Phillies Nation welcomes contributor Ben Seal, who offers a historical perspective on this year’s NLCS between the Phillies and the Dodgers.
Baseball, as much as any other sport, is steeped in history and tradition. Any time an organization has been around for more than a century like the Phillies have, there are history lessons to be found everywhere. So while the Phils and Dodgers might not be a legendary rivalry, there was still a time about a generation ago when a couple of post-season matchups meant that the West Coast crew was public enemy No. 1 in Philadelphia. Let’s take a look back at the post-season history between these two teams while we wait for the Phils to grab two more wins and make some history of their own. (Below is part 1 of the 3 part series.)
1977 NLCS (LA 3-1 over PHI)
The Phillies wrapped up the NL East with 101 wins, still tied for the most in franchise history, and were led by Steve Carlton, Larry Bowa, Greg Luzkinski, Garry Maddox and Michael Jack Schmidt. On paper this might have been the best group of Phillies ever to take the field. But what happened in the post-season was a collapse that has contributed heavily to the downtrodden psyche of Philadelphia fans, surpassing even the embarrassment of the ’64 Phils as the most depressing moment in Phillies history.
The Phils took Game 1, 7-5, with a pair of runs in the top of the 9th which included a run-scoring single from Schmidt and a balk that allowed Bowa to score from third. Game 2 went to the Dodgers, 7-1, as Bake McBride’s home run was the only positive for the Fightins. Don Sutton pitched a complete game, allowing 9 hits.
Which brings us to Game 3 – Black Friday. The Phils broke a tie in the bottom of the 8th to go up 5-3 on a Garry Maddox single. Gene Garber was on the mound to try and close it out in the top of the 9th, but that didn’t work out quite as expected. After two groundouts to start the inning, pinch-hitter Vic Davalillo laid down a bunt single and Manny Mota roped a double. Speedster Davy Lopes, the same guy who has helped Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth unleash their speed the last two seasons as first base coach for the Phils, stepped to the plate and hit a ball to third that caromed off Schmidt’s glove and over to Bowa at shortstop. Bowa threw to first trying to get Lopes as he flew down the basepath, but the bang-bang play was called safe. Tie game. After an error on a pickoff attempt, Lopes moved into scoring position, and finally came home on a single by Bill Russell (no, not that Bill Russell). With their backs completely broken, the Phils managed nothing in the bottom of the inning, went down 2-1 and were shut down by Tommy John – he of the mangled arm that led to the first “Tommy John surgery” – and lost 4-1, ending the series and the Phillies 1977 season.
Bowa, after managing the Phils for a few years, is now the third base coach for the Dodgers. He still swears that Lopes was out at first, that the game should have been over and the Phillies might have had a chance to do some more post-season damage. Ask Lopes about what happened and he’ll say he was safe and has no idea why Bowa still thinks about one particular play three decades later. The questions came up this week before the NLCS started, and let’s just say that both men agree to disagree on this one. Either way, one of the best Phillies teams of all-time dropped the series and went golfing for the winter, ready to come back the next season and do it again…
For further reading on this ignominious period of the Phillies history, check out The Fall of the 1977 Phillies: How a Baseball Team’s Collapse Sank a City’s Spirit by Villanova’s Mitchell Nathanson.