Phillies Fall Classics II
As a new decade was dawning in mid-October of 1980, the Fall Classic would feature the Philadelphia Phillies and Kansas City Royals. In the late 1970’s, both clubs had been frequent bridesmaids in the National and American Leagues respectively. But in 1980, both finally kicked in the door, won a pennant, and advanced to the World Series.
The Royals were a 1969 expansion team founded by a Kansas City businessman named Ewing Kauffman after the Athletics, who had left Philadelphia for KC just 14 years earlier, had left the Missouri city in 1968.
Two years later, the Royals made a sweet-swinging lefty hitter named George Brett their 2nd round pick in the 1971 MLB Amateur Draft. Led by the future Hall of Famer and a talented home-grown nucleus, the team became an American League powerhouse by the middle of the decade.
The Royals won three consecutive A.L. West crowns from 1976-78, and won 102 games in the 1977 season to lead all of Major League Baseball. However, each of those three years, Kansas City ran into and could not defeat the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series.
In 1976, the Yanks defeated the Royals when Chris Chambliss blasted a walkoff home run in the bottom of the 9th inning of the 5th and deciding game. In 1977, the Bronx Bombers rallied from a two games to one deficit to win the final two close games from Kansas City. By 1978, the Yanks simply had the Royals number, and won in four games.
Meanwhile over in the National League, the Phillies were one of the game’s oldest franchise’, claiming the longest continuous one name, one city affiliation in pro sports dating back to 1883. However, they were also the losingest franchise in pro sports history, and had reached the World Series just twice, in 1915, when they were beaten in five games by the Boston Red Sox, and in 1950, when they were swept in four games by the Yankees.
The Phils had been a contender in the mid-1960’s, including an infamous collapse in 1964 when a trip to the Fall Classic seemed inevitable. However, the Phillies sank to the bottom of baseball in the late-60’s and early-70’s. The club moved out of old Shibe Park/Connie Mack Stadium after the 1970 season, and into the new Veteran’s Stadium in 1971.
Some astute drafting and development under GM Paul Owens and farm director Dallas Green brought players such as Mike Schmidt and Bob Boone into an organization that already featured up-and-coming youngsters like Larry Bowa and Greg Luzinski. Then prescient trades added talented players like starting pitcher Steve Carlton, reliever Tug McGraw, outfielders Garry Maddox and Bake McBride, and 2nd basemen Dave Cash and Manny Trillo.
The Phillies began to contend in 1974 and ’75, and finally won the National League East in 1976 led by Cash and his “Yes We Can” spirit. They were swept out of the NLCS that year by Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, and the rest of the legendary ‘Big Red Machine‘ team that would take back-to-back World Series crowns in 1975-76. But the Phils were clearly a team coming on strong.
In both the 1977 and 1978 seasons, the Phillies would again win the NL East crown. In both seasons, the club first set and then tied a new franchise record by winning 101 games. In both seasons, the club would advance to the NLCS as favorites to defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers. And as any true Phillies fan already knows, in both seasons the team would lose disappointing four game series to those Dodgers.
The 1977 NLCS loss might be the most painful playoff series defeat in team history. The Phillies and Dodgers had split the first two games in LA, and the Phils would now have home field advantage for the next two games. Game Three was pivotal, since the Phils were scheduled to throw their future Hall of Fame ace lefty Carlton the following day. A win would put the Phillies up 2-1, with ‘Lefty’ set to clinch the series.
That third game, which would turn out to be one of the craziest in baseball history, began on a beautiful afternoon in South Philly. Everything appeared to be going the Phillies way. A raucous Veteran’s Stadium crowd would unnerve Dodgers’ starter Burt Hooton, driving him from the mound in the 2nd inning.
The Phillies scored twice in the bottom of the 8th as the crowd went delirious, and headed into the 9th inning with a 5-3 lead. As reliever Gene Garber quickly and easily recorded the first two outs, the celebration was already beginning in the stands. Garber got ahead of light-hitting pinch-hitter Vic Davalillo by 0-1. And then it happened.
What “happened” next was what turned this game from a big NLCS win into perhaps the most widely remembered single defeat in Phillies history, a game that has become known as “Black Friday” in team lore. Davalillo began it by laying down a perfectly placed drag bunt for a two-out single.
Still, the Phils were in the driver’s seat, and Garber got ahead of yet another pinch-hitter, 39-year old Manny Mota, with an 0-2 count. Mota then drove a fly ball towards the left field wall. It didn’t appear to have enough for a game-tying home run, and as it turned out, it didn’t.
Left fielder Luzinski, who inexplicably was not lifted by manager Danny Ozark in favor of the far-superior defensive player Jerry Martin, which was usual in such a situation, drifted back to the wall. For a moment, ‘The Bull’ appeared to snare the final out as he reached the fence. However, the ball clanged out of his glove, and bounced off the wall as Davalillo scored.
Luzinski fired the ball back towards 2nd base in an attempt to nail Mota, but his throw skipped away wildly, allowing the aging Dodger to move on to 3rd base as the tying run. Still, through this insanity, the Phillies had a one-run lead with two outs.
Dodgers 2nd baseman Davey Lopes then stepped in, and rifled a hot-shot smash at Phillies’ 3rd baseman Schmidt. The ball caromed off Schmidt’s knee, popped into the air, and came down right in shortstop Bowa’s hand. Bowa gunned a throw to 1st baseman Richie Hebner for what appeared to be, what replays have shown to be, the final out.
However, these were days long before instant replay in the game, and 1st base umpire Bruce Froemming ruled Lopes safe on the bang-bang play as Mota scored the tying run. Garber then tried a pick-off, but threw wildly, allowing the speedy Lopes to advance into scoring position. Bill Russell then singled, scoring Lopes, and the Dodgers had the 6-5 lead.
That’s far too much rehashing of one non-World Series game, one inning, one-third of an inning, truth be told. But it demonstrates perfectly the frustrations that both the Phillies and the Royals had experienced from the mid-through late 1970’s. Both clubs would enter the 1979 season as favorites to again win their respective divisions, but things would not go according to plan for either.
Prior to that 1979 season, the Phillies brain trust decided that what they really needed was an experienced winner to help get the nucleus over that postseason hump. Owner Ruly Carpenter authorized the free agency signing of the living legend Rose to take over 1st base and provide the perfect final piece.
The 1979 Phillies bolted out of the gates like gangbusters, and following a legendary 23-22 victory at Wrigley Field over the Chicago Cubs on May 17th, the club had a 24-10 record and led the NL East by 3.5 games. The Royals struggled early in the season, but by late June had captured the lead in the AL West.
However, the 1979 season would end in even more disappointment for both teams. The Phillies would be derailed by pitching injuries and inconsistency, collapsing to a 4th place finish that would cost Ozark his job.
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The team management decided to bring in Green as the new skipper to make an evaluation of who would stay and who would go in the coming off-season. Meanwhile, the Royals battled to the end, but finished 3 games behind the Anaheim Angels in the division race.
So as the 1980 season opened, there were tremendous questions to be answered by both clubs. Many thought that time was passing both by, that each had missed out on their best opportunities. Both teams had much to prove that year, and both would demonstrate their toughness, showing that neither was finished.
The Royals started slow again, but grabbed the AL West lead by late May and never gave it up again, rolling up a 20-game lead at one point in the summer and finishing on top by 14 games.
The Phillies, on the other hand, had to fight the whole way. They were in 3rd place for much of the summer, and seemed to be falling out of the race when a stretch of five losses in six August games left them 6 games behind in the NL East race. But the club never quit, and fought to a 23-11 finish, including five straight wins in the season’s dramatic final week.
The NL East came down to a showdown with the upstart Montreal Expos on the final weekend of the season. With the two clubs tied, the Phils took a key Friday night battle by a 2-1 score to take the lead. On Saturday, they rallied to tie in the 9th and send the game into extra innings. There in the top of the 11th, Schmidt blasted a dramatic home run that would prove to be the division winning blow.
It would take a series of articles to go over all the drama of the subsequent 1980 National League Championship Series between the Phillies and Houston Astros. Suffice it to say that it may be the single most exciting NLCS in baseball history. The Phils took the opener by just 3-1 at The Vet, and the next four games were all decided in extra innings, with the Phillies capturing a dramatic 3-2 series victory.
For their part, the Royals got to exact direct revenge for their 1970’s playoff disappointments. They swept out the Yankees in three straight games, winning by scores of 7-2, 3-2, and finally by 4-2 in the series-clinching victory provided by a home run bombed by Brett into the upper deck at Yankee Stadium.
With the weight of the world off both teams, the two clubs entered the 1980 World Series with the Royals as the favorites. They had run away with their division, and had swept a talented rival in the LCS. The Phillies had to be worn down by their season-long battle and wiped out by an emotional LCS that went the distance.
What the Phillies had in their favor was the home field advantage, which was alternated in those days between the two leagues. It was the NL team turn to host the first two and final two games, so those would take place in front of the Phils’ fans at Veteran’s Stadium, with the middle three taking place at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.
This was the stage as it was set for our Phillies Fall Classics II, the first game of the 1980 World Series between the Kansas City Royals and the Phillies at The Vet.
With a record 65, 791 fans in attendance thanks to extra seating built into what was previously a walk-around area at the top of The Vet’s 700 level, the Phillies sent a rookie to the mound as their starting pitcher.
Bob Walk was 23 years old and had gone 11-7 with an unimposing 4.57 ERA across 27 starts in his freshman campaign. The Phils’ 3rd round pick in the June 1976 MLB Amateur Draft, Walk had risen steadily, climbing a rung at a time through the team’s minor league system in the late 70’s, succeeding at each level.
His final start had come in one of those big wins during the regular season’s final week, a masterful 7.1 inning performance in a key 4-2 victory at The Vet over the Cubs on October 2nd. His postseason inexperience had left him out of the NLCS vs Houston.
But this was the very reason that he was chosen to start here in the World Series opener. Walk was one of the few pitchers on the Phillies staff who was well rested and not drained by that NLCS experience. Still, that two-week layoff had to also be a bit of a concern.
Walk was in no way overpowering on the night for the Phillies. However, he gave them what they needed most – innings. Walk battled through 7 innings in which he tossed 123 pitches. He allowed eight hits, including three home runs, and six earned runs in all. But he kept throwing, showing no fear.
The Royals scored twice in the 2nd and twice in the 3rd for an early 4-0 lead. In the 2nd, Amos Otis drilled a two-run homer off Walk. In the 3rd, it was a two-run blast from Willie Aikens, who would prove a thorn in the Phillies side all series long.
In the bottom of the 4th, the Phils finally broke through with a big rally, scoring five times off Royals’s starter Dennis Leonard to capture the lead. With one out, Bowa singled, stole 2nd, and came home on a double by Boone. Lonnie Smith followed with a single that scored Boone, but was thrown out trying to stretch a double.
With two outs, Leonard still had a 4-2 lead. But he hit Rose with a pitch and walked Schmidt to bring up McBride. The Phillies right fielder then ripped a 3-run homer to deep right field, putting the club on top for the first time.
Walk then began to settle down, retiring nine straight KC hitters and shutting the Royals out into the 8th while the Phils added to their lead with solo runs in both the 4th and 5th innings.
In the bottom of the 4th, Trillo singled with one out. Leonard tried to pick him off, but threw the ball away at first base, allowing Trillo to move to 2nd base, where he would score on an RBI double by Boone. In the bottom of the 5th, the Phils loaded the bases with one out, scoring when a Maddox sacrifice fly brought home Schmidt with a run to make it a 7-4 lead.
A two-run home run by Aikens in the top of the 8th cut the Phillies lead to 7-6, and finally drove Walk out of the game. Tug McGraw came on in relief and recorded a tidy two-inning save, striking out the final two Kansas City batters to end the ball game.
Fireworks went off and the Veteran’s Stadium crowd celebrated as the Phillies congratulated one another on the field for the franchise’ first World Series victory in 65 years. They had a 1-0 lead in the Fall Classic, and were just three wins away from the franchise’ first world championship in it’s then 97-year history.
Those three wins would not come easily. We’ll visit each of them in the coming days as this Phillies Fall Classics series continues, including the next installment, the only Phils’ World Series game that I ever personally attended. That ‘Phillies Fall Classics III’ will be 1980 World Series Game Two.