The Astrodome hosted the third and fourth games of the 1980 NLCS. Houston was neither a hotbed for baseball nor noted for quality sports teams in general. The Astros had been around since the 1960s but were not noted for their winning ways. they had three chances to change that.
Game 3, 10 October
For game three, the Astros started Joe Niekro. He faced Phillies starter Larry Christenson. Christenson started only 14 games in 1980, but was 5-1 with a decent walk to strikeout ratio. Both men were excellent. Through six innings no one scored and nobody got beyond second base. Christianson gave up only three hits and Niekro was equally good. In the seventh, the Phils pinch hit for Christianson and brought in Dickie Noles to replace him. Essentially nothing changed. Noles gave up one hit in one and a third inning and Niekro kept chugging along. By the tenth inning there was still no score, Tug McGraw replaced Noles, Niekro kept pitching, and still no one had reached third. In the eleventh, Niekro finally yielded the mound to Dave Smith. Smith allowed a hit and intentionally walked Larry Bowa, but Philadelphia failed to score. Joe Morgan led off the bottom of the 11th with a triple and finally a baserunner reached third. A pair of intentional walks loaded the bases and set up the force play everywhere. Denny Walling, who’d started at first and moved to right field later in the game, came up with no outs. He lofted a long fly to left that scored the first run of the game. It gave Houston a 1-0 victory and a 2-1 lead in games. For the game the Phillies pitchers gave up only six hits, but walked eight (several of them of the intentional variety). Houston allowed seven hits and only two walks. It was an excellent pitching duel that left Houston one win from the World Series.
Game 4, 11 October
Down two games to one, Philadelphia brought back ace Steve Carlton in hopes of setting up a game five showdown. Houston countered with 12 game winner Vern Ruhle. The two teams traded zeroes until the bottom of the fourth when Enos Cabell led off with a double and went to third on a groundout. A walk put runners at first and third. Art Howe hit a long sacrifice fly to left that scored Cabell and provided the game’s initial run. A triple and single in the bottom of the fifth put the Astros up 2-0.
The Phillies finally broke through in the eighth when consecutive singles put men on first and second. Pete Rose drove in the first Philadelphia run with another single, both runners advancing on the throw to the plate. An infield single scored the second run to tie the score and put Rose on third. A Manny Trillo fly brought Rose home with the go ahead run. Philly was now six outs from tying up the NLCS. They got three. A leadoff walk in the bottom of the ninth put the tying run on base. A ground out and a Terry Puhl single tied the game at 3-3 and for the third straight time the game went into extra innings.
With one out in the top of the tenth, Rose singled. After a second out, Greg Luzinski doubled plating Rose and Trillo followed with another double that scored Luzinski. Now up 5-3, Philadelphia brought in Tug McGraw to close the game. A strikeout and two fly balls accomplished the goal and the Phillies had tied up the NLCS at two games each. A deciding game five the next day would determine who went to the World Series.
Although it did not lead to any runs, the top of the fourth gave the 1980 NLCS its most memorable play. With runners on first and second and no one out, Garry Maddox hit a soft sinking liner to pitcher Ruhle. Ruhle claimed he caught it, then threw to first to double off the runner (Manny Trillo). The first base umpire ruled McBride out but home plate umpire (and Hall of Famer) Doug Harvey said Ruhle didn’t catch the ball. Without calling time, the Phillies manager Dallas Green came onto the field. While he was starting to argue the call, Art Howe, Houston first baseman and current possessor of the ball, raced down to second and tagged the bag, arguing that the runner on second, Bake McBride who was currently standing on third without having returned to second, was out. The second base umpire agreed and called McBride out (making it a triple play). The problem was that the umpiring crew couldn’t agree on whether Ruhle caught the ball or not. After a 20 minute argument and consultation the umps ruled a double play and allowed McBride to return to second with both Maddox and Trillo out. Umpire Harvey ruled that his call of no catch “put the runner (McBride) in jeopardy and he advanced on my call,” an erroneous call. No one was quite sure what happened most people argued there was either one or three outs, but not two. The ruling stood and McBride went back to second with two outs. Larry Bowa then grounded out to finish a totally bizarre half inning.
Tags: Art Howe, Bake McBride, Dave Smith, Denny Walling, Dickie Noles, Doug Harvey, Enos Cabell, Garry Maddox, Greg Luzinski, Joe Morgan, Joe Niekro, Larry Bowa, Larry Christenson, Manny Trillo, Pete Rose, Steve Carlton, Terry Puhl, Tug McGraw, Vern Ruhl