NLCS Phlashback - Part I

Monday, October 06, 2008

This is part one in a four part series chronicling the history of the Philadelphia Phillies and their National League Championship Series appearances, leading up to the start of the 2008 NLCS match-up with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Today we review the 1977 NLCS between the same two clubs. Part two will educate you on the rematch in 1978. Part three will review the 1983 NLCS between the Phillies and Dodgers and part four will look back on perhaps the greatest playoff series of all time, the 1980 NLCS between the Phillies and the Houston Astros. The goal is to have each part up over the next four days. Game one of the 2008 NLCS is Thursday night in Philadelphia.

The 1977 National League Championship Series

Game One
1977 was to be a year of redemption for the Philadelphia Phillies. For the second straight year the Phillies had compiled a 100+ win season and in doing so clinched a second straight National League East division. This team was on a mission and may have been one of the best teams in franchise history.

The Phillies had won the division by five games ahead of the rival Pittsburgh Pirates and would face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS for the right to go to the World Series. Getting off on the right foot was key, as the Phillies and Dogers opened up the best of five series in Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. The last time the Phillies had been in a playoff game was the previous year. The famed "Big Red Machine" had swept the Phillies that year after dominated the first two games at the Vet and by scoring three runs for a come from behind series clincher in the ninth inning of the fatal game three. Winning the opener in 1977 would get this team over that hump, or so it was thought.

The first game was billed as a classic pitcher's dual. Steve Carlton, who won the 1977 Cy Young award, took the mound for the Phillies and 20 game winner and comeback player of the year Tommy John opposed him for the Dodgers. This game, however, was all about offense.

Greg Luzinski blasted a two run homerun in the first inning, giving the Phillies the fast start they were craving, looking for anything to forget about the ninth inning in game three the previous year. Leading by that score of 2-0 later became 4-0 in the fifth inning when Davey Johnson notched a bases loaded single. Prior to the bases loaded single Dodgers shortstop Bill Russell had taken his foot off of second base which negated a possible double play, allowing Bake McBride to be safe at second on a Larry Bowa hit.

The Dodgers would rally though. Lee Lacy was inserted as a pinch hitter for John in the fifth and lined a single. Carlton was then called for a balk, which advanced Lacy to second base. Up came Davey Lopes, now the first base coach for the Phillies,who would hit a single that scored Lacy. Carlton would make up for his balk-aided run in the top of the sixth inning with an RBI single of his own. Philadelphia lead 5-1 going into the seventh inning and Carlton looked to be cruising his way to a series opening win.

But he didn't.

In the seventh inning Carlton had two outs and Lopes at first base. Back to back walks to Bill Russell and Reggie Smith all of a sudden had the bases loaded for Ron Cey. An all star at third base that year, Cey had hit 30 homeruns during the regular season. Cey made Carlton pay for his pair of walks by hitting a grand slam to tie the game.

It was time for the Phillies to pick up their heads and realize that the game was not over. It took until the ninth inning but the Phillies got the job done. Mike Schmidt, the other all star third baseman in the series as well as a gold glove winner in 1977, had a poor NLCS. In the ninth inning though Schmidt would knock in his only RBI of the series, giving the Phillies a 6-5 lead. Later Larry Bowa would score on a balk by Dodger reliever Elias Sosa. Tug McGraw closed it out for the Phillies, giving them a crucial road win to take a 1-0 lead in the NLCS.

Game Two
Phillies lead 1-0

The next day the Dodgers exploded on offense and ultimately took control of the NLCS against the Phillies. Bake McBride continued to have the Phillies feeling good early on with a solo homerun that put the Phills on top 1-0 in the third inning. Davey Lopes would tie the game in the bottom of the inning though with an RBI single and it was all Dodgers from there.

Dusty Baker stepped to the plate in the fourth inning with the bases loaded and the game tied at one. Phillies pitcher Jim Lonborg gave Baker a pitch he could hit and Baker did. The ball left the field for a game changing, and possibly series changing grand slam. Leading by a score of 5-1 the Dodgers would go on to tack on a run in the sixth and the seventh innings to win 7-1.

With the series even heading back to Philadelphia it seemed the momentum was on the Dodgers' side.

Game Three
Series Tied 1-1

It is known as "Black Friday" in Philadelphia. The Phillies needed the game in order to re-establish momentum. In a five game series, game three is very important. The Dodgers had struck first, scoring twice in the second inning. Steve Garvey scored from first on a Dusty Baker double. Protesting the call that Garvey had not touched home was futile for the Phillies. Baker would score later on a single by Steve Yeager.

The Phillies rebounded with a three run bottom of the second inning. With two outs and Richie Hebner and Bob Boone on base it was Dodger pitcher Burt Hooten who began to have some words to exchange with the umpire. Disputing calls with the umpire often gets you nowhere and soon enough Hooten would loose his control and proceeded to walk the next four Phillies batters (Ted Sizemore, Larry Christenson, Bake McBride and Larry Bowa). All of a sudden it was 3-2 Phillies. After Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda made a pitching change to bring in Rick Rhoden, Mike Schmidt popped up to end the inning with the bases loaded.

As exciting as this may have been early on it would be the finish that would be the story for game three.

With the game tied in the eighth inning the Phillies started to take care of business. Hebner lead off with a double and Gary Maddox brought him home with a single. On the play Reggie Smith threw home to try and catch Hebner to keep the game tied. Instead the throw went wild and Maddox was able to run all the way to third base. Maddox scored on a Bob Boone ground ball to Ron Cey at third. Rather than throwing to first for the sure out Cey threw home to try and get Maddox at home. Cey's throw went wild and Maddox scored to give the Phillies a 7-5 lead. The Phillies would send in their great reliever Gene Garber to seal the deal in the ninth inning.

Or maybe it was Mitch Williams?

After retiring the first two Dodger batters it appeared the Phillies were about to take control of the NLCS with a 2-1 series lead. Pinch hitter Vic Davalillio, down with an 0-2 count, laid out a drag bunt and was able to beat out the throw and was safe at first, giving the Dodgers something to work with. Manny Mota then hit a fly ball to left field where Greg Luzinski had trapped against the wall. Why Luzinski was in there instead of his usual defensive replacement of Jerry Martin is still beyond logic to any Phillies fans to this day. On the throw to second base to get Mota out at second, Ted Sizemore had misplayed the ball. Mota was safe and proceeded to third base on the play which also scored Davalillo. The damage continued. Lopes hit a hot liner to Schmidt at third that went off his knee. Larry Bowa grabbed the ball and fired it to first to get Lopes. The Phillies would escape with an on -the-edge-of-your-seat game except for the fact that Lopes was called safe. To this day Phillies fans will tell you Lopes was out. Lopes will tell you he was safe.

The game was tied on the controversial play. Garber, having already blown the save, attempted to pick off Lopes at first, but threw the ball to the fence past first baseman Richie Hebner. Lopes advanced to second base. Lopes would then score on a Bill Russell single to centerfield and the Dodgers would shut down the dejected Phillies offense in the ninth to win the game.

Where the three run ninth against the Reds would be the sting from the year before, this game would be the sting that would remain with the team for a while. With the Dodgers now leading the series going into game four, the Phillies needed to find some way to get past the emotions of this devastating loss.

Game Four
Dodgers lead 2-1

They didn't.

In a pitching rematch of game one Steve Carlton and Tommy John performed better for the most part, but John pitched better. This was a miserable night for the Phillies and their fans for many reasons. As if being eliminated from the playoffs at home wasn't bad enough, there was also a two hour rain delay after the first inning.

The Dodgers came out in the second inning and scored two runs off of Carlton on a homerun by Dusty Baker. As it turned out, that was all the Dodgers would need.

Pouring more salt on the wound was Carlton's wild pitch would bring Baker home again and a suicide squeeze bunt by Bill Russell brought home Steve Yeager. The Dodgers would win by a score of 4-1.

With the victory the Dodgers went to the World Series and ultimately lost to "Mr. October" Reggie Jackson and the New York Yankees, who were also rolled over by the Reds in 1976.

It is the 1977 World Series that Jackson is most notable for. In game six Jackson connected for three home runs (once each in the fourth, fifth and eighth innings) off of the Dodgers, helping him certify that he was indeed "Mr. October."

How could the Phillies rebound from a second straight abysmal post season outing? What woudl it take for this team to get over the hump and reach the World Series? Would Mike Schmidt play better next time around or would this terrible NLCS linger in his head?

The following season the Phillies would have to make a strong statement and prove that they are World Series contenders. The Pittsburgh Pirates were getting closer to the Phillies in the standings so the window could be starting to close on that opportunity for a World Series. The Phillies made a key draft pick in 1978, which they would later trade away anyway. Who needed Ryne Sandburg, right?

Be sure to check back tomorrow for Part II as we take a look at the Phillies' chance for redemption in the 1978 NLCS against the Dodgers.

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