to swing for the fences. If I do things naturally, the home runs will come. I want to try not to put extra pressure on myself.” Anderson wouldn’t say what his batting order would be, but the scribes speculated that Foster would probably bat in the fifth spot, after Tony Perez and before Johnny Bench.


Like everything else, we would see when game time came on Saturday night.


The Reds and Phillies played twelve games against each other over the course of the 1976 season. Philadelphia won seven of them and Cincinnati took the other five. Eight of them were decided by a single run. When it came to total runs scored by the two teams, the Phils scored 62 and the Reds crossed the plate 60 times. Vegas had the defending champions as the slight favourites going in. That was based on their ample postseason experience and their speed on the basepaths.


Since 1970, the Reds had participated in championship series or World Series games on four occasions. This would be their fifth appearance in seven years. In contrast, the Phillies had not been in a game after the regular season was completed since 1950. They lost that year’s World Series to the Yankees. That set lasted just four games.


Scouting for the two teams would be key. Joe Morgan had more stolen bases (60) than the top two base thieves (Garry Maddox and Larry Bowa totaled 59) for the Phillies. Also, Morgan was expected to attempt to steal every time he got on base. When he wasn’t at the stadium this week, he was at home with a video tape unit studying the Philly pitchers.


Bob Boone was the main catcher for Philadelphia, and he had hit .306 in the games he played against the Reds. He had a decent arm, but he would be tested against the quick Morgan and their other runners. Tim McCarver was the catcher whenever Carlton pitched, and his arm was not as good as Boone’s. It was clear that Cincinnati hoped to get on base often against Carlton so they could run wild on McCarver.


The Phillies’ director of scouting at the time was their future manager, Dallas Green, and he had put together an extensive book on the Reds. He presented his assembled package of information to Danny Ozark on the Thursday. Green spoke to reporters afterward and wasn’t about to give anything away. “Naturally, we’ve followed them pretty closely.”


“We are always updating our scouting reports. We try to take a good look at the fellows who are playing. We try to see whether we can pick up little things like how a pitcher was throwing at the end of the season…to see if maybe one of their key players may have been slowed down by a minor injury, see who is not hitting and try to figure out why.”


Soooooo, what did you find out about the Reds? “Most of that information is pretty classified,” Green told the press. “We’d kind of blow the whole thing if we leaked it to the papers, wouldn’t we?”


A little levity at the Reds workout on Thursday. Pitcher Pat Zachry showed up at Riverfront wearing a rubber Planet of the Apes mask. There was no word on how his teammates reacted, but the 6-foot-5 Zachry got a look of disapproval from pitching coach Larry Shepard. Zachry just wanted to have a little fun, but he may have had an ulterior motive. “If I can’t outpitch them, maybe I can scare ‘em to death.”


Friday was when the Reds practiced in Philadelphia for the first time. It was also when Sparky Anderson officially announced that his starting pitcher for the first game of the series would not be Pat Zachry but, instead, would be Don Gullett. But, hey. What about your saying that Zachry would be the starter back on Monday, Sparky? “Just a little drama for my friends in Philadelphia,” Anderson told the press. That was maybe the worst-kept secret in either camp at this point, however.


One very interesting tidbit coming out of Philadelphia just in time for the start of the NLCS was the notion, from Bob Patton of the Wilkes-Barre (Pa.) Times-Leader, that Phillies manager Danny Ozark and his ace lefthander, Steve Carlton, really didn’t like each other. According to Patton, “We asked the Associated Press to supply us with a picture of Carlton and Ozark together so we could publish it with the picture of Sparky Anderson and his starting pitcher, Don Gullett.”


“The AP told us ‘no dice’. Carlton and Ozark refuse to even stand near each other,” Patton wrote.


Patton went on to say that the lack of cohesion was one that had infiltrated the entire team. “The Phillies have been wracked with dissension. Reports of the situation began to filter out after the team clinched the NL Eastern Division crown. Dick Allen went home (Wampum, Pa.) to celebrate while the team went to St. Louis for a series.”


He continued, “If the players don’t soon settle down and begin to function as a team, the Cincinnati Reds will send them packing in a hurry.” Despite all this, Patton predicted that the Phillies would take the series in five games. He also picked the Yankees to knock off the Kansas City Royals in four.


Well now, didn’t this add some spice to this series?

*

As the Saturday evening game time approached, the big concern for everyone involved was the weather. The forecast for Philly and environs was for steady rain and a postponement of this opener. It wasn’t a case of a weather cell that might pass through and allow for eventual baseball. It looked like it would be the kind of rain that would linger for a long while and force the teams to have to start on Sunday afternoon.


Indeed, early on Saturday morning, rain poured on Veterans’ Stadium. It continued through the day until it finally abated around 6 pm. But as the rain went away, the temperatures began to fall. And it got colder as the minutes went by. According to people who were there, the rain just made the hard artificial turf get even faster. Sparky Anderson was out there after the tarps were removed, making sure that the dirt patches around the bases were not softened up. Sparky wanted every surface to be as fast as possible for his burners. “We must take the game to them,” Anderson said.


Pete Rose was the first batter of the game and on Steve Carlton’s first pitch, Rose and the Reds were taking the game to Philadelphia. Rose lashed that first toss into left-center field and, the hustle guy that he always was, he sped around first and dove head-first into second with a lead-off double. But Carlton managed to get around that. It was a bit convoluted, but the old lefthander got around it.


After Rose’s double, Carlton got Ken Griffey on strikes. But then he walked Joe Morgan and Tony Perez to load the bases. At this point, the Phils congregated on the mound and their bullpen began to scurry to life. George Foster was up next, and Carlton got him to strikeout, and he induced Johnny Bench to pop up to Larry Bowa at short. The crisis was averted – for now.


It was the Phillies turn to bat now and Dave Cash led things off. Like Rose, Cash started his team off by hitting a double. Garry Maddox hit a grounder to short and Cash broke right away. Maddox was out at first, but Cash was at third with only one out. For Mike Schmidt, the task was clear. Get a ball high enough and far enough to score Cash. He did that by flying out to Geronimo in centre, scoring the game’s first run.


Gullett then walked Greg Luzinski after pitching the count full. He also walked Dick Allen on a 3-2 pitch. He did the same to Ollie Brown. Next up was the catcher, Tim McCarver. He lofted a fly ball to Foster in left field for the final out of the inning. But the damage was done and the Phils got a run. The Phillies and their fans, gasping for breath just moments earlier, were now content with the fact that they held a 1-0 lead after an inning.


Neither team scored in the second, but, with two out in the top of the inning, Gullett hit a fly ball deep down the right-field line and Ollie Brown had to make a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch just before running into the wall.


It was Rose who led off the third. He skied a ball to right-centre. Brown looked like he was tracking it but somewhere along the way, he lost the ball and it hit the wall as Rose sped around the infield. He ended up with a triple to start the inning. Then, Ken Griffey worked Carlton for a walk. True to the plan, with Joe Morgan at the plate, Griffey stole second.


Morgan hit a fly ball to left that Luzinski was able to catch. Rose didn’t move. The next hitter was Tony Perez. He lofted a fly ball to Brown in right that allowed Rose to score and tie the game. Foster was now up with two out. He hit a grounder to Schmidt at third for the final out of the inning. When the Phils came up in the bottom of the inning, something would happen that illustrated the difference between these two teams.


Garry Maddox, the fastest of the Phillies, reached base to lead off their half of the third inning. When he tried to steal second, Bench threw him out. Gullett got out of the inning unscathed. It was 1-1 after three. To lead off the fourth, the Reds sent their catcher, Johnny Bench to the plate. He started things with a single off Carlton. He then stole second off McCarver. The Reds were “taking it to the Phils.”


They didn’t score in the inning, but the point was evident to all who were watching. The Phillies couldn’t run on the Reds, but the Reds could do as they pleased on the basepaths against Philadelphia. Neither team was able to score in the fourth or the fifth. But in top of the sixth, the Reds would break things open.


Carlton was battling out there as he got Perez on strikes. He then got ahead of Foster with a count of one ball and two strikes. His next pitch was a slider that he wanted to go down and in on the Reds’ left fielder. Instead, the pitch stayed up and Foster tagged it. By the time it landed, it was over the wall. Johnny Bench then hit a fly ball to Maddox.


Davey Concepcion then hit a liner that went for a double. Cesar Geronimo was up next. He hit a hard grounder to Schmidt at third. He fielded it cleanly and when he saw that Concepcion was trying to go to third, Schmidt tried to tag him for the third out. The ball squirted out of his grasp though and everyone was safe.


No problem. Carlton was about to face his pitching counterpart to potentially end the inning. But it was Gullett who stood the tallest as he pounded a ball through the left side of the infield for a single that scored Concepcion. That made the score 3-1. The inning would end that way. In the eighth, they would chase Carlton and score three more runs. The Reds would win the first game of the series 6-3.


For Don Gullett, who endured arm woes through the second half of the season, he went eight strong innings for the win. After the seventh inning, he had retired 14 straight Phillies. Part of that three-run eighth was helped by a two-run double by Gullett off reliever Tug McGraw. He then scored on a double by Pete Rose. Rose had three hits on the night, all of them for extra bases. Indeed, the Reds “took it to ‘em”.


It was just another example of the confidence of this Reds’ team, a team that was used to winning to the point that, after they clinched their postseason berth in September, there were players who had become so accustomed to winning that they hardly were excited by the victory. They still had unfinished business to attend to.


Sparky Anderson sat in his office and ate cookies. Sure, there were some people who were celebrating with champagne, but Pete Rose went around shaking hands and slapping backs as he was getting doused with the bubbly by the owner Louis Nippert, the general manager Bob Howsam and centre fielder Cesar Geronimo. Geronimo was singing “We’re in the money! We’re in the money!”


Joe Morgan was standing in his corner of the room quietly. Skip Myslenski of the Philadelphia Inquirer described Morgan as “viewing the festivities around him with detached bemusement.” Morgan was restrained and he told Myslenski, “People think you should react one way. I don’t think I should. I’m used to winning.”


Myslenski described Tony Perez as “the stately Latin, strong, silent, statuesque, sinew and fibre, continually composed, collected, controlled.” The only Reds’ player who really seemed to allow himself to cut loose was Johnny Bench and he did so with the newcomers to the team, most specifically, Bob Bailey and Mike Lum.


Bailey had played with the struggling Montreal Expos and playing with this Reds team was his first taste of winning in years. Lum had played in Atlanta for most of the previous decade. In the victorious clubhouse, Bench was waving a bottle around and having fun and when he saw a camera with the red light on, he ran over between Bailey and Lum and held the bottle like it was a microphone. He spoke into it and said, “This is Johnny Bench in the Cincinnati Reds’ dressing room with two players who just lost their virginity.”


This was the atmosphere in the Reds’ clubhouse. They were good and they knew it. And they could play the game any way you wanted to play. And they could do it better than you could. Bench told Myslenski, “It’s an atmosphere of we’re good. We know it. When it comes time to play, we can play. We don’t spout it. We don’t have to voice our opinions and tell everyone just how good we are. It’s evident. It’s knowing you can rise to any situation, knowing you can accomplish anything. I call it inner conceit.”


Sparky Anderson had a different way of describing it. “Character is a better word than anything. This team has character.”


The Reds showed some of that in the first game of the series. But their work was not finished yet. They still had to record two more wins to get the Phillies off their backs. Their next task was facing them on the afternoon of Sunday, October 10, back at the Vet.

*

The second game of this series was played in front of an LCS-record Veterans’ Stadium crowd of 62,651 and was like a multi-act play. There were a few little fireworks in the first half, some exceptional pitching and then a single play that emerges like an explosion and then it all works to a seemingly inevitable conclusion, however satisfying (or unsatisfying) it may have been, depending on what team you might have been cheering for.


The game started with both pitchers, Jim Lonborg for the Phillies and Pat Zachry for Cincinnati, putting up zeroes in the first inning. Lonborg repeated that in the second, blanking the Reds. Zachry couldn’t do the same for his team though. Consecutive singles by Dick Allen, Jay Johnstone and Bob Boone to lead off the Phillies second inning gave Lonborg a 1-0 lead. He took care of the Reds…for a while.


To be accurate, Lonborg was amazing through the first five innings, allowing just a first inning walk to Ken Griffey. That was it. He carried a no-hitter into the sixth. In the meantime, his left fielder, Greg Luzinski helped him out with a solo bomb into the upper deck – the fifth deck – in left field for an insurance run, to give his Phils a 2-0 cushion after five complete frames. In the history of the stadium to that point, only 19 homers had reached that fifth deck. Five of those were hit by Luzinski.


By this time, many in the Veterans’ Stadium crowd must have been feeling quite content, seeing their team leading by a pair of runs and their pitcher absolutely cruising, having retired fourteen straight Reds’ hitters. The first man for Cincy in the top of the sixth was their eighth-place hitter, the shortstop, Dave Concepcion. Concepcion last stepped to the plate in the top of the third and he grounded out to Bowa at short. This time, he worked Lonborg for a walk.


The next scheduled batter was the pitcher, Pat Zachry. Anderson sent Dan Driessen to hit for him. Driessen struck a ground ball to the right side. Dave Cash got the ball and tossed over to Allen at first for the initial out of the inning. Pete Rose was the next man up for the Reds, and he walked up to the now traditional chorus of boos from the Philly fans.


Rose faced the right-hander and was batting left, of course. As he often did, Rose delivered a single to right field, breaking up the immaculate performance Lonborg had been weaving, and scoring Concepcion for his team’s first run. Ken Griffey came up next and he also singled. Rose was chugging around second and beat the throw from Maddox, diving safely into third. Griffey took second on the play.


With one out and runners on second and third, Ozark opted to pull Lonborg and replace him with reliever Gene Garber. Garber was told to intentionally walk Joe Morgan. Then came the play that broke the game wide open and was the subject of much chatter thereafter. Tony Perez was the batter against Garber. Perez, a right-handed hitter, saw a pitch away and reached for it. It went toward Dick Allen at first.


Allen, though, had called for a pickoff play to try and catch Morgan leading too far off first. Allen broke toward the bag with the pitch. Perez had made contact though and the ball went to the spot that Allen had vacated. It was a rocket off the bat of ‘The Big Dog’ and when Allen saw it, he reached back and managed to get a glove on it, but he couldn’t squeeze it. The ball dribbled into right field. Rose and Griffey scored, and Morgan wound up on third.


The play was ruled an error, and the runs were unearned, but Allen, who was not liked by the fans or the media in Philadelphia, had been made the scapegoat – again – in mere seconds. Garber managed to get George Foster to ground out to Cash, but Morgan scored on the play. In a matter of moments, the Phillies had gone from leading 2-0 to suddenly trailing 4-2.


From that point, it was Tug McGraw pitching for Philadelphia and Pedro Borbon going for the Reds. Borbon got the disheartened Phils in the bottom of the sixth and the rejuvenated defending World Champs scored two more in the top of the seventh. The rally was ignited when Borbon struck out for what would have been the second out, but the third-strike pitch eluded Boone and Borbon made it to first safely.


When the dust settled, the Reds had a stranglehold on the series and the fans and media in Philadelphia were left playing the blame game. A lot of that blame, rightly or wrongly, fell on Dick Allen. The first people who were approached for questions, were the official scorers. They were Bob Kenney of the Camden (N.J.) Courier Post and Bob Hertzel of the Cincinnati Enquirer.


Kenney felt that it was fairly clear. Allen should have caught the ball. “The ball was hit hard, but we felt it was right at Allen. The play should have been made. Apparently, a lot agree, a lot don’t. It was a judgement call.” Allen, and some significant others, felt that the official scored ruled unfairly.


Allen was asked about the whole situation after the game. “It was a pickoff play. I’m running toward the bag and never saw the ball. If it wasn’t a pickoff play, I’m nowhere near it. It’s a triple.” Allen acknowledged that he was the one who called the pickoff play. Boone’s job was to respond to Allen’s cue. “When he moves toward first, I react,” said Boone.


Danny Ozark really didn’t want to discuss it. In his mind, the game was over, and he had to move on to the next game on Tuesday in Cincinnati. “The ball was catchable,” the Phillies manager declared. “He got his glove on it.” But Allen, alluding to the toxic environment in which he was playing, made one last comment. “You have to consider this is Philadelphia,” he said in a low voice.


The Reds, and especially Perez, could not believe the play had been ruled an error. “I don’t understand the people here,” Perez, a first baseman himself, said to reporters after the game. “I think they gave him an error on the play so they can say he blew another game. He never saw it. He was out of position because they had a pickoff play on. How could they call it an error? He almost made a great play. I feel for him.”


Sparky Anderson had Allen’s back as well. “I’m not the scorer. But let me say that Richie Allen shouldn’t be blamed. He was breaking back on the pickoff, and if that ball had hit him in the head, it would have killed him. Ozark was obviously not in a great mood following this game. “We haven’t played the way we should. We started out well today, but we petered out.”


All that talk was now academic. The Reds had humbled the Phillies in their own park over the course of two baseball games. The teams would now head back to Cincinnati for the third game of the series. But Pete Rose, who had gone 5-for-10 in the first two games, had to have the last word.


“First of all, Philadelphia hasn’t played bad. We’ve played well,” Rose told a reporter. “I’ve been a Cincinnati Red for fourteen years and this is the best Cincinnati team I’ve been associated with. And it’s because guys like me, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez have won a World Series and know what it means.”


“It isn’t the money. That doesn’t mean anything to me. I’ve got enough money. It’s the feeling of knowing you’re the best at what you do. Number One. That’s what this game is all about. When a ball player goes to spring training, his ultimate goal is to go to the World Series. Few ever make it.”


“And, it’s a good feeling to stand here and be interviewed. If we hadn’t won today, you wouldn’t be interviewing me, you’d be interviewing a member of the Phillies. Well, I’ll tell you this. After Game number three in Cincinnati on Tuesday, you’ll be interviewing another member of the Cincinnati Reds…okay?”


Pete Rose, ladies and gentlemen…..love him or hate him, he can bring the mustard!


*

As the teams headed for Cincinnati for the off-day Monday, there was a lot of talk about the series and how it had unfolded to this point. Danny Ozark figured his team had been the victims of some bad fortune. “We’ve been out-luckied,” he told reporters as his team was working out on the Riverfront Stadium carpet. As he talked with the press, his team was talking together as they practiced. Someone asked him if his team was tight. “If they were standing around (quietly), I’d be very embarrassed having them out there.”


But Joe Morgan was of the opinion that the Reds had made their own luck and forced the Phillies into mistakes in the first two games. “When we’re doing our thing, we create pressure. It’s not the pressure of the playoff that has been forcing Philadelphia to make mistakes. It’s been us.” He talked about that sixth inning in Game Two as an example.


“Take Pete Rose. He’s on first. Griffey singles. Everybody in the world knows that Rose is going to third. The guy out in centre (Maddox) knows he has to make a perfect throw to get him. He tries too hard and Griffey winds up at second. We’re the kind of club that is able to do whatever we have to do.”


Given their two-game lead in the series, the Reds could now be a little more adventurous out there now, according to Morgan. “We can play for the big inning now, because we’re two games up. That doesn’t mean we’ll take it easy. We’re going to play like it’s the seventh game of the World Series. But we can take more chances.”


The pitchers for the third game of the series would be Jim Kaat (12-14) for the Phillies and Gary Nolan (15-9) for the Reds. Kaat was of the belief that his team had absolutely nothing to lose at this point and could just go for everything. “We’re two down and nobody gives us a chance to win now,” he told reporters on the field during his team’s workout time.


“No one expects us to win three here. We just might shock a lot of people. If we win tomorrow, we have a good chance of going all the way. We can throw Carlton at them Wednesday and come back with Lonborg. My own feeling is that we’re at rock bottom. What have we got to lose?” What about Cincinnati’s ability to run almost at will? “I’ll have to hold them in close. But the main problem is to get ‘em out before they get to first.”


Kaat had a very good move to first and Anderson felt that it would be difficult to run on him. But Joe Morgan was of a different mind. “We can run on anybody.”


Nolan had been with the Reds for what seemed like forever so the fact that he was just 28 years old was almost surprising. But he had been one of the team’s big winners and led the team with seven complete games in 1976. His record against the Phils in 1976 was just 1-1 though and in 20 innings against Philadelphia, he had given up 22 hits and twelve runs.

Hey Danny Ozark, what kind of chance does your team have to win the last three games of the series? “I’d say about 33 1/3 percent.”


Uh, can you show us your math work on that one, Danny?


*

The first six innings of the third game of the series were relatively tight. Jim Kaat did not allow a Cincinnati batter a hit over the first three innings and gave up just one walk in that span. Gary Nolan gave up a single in each of the second and third innings.


The top of the fourth inning started off with consecutive doubles by Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski. Those two hits resulted in the first run of the game. That remained the only run of the game for a little bit. Through the end of the fifth, the Phillies managed to get a baserunner. The sixth inning was when things began to get interesting.


Gary Nolan was still in the game and the first man he saw in that sixth inning was Garry Maddox. Maddox smacked a ground ball to Concepcion at short and there was one down. Mike Schmidt then promptly singled and the Phils had a man aboard. Next up was Greg Luzinski. Luzinski hit a fly ball to Geronimo in centre and there were two away.


But back-to-back walks to Dick Allen and Jay Johnstone loaded the bases and spelled the end of the day for Nolan. Anderson brought 20-year-old Manny Sarmiento in to face Bob Boone. Boone lofted a Sarmiento pitch out to Geronimo and the inning was over for the Phils. Kaat again cruised through the Reds as he retired Geronimo, Sarmiento and Rose in order to get his team into the seventh.


In the seventh, the young Sarmiento faced Larry Bowa. Bowa worked him for a walk. Jim Kaat successfully bunted him over to second. That brought the top of the order and Dave Cash up. Cash hit a fly ball to Foster in left. Foster put it away for the second out. Garry Maddox then doubled, plating Bowa. Mike Schmidt doubled again, and the score was suddenly 3-0 for the Phils. Young Manny Sarmiento had learned a baseball lesson and he gave way to Pedro Borbon.


Borbon got Luzinski to ground out to Concepcion and the seventh inning was mercifully over for the Reds and their fans. The first couple of men Kaat faced in the bottom of the inning were Ken Griffey and Joe Morgan. They proceeded to single and walk respectively. Danny Ozark decided that Kaat’s day was done, and he made a double switch. Ron Reed came in to pitch and former Red Bobby Tolan went into left to replace Luzinski. Reed would bat in Luzinski’s spot and Tolan would slot in at ninth in the order.


But Reed immediately gave up a single to Tony Perez, scoring Griffey and moving Morgan over to third. George Foster then popped a fly ball out to right field. Jay Johnstone caught it for the first out, but it was deep enough to score Morgan. Then, Reed walked Johnny Bench. Dave Concepcion then popped up to Dave Cash for the second out. Reed could see the end of the tunnel. He just had to retire Cesar Geronimo.


But Geronimo hit a fly ball to left that Tolan couldn’t find. That turned into a triple which scored Perez and Bench and, all of a sudden, the Reds were ahead 4-3. After getting Mike Lum out on a fly ball, the inning was finally over, and it was the Phillies turn to bat. They weren’t finished yet.


Sparky Anderson brought the National League’s premier reliever, Rawly Eastwick, into the game to face Dick Allen, Jay Johnstone and Bob Boone. He got Allen on strikes, but Johnstone doubled and Eastwick walked Boone. To add insult to injury, the final pitch in the Boone at bat was a wild pitch. Johnstone ran all the way to third on the play. Ozark sent the speedy Terry Harmon in to run for the catcher, Boone.


The next man up was the shortstop, Larry Bowa. He doubled, scoring Johnstone and moving Harmon around to third. Bobby Tolan was up after Bowa. Eastwick walked him intentionally. But Dave Cash’s fly ball to Griffey in right was deep enough to score Harmon and it was Philadelphia that now held the lead. After Garry Maddox flew out to Geronimo in centre, the Phils’ inning was over. The Reds could get nothing against Reed in the bottom of the eighth. It was Philadelphia’s turn to make some more hay in the ninth.


That inning, for Eastwick, would not be easy. Mike Schmidt would lead things off. He popped up to Concepcion. Reed’s spot was up, and Ozark let him hit for himself, giving him the opportunity to finish the game off. He grounded out to Rose at third. In the bottom of the eighth, Bobby Tolan had moved from left field and replaced Dick Allen at first. Jerry Martin took Allen’s spot in the order and was playing in left field.


It was Martin who was now up for Philly in the ninth with two out. He hit a ground ball to Rose, but Rose couldn’t handle it and Martin was aboard on the error. That brought Johnstone to the plate. He tripled to right-centre and scored Martin with the insurance run. For Johnstone, it was his seventh hit in nine at bats in the series. That was all the scoring the Phillies would do in the ninth, but for the visitors in this game, with a 6-4 lead, and their fans back home, it must have felt like they would now be extending this series at least one more day.


The Reds would have one more chance to keep this game going, and in the bottom of the ninth, they would send their 5-6-7 hitters to the plate – George Foster, Johnny Bench and Davey Concepcion. Foster was hitless in this game with a sacrifice fly in his last at bat against Reed in the seventh. Reed got the count to one ball and two strikes on Foster. On his next pitch, he threw a slider, intending it to fall off and get Foster to swing over it. But the pitch stayed up, and Foster got all of it. It was suddenly a one-run game.


Still, for Reed and the Phils, they were the team in the lead. Get out of this inning and move on to tomorrow. Johnny Bench strode to the plate. Reed’s plan was to pitch Bench low and away. But a fastball sailed on him, and it also hung. Bench had been around too long to allow mistakes like this to get past him. In an instant, the fastball had cleared the fence, Bench was rounding the bases leisurely, and the game was tied.


Ozark got out there quickly to pull Reed. He was now in ‘salvage-the-tie-and-get-to-extra-innings’ mode. He called on Gene Garber to get the Phillies out of this inning. Garber looked in at Dave Concepcion. The Reds’ shortstop singled. That was it for Garber. Ozark’s plan was to bring in Tug McGraw, but as McGraw was warming up, he tweaked something in his back, and he wasn’t available. That left the 22-year-old Tommy Underwood to try to salvage his team’s season.


The first man Underwood faced was Cesar Geronimo. Underwood walked the Reds’ outfielder. It was Eastwick’s turn to bat and Ed Armbrister was sent up in his place with runners on first and second. Armbrister executed a bunt to the left side. Schmidt made the play and fired over to Cash covering at first for the initial out of the inning. But now, Pete Rose was up with a pair of runners in scoring position.


Underwood walked Rose intentionally to get the force at every bag. Ken Griffey was the next hitter. He hit a soft roller toward first. Tolan tried to pick it up and get Concepcion at the plate, but he couldn’t. And the game, and the Phillies’ season, were over. The Reds were National League champions and were jumping around like happy six-year-olds on the playground.


When the field was eventually cleared and everyone was back in their respective clubhouses, you can understand how the emotions were running in either room. Anderson was jubilant in his office just off the Reds’ lockers. “Let’s be honest. We don’t live in a dream world. I’m surprised we tied it. But when it got to 6-6, I knew this thing was over.”


Ron Reed fought back tears and accepted all the blame but tried to look back on the entire year, as opposed to just one game or a couple of pitches. He couldn’t help himself, however. “When you look back, we had a pretty successful season. But the fans are going to remember the playoffs. They’ll remember that two-run lead that I blew.” Those home runs in the ninth wouldn’t go away for him.


“There is no way you can blame anybody on this club for this loss but me. It was plain and simple as that. I let Foster get to me because I hung the pitch, and an eight-year veteran doesn’t do that. Bench just hit a high fastball. I blew the thing. The only pitch Bench has been hitting all year was a high fastball. And that is what he hit.”


It sounded like the downcast Reed would be undertaking some serious introspection as the off-season came on. “I am definitely going to do a lot of thinking about it. Knowing my own personality and my makeup it will be there a month from now.”


Tommy Underwood was placing the brunt of the blame on himself. He may have felt that the moment was bigger than it was. In any case, he felt he should have had better command. “There was no excuse for not throwing strikes. I just didn’t do the job.”


On the last play, the slow roller toward first, Tolan gave it everything he had but even if he had been able to pick up the ball and make the play, that may not have been enough in that moment. “I knew I couldn’t lay back,” Tolan told reporters. “I had to try and make the play. But everyone told me that Concepcion would have beaten the throw to the plate, even if I had been able to come up with the ball.”


Anderson agreed with his former outfielder. “He had no chance to get Davey.”


For Johnny Bench, it all came down to one thing. “We have pride and a lot of ability on a great ball club. You learn pride when you come to this ball club.”


So now, it was time to look forward to the World Series, even if the smoke had just cleared on the NLCS. At the moment that the Reds-Phillies game ended, the American League Championship Series between the New York Yankees and the Kansas City Royals was tied at a game apiece. They would play their third series game that night.


Someone asked Sparky Anderson how his team might fare against either American League team in the upcoming World Series. “I’ll tell you one thing, either Kansas City or the Yankees could beat us, but if they do, they will ache so much when they do that, they won’t ever feel relaxed.”


Alas, the world would have to wait a few days to see which club would come out of the Junior Circuit. That series would end up going five games. And it would come down to the last inning of the last game before the Yankees would emerge victorious. It would all come down to a Chris Chambliss solo home run off Mark Littell in the bottom of the ninth for the Yankees to claim the AL pennant.


Pete Rose would get his wish. The Reds would play the Yankees.


Maybe Sparky’s prediction was coming true even before the 1976 World Series. Maybe the aches would be present before they even saw the Reds. The Yankees would go directly from the frying pan and into the fire that was The Big Red Machine. But Sparky Anderson and company would have a little bit of time to digest what they had just done and to prepare for either of their possible American League foes.


          *

Howie’s new book MORE Crazy Days & Wild Nights, eleven new stories of outlandish and wild events that occurred in sports over the last fifty years, is available on Amazon. It’s the follow-up to his first book of 2023, Crazy Days & Wild Nights! If you love sports and sports history, you need these books!


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