Until 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. 30.
THE DATE: Oct. 7, 1980
THE GAME: Phillies vs. Houston Astros, Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
THE STAKES: Game 1, National League Championship Series
THE GREAT: The 1980 National League Championship Series was something else. And these write-ups won’t do it justice. Seriously, if you weren’t alive for it, ask a relative who was.
To be succinct, the Phillies and Astros arguably played, pound-for-pound, the most thrilling series of baseball of all-time. Games two, three, four and five ended in extra innings. Game four was incredible, but game five was on another galaxy. As for game one? It only went nine. It was still a great game.
Steve Carlton, of course, took the mound for the Phillies at home. The Astros countered with Ken Forsch, who went 12-13 with a 3.20 ERA and was maybe the fourth-best option for them, since the rotation also included Nolan Ryan (11-10, 3.35 ERA, 200 K), Joe Niekro (20-12, 3.55 ERA) and Vern Ruhle (12-4, 2.37 ERA). He would’ve been the fifth-best option, arguably, but the Astros’ ace J.R. Richard (10-4, 1.90 ERA) suffered a stroke earlier in 1980, tragically ending his very good major league career.
The ‘stros also had a decent offense, led by the outfield trio of Cesar Cedeno, Jose Cruz and Terry Puhl. Art Howe and Denny Walling formed a formidable first base platoon, while an aging Joe Morgan was back in Houston at second base.
That offense bugged Carlton early in the game, putting two runners on in each of the first two innings. And in the third, Houston scored on a couple singles.
The Phillies, meanwhile, couldn’t get the big hit off Forsch. They also put two on in the first and second, but failed to drive home anyone. And in the third, Pete Rose led off with an infield single, but was caught stealing second by catcher Luis Pujols.
The pitchers settled in after the third, keeping the game 1-0 primarily with groundouts. With each inning, the score remained. And you could imagine Phillies fans, sick of losing in the NLCS year after year, were already bummed about the choking, under-performing team.
In the sixth, yet again, Rose led off. This time he grounded one to shortstop, and Craig Reynolds couldn’t put enough zip on his throw. Rose was on first. Nobody out. Heart of the order coming up. If the bums were going to get it done, this was the time.
Bake McBride … strikeout. Anger.
Mike Schmidt … fly out. More anger. A fan literally yells “Come on, you bums!”
Greg Luzinski. A heck of an at bat. Worked it to 3-2. Fouled off. Then, a low fastball.
Dear God. The thing nearly reached the Bull Ring, where Luzinski would sometimes deposit a wheelhouse pitch.
“FORGET IT!” yelled Howard Cosell.
At the time, Bull’s blast was one of the biggest home runs in Phillies history. And it gave the Phils a mammoth 2-1 lead.
The Phils would add a third run in the seventh, thanks to a Greg Gross pinch-hit single. That ended Carlton’s evening – seven innings, seven hits, one run, three strikeouts and three walks. He did the job.
Tug McGraw finished it off, going two innings to close out the Astros.
The Phils had a 1-0 lead in the series, and they’d need every bit of it.