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. 20.
THE DATE: June 23, 1971
THE GAME: Phillies vs. Cincinnati Reds, Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio
THE STAKES: Nothing for a bad-and-getting-worse Phillies team.
THE GREAT: The 1971 Phillies marked the end of the late-1960s Phillies, one of the truly bad eras of Philadelphia baseball (even if 1972 was worse on paper, you could see the tide turning).
The 1971 team won just 67 games that season, had a run differential of minus-130 and finished second-to-last in the National League in runs and hits. Amazingly, they clubbed the sixth-most home runs in the NL, but finished second-to-last in RBI. You could say a bright spot was that they grounded into the least amount of double plays in the NL, but that was only because the team had the second-worst on-base percentage in the league.
You could picture a couple fans sitting in a diner on South Street reading over the names of the roster in the paper and saying, “I never heard of most of ’em,” just like in Major League.
The pitching staff wasn’t as bad, but that was because of one guy, Rick Wise, who somehow managed 17 wins and a 2.88 ERA (and only a 3.08 FIP).
There had to be days when Wise before a game would say to himself, “If we’re going to win, I’m going to have to do it all myself.” And in this magical game, he did.
Wise mustered up one of the most impressive individual performances in Phillies history, throwing a one-baserunner no-hitter against the soon-to-be Big Red Machine lineup that in this game featured Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, George Foster, Dave Concepcion and Tony Perez.
If that wasn’t enough, he banged out two home runs and knocked in three of the four Phillies runs that day.
The dominant performance put him on whatever radar he hadn’t been on previously around the league, and when the St. Louis Cardinals needed to trade star lefty Steve Carlton, the Phillies’ offer of Wise got the deal done. Carlton’s acquisition kicked off the first golden era of Phillies baseball that would take hold in the mid-70s and last into a 1983 World Series appearance.
Maybe, just maybe, it all started with Wise’s dominating, dual-threat performance.