The World Series

Monday, October 24 2022 @ 07:00 AM EDT

Contributed by: Magpie

Is this not the matchup some of us anticipated, and some of us dreamed of, when the post-season began? On the one hand, a powerhouse that comfortably cruised to the the best record in the league, facing off with a squad whose season didn't take off until they replaced their manager halfway through?

Hang on... Astros-Phillies? We had something else in mind...

Well, well. Post-season baseball. It occurred to me last night while I was watching just why everyone who has ever played the game, and so many people who watch them for a living, have always placed such a premium on RBIs. We all know better, in some sense. We all know that the ability to get on base and score a run is ultimately more significant than the act of driving that run across the plate. And yet... when you're watching the game, what is it you remember? Is it the leadoff single? No, it's the hit that scores the run. Over the course of a game, lots of people manage to get on base. And most of them are just left there, because not nearly as many people manage to get that baserunner across home plate to score a run. No wonder RBIs seem so important. Runs are what we're keeping track of, after all. I can see Bregman's game winning single in my head right now. I had to check the box score to remind myself who crossed the plate with the run. We may know better, but we still can't help ourselves.

Since 1969, when it became necessary to win more than one series in order to secure the year's championship, only one team has passed through the post-season undefeated. That was the mighty Big Red Machine, the 1976 Cincinnati Reds, who went 7-0 as they crushed first the Phillies in the NLCS and then the Yankees in the World Series. Only two of the games were even close, although one of those close games did turn out to be somewhat significant. In Game 2 of the Series, the score was tied at 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth. Catfish Hunter retired the first two hitters, but Fred ("Chicken") Stanley threw away Griffey's grounder for what would have been the third out. After an intentional pass to Morgan, Perez singled in the winning run. Stanley was always one of Billy Martin's favourites, but no matter - George Steinbrenner insisted that Gabe Paul find a new shortstop before the next season began. And when the Boss insisted, he insisted. And so two days before the next season began, Paul traded Oscar Gamble and Lamarr Hoyt to the White Sox. For Bucky Dent.

Since 1995, three series wins have been required of any year's champion - that's a minimum of 11 wins (two teams, the 2014 Giants and the 2019 Nationals had to first win a Wild Card game, so they had to win 12 games in their championship years. This  year's NL representative, having had to play a Wild Card series, will need 13 wins if they hope to wield the big trophy.)

No one has gone 11-0 in a post-season run. Two teams came very close indeed. The 1999 Yankees swept Texas in the ALDS to start their post-season, which ended with a sweep of the Mets in the World Series. But in Game 3 of the LCS, Roger Clemens hooked up with Pedro Martinez. It was no contest (Boston 13, New York 1) but that was the only blemish on their post-season run.

And the 2005 White Sox had a similar post-season - they started off by sweeping the defending champs Boston in the LDS. They dropped a tight opener to Anaheim in the ALCS, but won the next four games to advance to the World Series, where they swept Houston. The eight consecutive post-season wins has never been surpassed. It's been been matched by the 2014 Royals and the 2019 Nationals, who both distributed their eight game streak over three separate series. (The Yankees won 12 consecutive post-season games by sweeping the World Series in 1927, 1928, and 1932 but that's not really the accomplishment of the same team.) The 2005 White Sox are the only team ever to finish their season with an eight game winning streak.

Houston is the obvious favourite, but there's some drama anyway. There are persistent reports that owner Jim Crane is unhappy with GM James Click and is somewhat itchy to meddle. A championship might make meddling a little difficult, but billionaires generally do whatever the hell they like. Click and Dusty Baker have restored some honour and integrity to a franchise that was under a very smelly cloud, and they'll be able to write their own ticket this winter. If they need to.

Way back in the day, I noticed that the Houston Astros had an uncanny knack for playing .500 ball, or very close to it. They'd just posted an 82-80 season - there had been only 22 such seasons in the history of the game, and the Astros had four of them. There had been just 26 seasons where a team had gone 81-81, and the Astros had four of them as well. But over the last fifteen years, they've been very much Feast of Famine- three 100 loss seasons, four 100 win seasons. But after 61 seasons of major league ball in Houston, no team is closer to .500 overall than the Astros (4831-4820), with just 11 wins over the break-even mark. The teams closest to .500 after Houston? That would be the Blue Jays (29 games under), the Pirates (40 games over), and the Angels (42 games under.)

The NLCS featured a matchup between the two most unsuccessful teams in the league's long, long history. The Padres have only been around since 1969, but they're already 616 games below .500, which is remarkable. The only franchises who can top (bottom?) that are ones that are practically famous for being losers - the Minnesota Twins (710 games under) spent their first half-century as the Washington Senators ("First in war, first in peace, last in the American League.") The Baltimore Orioles (1,024 games under) spent their first half century as the St. Louis Browns, a franchise best remembered for playing a guy with one arm in the outfield and sending a midget up to bat.

But there have been no losers in the game's long history quite like the Philadelphia Phillies. It was 100 years ago when karma came for them. Five years earlier, they had cynically traded their best player (Pete Alexander) for a big sack of cash because they figured Alexander would return from World War I in bad shape. Which he did, but still... what a crappy thing to do. They had been a very good team at the beginning of the century, but they were in store for punishment. The franchise has had a losing record since 15 May 1922. They have lost more than 90 games forty times, a record of futility surpassed only by the Browns-Orioles (41). They are the only franchise ever to post ten consecutive 90 loss seasons (1936-1945.) They have lost 1,165 more games than they have won, and neither you, nor your children, nor your children's children are likely to see them make it back to .500/ Although tf they go undefeated for the next seven seasons, they'll just need to get off to a 31-0 start in 2031...

You want to know about the Yankees don't you? The team that has won 2,602 more games than they've lost. If they don't win another game until 2038 - not a one - the franchise will still have a winning record. If they lose 90 games every year for the next century and beyond - they will still have a winning record. In the year 2525, if man is still alive, I promise that the Yankees will have a winning record.

This is why everyone hates them.

Anyway... Astros-Phillies. These teams have never met in the World Series. But they did meet in the post-season once before, back in the 1980 NLCS and people let me tell you - it was an absolute classic. The Phillies won the opener 3-1 behind Steve Carlton, on the strength of Greg Luzinski's two-run HR off Ken Forsch. The Astros brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth, but Tug McGraw, father of Tim, closed it out. This was by far the least interesting and exciting game of the series.

In the second game, the Phillies took a 2-1 lead against Nolan Ryan, but the Astros tied it in the seventh on a Puhl double and went ahead in the eighth when Jose Cruz singled home Old Joe Morgan, the prodigal Astro. (Little Joe was so old that he'd actually started his career as a Houston Colt 45, before there were Astros.) But the Phillies promptly tied it back up in the bottom half of the inning. The game went to extras and the Astros broke it open with four runs in the tenth, the big blow being a two run triple by Dave Bergman. The Phillies threatened anyway in their half, scoring once and bringing the tying run to the plate in the person of Mike Schmidt, the greatest third baseman who has ever lived and someone who, at that moment, was probably the best baseball player in the whole wide world. Joaquin Andujar, the fourth Houston reliever, retired him on a fly to RF to end the game.

After the two games in Philadelphia, the five game series would shift to the Astrodome for the remaining games. For those of you too young to remember - the Astrodome was a stadium that was endlessly described as "futuristic" back in its day. It was also a stadium that restored the baseball of the Days of Yore. The fences were in another area code, and the ball didn't carry anyway. It was simply impossible to hit a home run there. The Astros hit just 26 HRs in their home park in 1980, and their opponents hit only 22. And so you actually had to play 1910-style baseball there - bunt and run and steal and hit lots of singles. You had no alternative.

Larry Christenson of the Phillies and Houston's Joe Niekro provided an Astrdome classic, exchanging zeroes until someone got tired. Noles relieved Christenson in the seventh. McGraw relieved Noles in the eighth. Niekro just threw some more knuckleballs, ten scoreless innings of them. There were threats along the way - the Phillies put runners on second and third with one out in the third, but Enos Cabell threw Rose out at home on Schmidt's grounder and Luzinski flied out. The Astros put two men on in the sixth, but Cedeno hit into a double play. Finally, in the bottom of the eleventh, old Joe Morgan led off with a triple off Tug McGraw (working his fourth inning of relief.)  Landestoy pinch ran. Dallas Green issued an intentional walk to Jose Cruz, for the third time in the game, and another to Art Howe to load the bases. But to no avail, as Denny Walling hit the game winning sac fly to put the Astros up two games to one.

The Astros would have to beat the great Steve Carlton to get to the World Series, and through the first seven innings of Game Four they were doing just that, having scored once when Howe's sac fly cashed in Cabell, and again when Landestoy singled home Pujols (Luis, that is.) Vern Ruhle had begun the year as a swingman and only moved permanently into the rotation when the great J.R. Richard suffered his career-ending stroke in July. Ruhle was working on a five hit shutout when it all went sideways in the eighth. Greg Gross led off with a pinch hit single, followed by another single from rookie LF Lonnie Smith. Rose singled in one run, and Houston relief ace Dave Smith replaced Ruhle. Schmidt greeted him with an RBI single, and the Phillies went ahead on Trillo's sac fly. But Houston fought back in the bottom of the ninth. Landestoy walked, was bunted to second, and scored the tying run on Puhl's single. And off to extra innings they went, yet again. The Phillies ended this one quickly enough in the top of the tenth, as Luzinski and Trillo delivered RBI doubles off Joe Sambito, and McGraw retired the Astros in order in the bottom of the inning.

So one more game was needed. The Phillies would start a 22 year old rookie named Marty Bystrom, who had made his MLB debut barely a month earlier. But he'd gone 5-0, 1.50 in those five September starts. And Houston had the Express. Nolan Ryan was in his first season with the Astros. They had made him the game's very first million dollar player with his four year $4.5 million dollar deal. It was a different time, kids. The Astros broke on top in the bottom of the first as Cruz doubled home Puhl, but the Phillies quickly tied it back up as Trillo singled, moved up on a walk, and scored when Boone singled. Houston got the lead back in the sixth. Walling reached second when Greg Luzinski - as bad an outfielder as has ever walked the earth- misplayed his fly ball. He scored on Alan Ashby's single. And then the Astros exploded for a big inning (in the Astrodome, a three run inning was an explosion.) Larry Christenson was now pitching for the Phillies, and Puhl led off with a single. The Astros, naturally, bunted him to second. Morgan grounded out and yet again Dallas Green issued an intentional walk to Jose Cruz. And it all blew up. Walling's single scored Puhl, a wild pitch cored Cruz, and Art Howe's triple scored Walling. The Astros had a 5-2 lead, Nolan Ryan on the mound, six more outs to go. What could go wrong?

Plenty. Larry Bowa led off with a single. Boone followed with one of his own, and Greg Gross dropped down a bunt single to load the bases. That brought up Pete Rose, and Ryan walked him on a 3-2 curveball to force in a run. ("What did you say to him out there, Pete?"  "I said, if he was so proud of his f***ing curveball, he should throw me one.") The LH Sambito replaced Ryan. Keith Moreland pinch hit for McBride, and grounded to second for the first out of the inning as another run scored. Aviles ran for Moreland, Landestoy replacd Morgan at second base, and Forsch relieved Sambito on the mound. Forsch struck out Mike Schmidt. Del Unser pinch hit for the pitcher Reed, and delivered a game tying single. That brought Manny Trillo to the plate and his two run triple put the Phillies up 7-5. Tug McGraw took over on the mound for the Phillies.

Tug McGraw was a screwball artist, and like many others of that tribe, he had a reverse platoon split over his career. And so it was Houston's LH batters who began the trouble in the bottom of the eighth.  Craig Reynolds led off with a single. McGraw struck out Gary Woods, but Terry Puhl came up with another single. McGraw struck out Enos Cabell, but Landestoy singled to make it 7-6 and bring Jose Cruz to the plate.with runners on first and second. No intentional walk this time, so Cruz singled to tie the game. Not much happened in the ninth, so yet again the game went to extra innings. In the top of the tenth, Unser doubled with one out, and scored the final; run of the game on Garry Maddox's two out double. Dick Ruthven set down the Astros in order in the bottom of the inning, and the Phillies went on to meet - and beat - the Royals for the first World Series championship  in franchise history.

It was one of the greatest, most thrilling post-season series ever played. It's some act to follow.


SO here's my little graph of the share of innings thrown by Dusty Baker's starting pitchers compared to that of the other staffs in his league.