The 1980 NLCS: All the Marbles

With the NLCS tied at two games each, Philadelphia and Houston squared off in the Astrodome for game five of the 1980 series. The winner went on to the World Series, the loser went home. For both teams winning would be a unique experience. Houston had never been to a World Series and Philadelphia hadn’t been to one since 1950.

Del Unser

Del Unser

Game 5, 12 October

To send the Astros to the World Series, Houston put Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan on the mound. Philly countered with rookie Marty Bystrom, who hadn’t pitched in the NLCS and was 5-0 in six total Major League games. At the beginning it looked like a bad choice. Astros lead off man Terry Puhl singled to start the bottom of the first, stole second, and came home on a Jose Cruz double. That put Houston up 1-0. But it didn’t hold up for even one inning. In the top of the second a single and walk put Manny Trillo on second and Garry Maddox on first. A ground out moved both up one base with two outs. Phils catcher Bob Boone singled off Ryan to plate both runs and put Philadelphia up 2-1.

That held up through the top of the sixth as Bystrom matched shutout inning for shutout inning with Ryan. In the bottom of the sixth, Denny Walling lofted a fly to left that Greg Luzinski misplayed into two bases for Walling. Then an Alan Ashby single tied up the game 2-2. In the bottom of the seventh Houston exploded for three runs as Puhl singled, came home on a Walling single after Cruz walked. A wild pitch by Phils reliever Larry Christenson brought Cruz home. Art Howe then tripled to score Walling.

But this was game five in 1980 and, well, it wasn’t extra innings yet, so Philadelphia came back in the top of the eighth. Three consecutive singles loaded the bases for Pete Rose. He coaxed a walk out of Ryan to make the score 5-3. A Keith Moreland ground out scored the second run. A single by Del Unser, playing right after pinch hitting earlier, and a triple by Trillo gave the Phils a 7-5 lead with six outs to go. They got two. Singles by Craig Reynolds and Puhl put runners on first and third and back-to-back singles tied the game at 7-7.

Philly got a  man as far as third in the top of the ninth but failed to score. Houston went in order in the bottom of the ninth and for the fourth game in a row, and four of five, the NLCS went into extra innings. With one out, Unser doubled. An out later, Maddox doubled plating Unser with the go ahead run. With Dick Ruthven now on the mound, a popup, a liner, and a long fly to center finished off Houston 8-7 and sent Philadelphia to the World Series, where they defeated Kansas City four games to two. Trillo was chosen NLCS MVP.

It was a great series of games, with four of five going into extra innings. Philly outhit Houston .289 to .233, but scored only one more run (20-19).  There was a major difference in the two team’s walks and strikeouts. Philly struck out 37 times and walked 13, while Houston struck out 19 times and walked 31. Greg Luzinski had the only homer for either team (in game 1) but Houston had five triples. Houston had a team ERA of 3.49, just slightly more than Philadelphia’s 3.28, while Philly pitching gave up 40 hits to the Astros’ 55.

Individually Manny Trillo led Philly hitters (players who appeared in all 5 games) by hitting .381 and racking up eight hits. Luzinski and Trillo both had four RBIs while Luzinski and Rose each scored three runs. Steve Carlton’s eight walks led both teams, while Nolan Ryan’s 14 strikeouts easily outpaced everyone else (of course it did).  Tug McGraw picked up two saves (and took a loss) and Dick Ruthven’s 2.00 ERA led Philadelphia starters with five or more innings pitched. Joe Niekro’s 0.00 ERA over 10 innings led all starters.

For a long time now, I’ve said that the 1991 World Series was the best I ever saw. But I’m not sure that for drama, emotion, and utter excitement that the 1980 NLCS wasn’t its equal.


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6 Responses to “The 1980 NLCS: All the Marbles”

  1. wkkortas Says:

    I’d have to agree that, as far as nail-biters and drama go, it’s hard to top that ’80 NLCS–if that had been a World Series, we’d be talking about it as one of the all-time classics.

  2. keithosaunders Says:

    I agree with you — it’s the gold standard for playoff series. Thanks for that great series of posts! I believe the 1980 WS was 6 games, not 7. As I recall it was an exciting Series.

  3. glen715 Says:

    I was watching the ALCS. It was more important for me to watch the Yankees lose than to have the Phillies win. I definitely was not for the Tootie Fruity Astros. So I was glad that the Phillies won the NLCS. And I was glad that the Royals won the ALCS.

    Which brings me to a joke.

    A few baseball players formed a singing group and they toured during the off-season.

    The singing group was made up of catcher Manny Sanguillen of the Pittsburgh Pirates, pitcher Manny Sarmiento, also of the Pirates, and outfield Manny Mota of the Los Angeles Dodger. The group got famous for singing American standards in Spanish, such as “There Used To Be A Ballpark, which was made famous by Frank Sinatra “Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio”, which was made famous by Les Brown and his Orchestra, and “You’ve Gotta Have Heart”, which was made famous by The 1969 New York Mets Singers.

    Sanguillen, Sarmiento, and Mota named their group “The Manny Trillo”, and they were a big hit in Branson, Missouri. They even had their own theater there.

    By the way, here’s the 1969 Mets singing “You Gotta Have Heart”, which was originally from the Broadway musical “Damn Yankees”, on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”


  4. William Miller Says:

    Del Unser (as a reference to your photo) was, other than Seaver, my favorite player on the ’75 Mets. I used to try to emulate him batting and fielding in my neighborhood that year. As for the 1980 NLCS, it was a classic. Excellent overview on your part, V.

  5. Steve Myers Says:

    I’m late to this 1980 redux celebration and working my way backwards from game 5. I love that series, more through you tube and commentaries, summaries like your v because my memory is pretty awful. I love imagining what it was like being an Astros fan with Ryan on the mound when that 8th inning happened.

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