A big 3rd inning explosion and Tug McGraw bullpen heroics gave the Philadelphia Phillies a 7-6 victory in Game One of the 1980 World Series at Veteran’s Stadium the previous night, setting the stage for Game Two on Wednesday night, October 15th, 1980.
This was a big night for me personally, as it was and remains still the only World Series game that I have ever personally attended. I was 18 years old, working for a year at First Pennsylvania Bank as a low-paid, low-level clerk. I didn’t make a lot of money, and frankly saw an opportunity to make some quick cash.
The Phillies had added a new tier of seating for this World Series, bleacher style seating in what had previously been a walkway at the very top of the 700 level at The Vet, ringing the entire stadium.
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The weekend before that Fall Classic began, you were able to purchase tickets at the stadium box office. I took a wad of money that I didn’t really have, and on a prayer and the hope that I could sell the tickets for a profit, went down to stand in line.
Tickets that were available by the time my turn came were for that upper level at $15 per ticket. There was a maximum available per person of eight tickets per game. I purchased eight for Game Two, shelling out the $120 from my wallet.
Based on today’s ticket prices, that might sound like a bargain to you. But remember, these were 1980 dollars, and I didn’t have $120 of them to spare. However, the Phils were in the World Series for the first time since 1950, the 2nd time ever, and the 1st time in my lifetime. The team had the town wildly excited.
I believed that I could sell the tickets for a profit, but had no clue for how much. The very first day that I walked in to work and let it be known that I had them, one of the more well-off members of my department offered to buy a pair for $50 each. Sold! Later that same day, I sold another pair for another $50 each.
Four tickets sold in a matter of hours, and $200 returned on my original $120 investment. The next day, which was the day before the game, I unloaded two more for $25 each. With a $130 profit, more than what I paid for the eight tickets, I was now going to use the final two for myself.
At the last minute, my original game partner was unable to go, due to a work scheduling conflict. In those days before cellphones and pagers and social media, I got on the telephone and dialed around, looking for someone to go with me. Finally, by a twist of fate, my Uncle Frank LoBiondo, husband to my father’s sister, would prove the lucky recipient.
We headed up to the game on the 79 bus, a trackless trolley, along Oregon Avenue in South Philly, then took the Broad Street Subway across to The Vet. It was a wonderful atmosphere, with the Phillies in the World Series, and the stadium was dressed up and rocking. In just its 10th season of existence, The Vet was still a wonderful place to watch a baseball game in those days.
That was my personal setting for the dramatic events that were about to unfold before us, as Uncle Frank and I looked down from our nosebleed seats directly above home plate.
The game began as a pitcher’s duel between a pair of strong, experienced lefties. For the Royals it was 32-year old, 11-year veteran Larry Gura, and the Phillies’ were going with a future Hall of Famer, Steve Carlton, who was then 35 years old and pitching in his 16th MLB season.
Gura and Carlton set down the opposition for the first 4 1/2 innings, and the game remained scoreless as the Phillies came to bat in the home 5th. In fact, Gura had a perfect game brewing. When he got Phils’ star 3rd baseman Mike Schmidt to leadoff by grounding out, it was his 13th consecutive batter retired.
But the Phils’ bats finally began to get to him. Rookie Keith Moreland started it off, finally breaking up the perfecto with a clean ground single past KC shortstop U.L. Washington. Garry Maddox then drilled a ball deep into the left field corner, holding with a double as the slow-footed Moreland got around to 3rd base.
Manny Trillo, the Most Valuable Player of the dramatic NLCS victory over Houston, then delivered a sacrifice fly to score Moreland, and the Phillies had a 1-0 lead. Larry Bowa then followed with a line single to left, and it was a 2-0 lead. The crowd was roaring, and everyone felt the confidence now with Carlton being given a two-run lead with which to pitch.
However, “Lefty” wouldn’t hold that lead for long. In the top of the 6th, Amos Otis led off with a single and John Wathan walked, putting two aboard with nobody out. Willie Aikens then grounded a ball to the Phillies’ usually sure-handed 2nd baseman Manny Trillo. But on this one, Trillo threw the ball away at 1st base, allowing Otis to score to cut the lead to 2-1.
In trouble now, Carlton bore down like the 3-time Cy Young Award winner that he was about to become. He struck out former Phillie Jose Cardenal, and then induced Frank White to ground into an inning-ending 6-4-3 doubleplay.
But trouble would return for Carlton in the top of the 7th, this time of his own doing. He walked Willie Wilson to lead off the inning, Washington bunted him over to 2nd, and the speedy Wilson then took off and stole 3rd base, putting the tying run just 90 feet away with one out.
That brought to the plate what would normally have been future Hall of Famer George Brett‘s spot in the order. The Royals 3rd baseman was already 2-2 with a walk in the game. However, Brett had to be removed, suffering from a severe bout with hemorrhoids that would plague him the entire series.
In his place, Dave Chalk worked another walk off Carlton. When veteran DH and cleanup hitter Hal McRae stepped in, Chalk took off and stole 2nd base. With runners and 2nd and 3rd and one out, McRae then walked on a 3-2 pitch, Carlton’s 3rd free pass of the frame.
The Phillies still led by 2-1, but the Royals had the bases loaded and just one out. The veteran Otis stepped up and delivered, ripping a 2-run double down the left field line to score both Wilson and Chalk, giving the Royals a 3-2 lead.
Wathan then delivered a sac fly to score McRae, and the Kansas City lead was up to 4-2. Carlton then got out of the inning on the same play, as Otis was thrown out on an 8-3-5 tootblan.
Royals’ manager Jim Frey then decided that he wasn’t going to waste this newfound momentum, and brought his submarining right-handed closer Dan Quisenberry into the game in the bottom of the 7th inning. Quisenberry made him look like a genius for the moment, setting the Phils down in order and sending the game to the 8th with the Royals still up by 4-2.
Carlton was still in for the Phillies, and despite allowing a pair of 2-out singles, the big lefty got out of the inning without damage, striking out a pair of Royals hitters to raise his total to 10 K’s on the night. So the Phillies would come to bat in the bottom of the 8th trailing by two runs.
Quisenberry was back out on the mound for KC in that bottom of the 8th, and he returned Carlton’s favors by committing the baseball cardinal sin of walking the leadoff man, Bob Boone. Now Phillies manager Dallas Green made a move, sending up pinch-hitter extraordinaire Del Unser to bat for rookie Lonnie Smith.
Unser made his skipper look like a genius, lining a double into the left center gap that rolled to the wall, allowing the slow-footed Boone to score all the way from first. Pete Rose followed by grounding weakly to 1st base, but it allowed Unser to move over to 3rd, where he stood just 90 feet away from tying the game.
The other 65,773 fans in the record crowd who had joined Uncle Frank and I would not long forget what happened next. First, Bake McBride drilled a single to right, scoring Unser to tied the game at 4-4.
Then up stepped Mike Schmidt, the Phillies’ own future Hall of Fame 3rd baseman. Schmidt crushed a double and McBride charged around 3rd, sliding in just ahead of the throw as the go-ahead run. Schmidt rolled on to 3rd base on the play. When Moreland followed with a clean base hit to center, Schmidt scored with the run that put the Phillies up by 6-4.
Carlton would not come out to try to protect the lead in the 9th inning. He had thrown 159 pitches already. Let that sink in for a minute. Green also did not have closer McGraw, who had thrown 27 pitches in registering his 3rd Save of the postseason the previous night, available to him.
So Green considered his options, and chose to bring in 37-year old, 15-year veteran righthander Ron Reed to try to close this one out. Reed allowed a one-out single to McRae, but then after registering the 2nd out, he faced Wathan as the tying run. Reed struck Wathan out on a 2-2 pitch, setting off a wild celebration in the stands, including Uncle Frank and I exchanging high fives with one another and every fan in slapping distance.
The Phillies had a 2-0 lead in the 1980 World Series. That meant at the very least that they would return home to The Vet, even if the Royals somehow managed to sweep the three games that would now take place out in Kansas City.
That very nearly did happen, but as the next chapter in this Phillies Fall Classics series will show, the Fightin’ Phils would indeed find a way to win one game on the road, coming home less than a week from this very night with a chance to win the first World Series championship in franchise history.