50 of 50

50 Greatest Phillies Games: 2. The first title

415160Tug-McGraw-1980-World-Series-Celebration-Posters.jpgUntil March 27, we’ll be counting down the 50 greatest Phillies games of the last 50 years. This is 50 of 50.

And this is No. 2.

THE DATE: Oct. 21, 1980

THE GAME: Phillies vs. Kansas City Royals, Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

THE STAKES: Game 6, World Series; Phillies lead 3-2

THE GREAT: Ninety-seven years.

Only the Chicago Cubs and their recent World Series win surpassed what Phillies fans endured for their entire lifetimes. The Phillies were founded in 1883. They won their first pennant in 1915 but only won one World Series game against Boston. Then, a run of failure so strong that it’s almost impossible to understand – one winning season in 30 years.

The Phillies finally won a second pennant in 1950, but were swept in the World Series by the Yankees Then came 1964, and we don’t need to get into that story.

1976. 1977. 1978. Two wins over three seasons. Until, finally, 1980. A last-minute win against the Astros in the most incredible League Championship Series ever played. Then a World Series against Kansas City that continued the fun – comebacks, big innings, implosions, a hemorrhoid – until the Phillies found themselves up three games to two, a game six to be played in Philadelphia. And for the first time ever – ever – the opportunity to actually win one game and be world champions.

Oct. 21, 1980, wasn’t always the most tense baseball game, mostly because the Phillies had their best pitcher on the hill. As in their best pitcher ever.

Do we talk enough about how lucky the Phillies were to have their best hitter and pitcher on the team, in their primes, for so long as they had them? It’s as if a healthy Chase Utley played alongside a healthy Roy Halladay for 15 years. Fifteen years. Again, think about that – Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt played together for 15 years.

Anyway, Carlton was on the hill. He struck out two in the first, got a ground-ball double play in the second and struck out two in the third. He was on point. He was determined. He was there with only one mission: to win the championship.

As for Schmidt? He came alive in the World Series, and continued the performance with a two-run single in the third, two batters after the Royals’ U.L. Washington was drawn far off the second base bag in an attempt to force out Bob Boone, and one batter after Pete Rose smacked down a terrific bunt single, the crowd chanting “Pete! Pete!” the whole time.

This was the 1980 Phillies, a group led by Dallas Green that played aggressively, sometimes to a fault, but sometimes with wonderful results. They never quit, never faltered, and seemingly always came up with the big hit.

Schmidt’s two-run single was all they needed, as Carlton surrendered just one earned run over seven innings.

And that makes perfect sense. Though Schmidt won the 1980 National League Most Valuable Player award, and though Carlton won the NL Cy Young award, the role players made the most noise throughout much of the postseason. Manny Trillo had the big LCS. Bake McBride played strong. Del Unser knocked some huge hits. Lonnie Smith made his mark. Boonie came alive. Rose was Rose.

But Game 6 was about the big boys, the hall of fame talent, the guys meant to finish the job. And so, led by those marquee names, the Phillies went about Game 6 as if it was a nine-inning party. The crowd was juiced. The Phils looked sharp in their whites. The Vet really never looked better.

This was the game they were always meant to win.

The Phils carried a 4-1 lead into the ninth when Tug McGraw had to face the meat of the Royals’ order. That was the tense moment, when the crowd stood fierce and bit their nails, when they thought about “Black Friday” and 1964, and the bloody LCS against the Astros and every terrible summer that ended before Independence Day.

McGraw loaded the bases with one out, bringing up Frank White in a major spot. And we remember what happened: he popped it up foul. Boone came to it, bobbled it, and Rose saved him and supplied the moment every Phillie fan needed.

Carlton and Schmidt did their jobs. The third hall of fame caliber player on the team finished it off.

As I said, this game was meant for the marquee names.

And Rose assured it: this would end well. This would bring a championship.

When McGraw got Willie Wilson swinging on a 1-2 pitch, he leaped as high as anyone could ever leap. And he leaped for millions who suffered for 97 years.

Ninety-seven years.

That means everything.

Box score from Baseball Reference



  1. Jay

    March 26, 2017 at 1:09 pm

    Obviously the 2008 WS clincher will be #1, but since these are written by people who weren’t alive at the time, they don’t appreciate the sheer magnitude of the 1980 season. ’08 was wonderful, but the ’80 Phillies exorcised ghosts that had been following the team for a century. This year’s Cubs had a similarly long wait since their last championship, but at least they had a couple. The Phillies never had. They were the poster boys for futility.

    Beyond the longest wait for a title in professional sports was the fact that this particular club had the reputation for choking under the national spotlight, as they had done in ’76, ’77, and ’78. They won the NL pennant exactly twice in 97 years, in 1915 and 1950. After winning Game 1 of the ’15 Series, they lost eight games in a row.

    Then with the incomprehensibly tense, emotionally draining League Championship Series, the team was expected to be completely spent. The heavily-favored Kansas City Royals had swept the 103-win Yankees and were able to line up their starting rotation exactly the way they wanted. The Phillies’ rotation was shot, and they were forced to start rookie Bob Walk in Game 1.

    By the time we got to Game 6, all of that was on the line. While the 2008 team had the pressure of a 25-year championship drought for Philadelphia, the 1980 team had a much greater burden. Then McGraw loaded the bases with one out in the 9th, putting the tying runs on base. The ghosts of 97 years weren’t going quietly. But when Willie Wilson finally swung and missed, the catharsis was unparalleled in Philadelphia sports.

    You had to be there. Clearly, you weren’t.

    • Ankit

      March 31, 2017 at 6:49 am

      I agree Jay. I was born in 1980 and didn’t come to USA until 1989. I didn’t know baseball or the Phillies until 1990 and 2008 remains the happiest day in my life but the first title had to be the greatest game of the past 50 years. As you said, 97-year drought, so many chokes, the losing seasons, one would expect to choke again, of course… The sheer weight of expectations, the ghost and so the magnitude of it all is way way ahead of the 2008 title.


    March 26, 2017 at 1:39 pm


  3. Nick Viola

    March 27, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    My Uncle Bob was at that game and still has the ticket stub!! What Great memories!!

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