Posts Tagged ‘Del Unser’

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: Philadelphia

October 21, 2015
Lefty

Lefty

Unlike the Astros, the Philadelphia Phillies were, by 1980, something like perennial contenders. They’d made playoff runs in the late 1970s and by 1980 were in one again. Much had changed from those 1970s runs.

After a 30 game stint at the end of 1979, manager Dallas Green was in his first full season as manager. He led a team that finished first, second, or third in almost every major hitting category. It was also a team whose pitching numbers were all over the place.

Part of the problem with the pitching was that the staff was made up of one all-time great and a bunch of other guys. The other guys included starters Dick Ruthven (17 wins), Bob Walk (11 wins), Randy Lerch, Larry Christianson, and Nino Espinosa. Those were all the men who started a dozen or more games. Lerch and Espinosa had losing records; Ruthven, Walk, and Lerch all gave up more hits than they had innings pitched; and Espinosa walked more men than he struck out. Their combined WAR was 2.8. Of course Steve Carlton made up for much of the pitching problem. He went 24-9 with an ERA of 2.34 (ERA+ 162). He led the league in strikeouts ( by more than 80), wins, ERA+, and pitching WAR (10.2). At the end of the season he’d add his third Cy Young Award to his resume.

The bullpen featured ex-Mets hero (and Faith Hill’s father-in-law) Tug McGraw. He put up 20 saves with a 1.46 ERA (260 ERA+), and struck out 75 in 96 innings. Ron Reed and Dickie Noles had a handful of saves and as a whole, the bullpen was equal to, and some might say better, than the starters.

The infield consisted of one of the better known keystone combinations of the era and two potential Hall of Famers at the corners. Larry Bowa was a longtime member of the Phils. He hit .267, stole 21 bases, didn’t walk a lot. His OPS+ stood at all of 71 and his WAR at 0.7. The second baseman was Manny Trillo. He hit .292, had an OPS+ of 104, and was fourth on the team with 3.4 WAR. Cincinnati refugee Pete Rose held down first base. He couldn’t do much in the field anymore, but could still catch the ball. He hit .282 with 12 stolen bases, 185 hits (a critical stat for him), 95 runs scored, on OPS+ of 94, and -0.4 WAR (but +0.6 OWAR). Mike Schmidt at third had a beast of a year. He led the National League in home runs with 48, RBIs with 121, in total bases, in slugging, OPS, OPS+ (171), and had 8.8 WAR. At the end of the season he’d add the MVP to his list of accomplishments. As a third baseman he wasn’t all that great, but was taking a long, slow road toward improvement. Backups included John Vukovich, Luis Aguayo, and Ramon Aviles. Additionally, 38-year-old Tim McCarver got into six games, two at first ( and the rest as a pinch hitter).

The catcher was Bob Boone. Known more for his fielding than hitting, he was considered a good handler of pitchers and had a caught stealing rate of about 33%. Offensively he hit only .229, but logged nine home runs. His backup was Keith Moreland, who got into 62 games in his rookie campaign (he’d played in 15 total games the previous two years). He hit .314, and a 113 OPS+ (0.6 WAR), and was such a good catcher that he ended up playing 1226 games, 169 as a catcher.

The outfield  was in a bit of turmoil with five men getting into 100 or more games (and later Cubs darling Bob  Dernier adding 10 games). Much of the problem lay in left field. Regular left fielder Greg Luzinski banged up his knee and only got into 106 games. And when he was in, he wasn’t producing all that well. He hit .228 with 19 home runs (but did have 56 RBIs), struck out 100 times (but ended up with an OPS+ of 113), and finished with 0.4 WAR. And to top it off he wasn’t much of an outfielder. The problem was his replacement wasn’t much better in the field. Lonnie Smith was called “Skates” for a reason (he looked like he was on ice in the outfield). He did hit well. going .339, with 33 stolen bases (13 caught stealings), 69 runs scored, a 130 OPS+, and 2.3 WAR. Garry Maddox and Bake McBride held down the other outfield positions. Both were much better fielders than either left fielder. McBride hit .309 with 87 RBIs, 116 OPS+, and 3.2 WAR. Maddox had 25 stolen bases, hit .259, hit 11 home runs, had an OPS+ of only 80 (with 1.9 WAR), but was probably the finest center fielder in the league. The other outfielder with 100 or more games was Greg Gross. He hit .240 with no power, but, along with Del Unser, was used as a pinch hitter.

As with Houston, the Phillies were a flawed team. Beyond Carlton the starting pitching was suspect. The infield was better at defense than at offense (Schmidt excepted), and the outfield was in disarray (at least a little–Luzinski was back by the playoffs). They were favored, but not by a lot.