Posts Tagged ‘Alan Ashby’

The 1980 NLCS: All the Marbles

October 29, 2015

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.

The 1980 NLCS: Houston

October 19, 2015
The Express

The Express

Over all the years I’ve watched baseball, the 1980 NLCS is still the most exciting playoff series I’ve seen. There have been some other fine series’ and a number of very good World Series contests (especially 1991), but for sheer sustained suspense there’s nothing to match this set of contests between the Houston Astros and the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Astros finished second in 1979, but in 1980 managed to tie the Los Angeles Dodgers for the West Division title. A one game playoff sent them on to the NLCS. Manager Bill Virdon, the old Pirates center fielder, was in his sixth (fifth full) season at the helm. With him in charge, the Astros (with a one season hiccup in 1978) managed a steady climb to a division title. The 93 wins was a team record.

The infield consisted of former utility man Art Howe (later A’s manager and a major figure in both the Money Ball book and movie) at first, Hall of Famer Joe Morgan at second, Enos Cabell at third, and Craig Reynolds at short. Howe’s status as a utility man meant he only had 77 games at first (and just over 30 at the other three infield slots). He hit .283 with 10 home runs (his only season with double figure homers), 46 RBIs, a 129 OPS+, and a 1.8 WAR. Morgan was at the end of his career. he hit only .243, but had 11 home runs and 24 stolen bases (with six caught stealing). As usual he walked a ton (a team leading 93 walks), had a good OPS+ (115), and fifth on the team (fourth among hitters) with 3.6 WAR. Cabell contributed 21 home runs and hit .276, but only had a 90 OPS+ and a -0.2 WAR. Additionally he wasn’t much of a third baseman. Reynolds, on the other hand, was a pretty good shortstop. In 135 games he managed only 17 errors (about dead in the middle of the league). He hit only .226 with neither power nor speed, but did manager a positive WAR of 0.5. From the bench Danny Heep, Denny Walling, and Dave Bergman spelled Howe at first. Walling got all three homers the trio provided, 29 of 38 RBIs, and led the group at .299. Their combined WAR was 2.9 (with Walling leading the pack at 0.9). Rafael Landestoy did most of the backup work for the other infield positions, hit .247, but stole 23 bases (and was caught 12 times), and produced 1.4 WAR.

The heart of the offense was the outfield. Terry Puhl held down right field and led the team in WAR with 6.2. He hit .282 with a team leading 13 home runs (it was the Astrodome after all).His 55 RBIs tied for third on the team, as did his 27 stolen bases. He had a 124 OPS+. Cesar Cedeno patrolled center field and led the starters with an OPS+ of 147 (5.0 WAR). He hit .309, had an OPS of .854, 73 RBIs, 154 hits, 48 stolen bases, and 10 home runs. The OPS, average, and stolen bases led the team. Jose Cruz was in left field. He hit .302, had 11 home runs, a team leading 91 RBIs, 36 stolen bases, and managed to led the team with 185 hits. His OPS+ was 127 and his WAR topped out at 4.8. The 24 year-old backup was Jeffrey Leonard. He hit only three homers and had 20 RBIs to go along with a .213 average. He was not yet the slugger he became at San Francisco.

Alan Ashby did the bulk of the catching, logging 116 games. He hit .256, scored 30 runs, and knocked in 48. His backup was Luis Pujols who hit all of a buck 99. Way down the list of everyday players was current Giants manager Bruce Bochy who, at 25, caught 10 games.

They caught a staff that was supposed to be the strength of the team. Joe Niekro was the ace. He went 20-12 with an ERA of 3.55 (ERA+ 93). His WHIP was 1.355, and he gave up more hits than he had inning pitched. His WAR was 0.9 (hardly inspiring for an ace). Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan had a standard Nolan Ryan year. His record was one game over .500 (11-10), his ERA was in the mid-threes (3.35) with an ERA+ of 98. He walked 98 and struck out 200. He finished second in strikeouts (in the previous eight years he’d finished 1st seven times). The 200 strikeouts were second on the league (by 86 to Steve Carlton). Ryan’s WHIP was 1.297 and his WAR 1.5. Verne Ruhl was 12-4 with a 2.37 ERA (ERA+ of 139), a 1.111 WHIP (3.2 WAR), but only 55 strikeouts in 159 innings. Ken Forsch had a losing record at 12-13, but a 3.20 ERA (103 ERA+). He’d also given up more hits than he had innings pitched, helping result in a 1.219 WHIP and 2.6 WAR. Which brings me to J.R. Richard. He should have been the ace, maybe the best pitcher in baseball, but his health caught up with him. On 30 July he collapsed with a stroke, effectively ending his career. Any speculation as to how much he might have helped Houston in the rest of the regular season (or playoffs) is just that, speculation. Swingman Joaquin Andujar took his place, starting 14 games. He put up a 3.91 ERA (ERA+ of 84) with a 1.434 WHIP and 0.0 WAR.

Joe Sambito held down the closer spot. In many ways he was a typical reliever of the era. He had 17 saves in 64 appearances and pitched 90 innings (just under one and a half per outing). His ERA was 2.19 with an ERA+ of 151 (2.0 WAR), and he struck out 75 with a WHIP of 0.963.  Both Dave Smith and Frank LaCorte picked up double figure saves with Smith posting an ERA+ of 171. At 2.6 his WAR was actually higher than Sambito’s and by the end of the regular season he was doing as much closing as Sambito.

Although a good team, the 1980 Astros were flawed with a weak hitting infield and few quality pitchers. They’d taken an extra game to win the West and few chose them to win the pennant. They faced Philadelphia in the NLCS>