The 1980 NLCS

Tug McGraw as a Phillie

Ever notice how many people talk about the great World Series’ they’ve seen. I like to dwell on the 1991 Series, others will pick different ones to extol. But most people never say much  about the other rounds of playoffs. That’s unfortunate, because some of the finest games or sets of games have happened in the various League Championship Series’. You can take a look at the mid-1980s as an example if you want. The Kansas City/Toronto ALCS was great with the Royals coming back from a 3 games to 1 deficit to win in seven. The NLCS of 1986 (Mets over Astros) was a classic, as was the 1988 NLCS (Dodgers over Mets). But for my money the finest League Championship was the NLCS of 1980.

The 1980 NLCS matched the Philadelphia Phillies against the Houston Astros. Philly won the east by a game over Montreal. In the west, the Astros and Dodgers tied leading to a one-game playoff. If the NLCS was great, the one game playoff was wretched. Houston won 7-1 and it didn’t seem that close. Philadelphia featured Hall of Famers Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt, hits leader Pete Rose, and Phillies stalwarts Larry Bowa, Bob Boone, Garry Maddox, and Tug McGraw (the father of Faith Hill’s husband). Houston countered with its own Hall of Famers, Nolan Ryan and Joe Morgan. The Astros also featured Jose Cruz, Cesar Cedeno, Enos Cabell, and one of my personal favorites, Terry Puhl. The Series was  still a best of five and there was no earlier round division series to get in the way. The champion went to the World Series, the loser went home.

Game one was in Philadelphia. Steve Carlton squared off against Ken Forsch. Forsch pitched a complete game, but lost 3-1 on a  Greg Luzinski home run. It was the last game decided in nine innings. Houston took game two, also in Philly, by scoring  four runs in the 10th inning (Philadelphia managed one in its own half of the tenth). Frank LaCorte got the win, Rick Reed took the loss. Backup first baseman Dave Bergman plated the winning runs with a triple. With the NLCS knotted at 1-1, the teams headed for the first ever playoff games in the Astrodome. They were classic.

Game three saw Joe Niekro (Phil’s brother) take on Larry Christenson. Doing his Jack Morris impression, Niekro went nine scoreless innings scattering six hits, walking one, and striking out two. Christenson matched him through six innings when he was pulled for a pinch hitter. Dickie Noles pitched a little more than one inning, then in came Faith Hill’s father-in-law. McGraw pitched scoreless ball into the bottom of the eleventh when Joe Morgan tripled and his pinch runner scored on a sacrifice fly. Houston led the NLCS 2 games to one.

Game four saw Carlton face Vern Ruhle. Neither was as good as Niekro or Christenson, but they kept the game close. The game saw the most controversial play of the series. With two men on in the fourth inning, Philadelphia appeared to hit into a triple play. The umpires finally ruled it a double play and allowed the inning to continue. To the relief of most people (except maybe Phils fans), Philly didn’t score. Carlton left losing, but Philadelphia tied it up and went ahead. The Astros scored in the bottom of the ninth to send the game into extra innings, the third game in a  row to go into the tenth. Rose singled, a couple of  batters later Luzinski doubled to score Rose and McGraw set Houston down in order to set up game five.

The final game saw Nolan Ryan make his first appearance. It was a fairly standard Ryan game. He went seven innings, gave up eight hits, walked two, struck out eight, and, uncharacteristically, gave up six earned runs. Opponent Marty Bystrom wasn’t Ryan, but he left giving up only two runs (one earned). His bullpen let him down as Houston scored five runs off the relievers. Of course Houston’s bullpen was only marginally better, it gave up only one run over the eighth and ninth innings, but that tied the score at 7-7. So for the fourth game in a row (read that number closely, fourth) the NLCS would go to extra innings. It’s the only time that’s ever happened. Del Unser and Maddox both doubled in the tenth, giving Philadelphia a lead. Three straight outs in the bottom of the tenth, and the Phillies were on their way to their first World Series since 1950 (they won in six games). Manny Trillo, who I never even mentioned in the above was the MVP. That’s how good the NLCS was, you could talk about the entire thing and not mention the MVP.

It was a wonderful series. Four extra inning games, timely hitting, good pitching, and a possible triple play. I’ve seen a lot a NLCS and ALCS games since. For my money, the Philadelphia-Houston NLCS of 1980 is still the best of the lot.

Tug's Daughter-in-Law (before she was "waiting all day for Sunday night")

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3 Responses to “The 1980 NLCS”

  1. Bill Miller Says:

    Far and away the best pic you ever posted, my man. I’ll refrain from using any nasty baseball metaphors here. I know this is a family site.
    Bill

  2. verdun2 Says:

    Glad you like Tug’s picture so much (you do mean Tug’s picture don’t you?)
    v

  3. keithosaunders Says:

    I concur — what a photo!

    The post was not too shabby either 🙂 I couldn’t agree more about it being the best ever NLCS. I remember watching every one of those games and being amazed at the time. Philly had come so close so many years in the 70s that it was good to see them finally get over the hump and make it to the Series. Little did we know at the time that it would take Houston another 25 years to get to the Series. Who knows how many more it will take them to win one, but whenever they make the playoffs, it’s generally an exciting series.

    My brother went to all three of those Dodgers-Astros games at the end of the ’80 season; I couldn’t go because of gigs. I finally went on Monday to the playoff game. Dave Goltz. Shit….

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