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. 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.
That means everything.