Until March 27, we’ll be counting down the 50 greatest Phillies games of the last 50 years (and yes, some of them are losses). This is 50 of 50.
And this is No. 9.
THE DATE: Oct. 7, 1977
THE GAME: Phillies vs. Los Angeles Dodgers, Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
THE STAKES: Game 3, National League Championship Series
THE GREAT: In November, I heard Larry Bowa speak in Lancaster County at a fundraiser for a local school. Instead of a typical keynote speech, Bowa delivered a fireside-type Q&A chat moderated by a local TV sports personality and with members of the 500-person-plus audience asking Bowa questions.
The types of questions were the ones you’d expect from average fans meeting a baseball man they’ve admired for decades. “Will the Phillies be good this year?” “Who was the best player you ever saw?” “Who was your favorite manager?” That kind of stuff.
A seeming addition to this list of boilerplate questions came next: “What do you think about instant replay?”
Most old-time baseball guys would say something like, “Well it has its good and its bad, integrity of the game, we’re all human, blah blah blah.”
Unprompted, he started railing on the fact that with instant replay in 1977, he might have had another World Series title. Almost 40 years later, Bowa still is obviously seething at “Black Friday,” one of the most infamous games in Phillies history.
Early on, the Vet crowd rattled Burt Hooton to the point of an absolute breakdown, leaving Norristown native and Dodgers’ manager Tommy Lasorda no choice but to pull his starter in the second inning when four straight walks – three with the bases loaded, the last coming to Bowa – gave the Phils a 3-2 lead. Two Dodger errors in the eighth helped break up a tie and gave the Phillies a 5-3 lead heading into the ninth.
That’s when two of the franchise’s most hated plays happened, the kind of plays that perpetuated the myth of a cursed franchise long before the Curse of the Bambino became a thing.
The first came when Greg Luzinski – who normally would be pulled for a defensive replacement in left field, but for some reason wasn’t in this game – misplayed a line drive and let one run score.
Still clutching a one-run lead with two outs, the speedy Davey Lopes cracked a sharp grounder to the usually sure-handed Mike Schmidt at third. He couldn’t make the play, the ball ricocheted off his glove right to Bowa at shortstop, and Bowa fired a dart to first to seemingly nail Lopes by a hair to end the game.
But first base umpire Bruce Froemming called Lopes safe, allowing Manny Mota to score and tie the game.
In usual Bowa fashion, he and other members of the team went ballistic on the field, and apparently Bowa still harbors that same fire over what he believes was a blown call. (In all honesty, it might not have been. Please don’t send me hate mail.)
Lopes would later score on a thrown-away pick-off attempt and a single, and the Phillies lost Game 3. The next day, they lost the series. But with instant replay, Bowa remains convinced 40 years later the Phillies would have had a 2-1 lead going into Game 4, not the other way around.
There aren’t many other games in Phillies history that have nicknames – are there any others? – which gives you a feeling of just how crazy this one was for the fans of a franchise that in almost 100 years of existence, had never won a World Series.