A dramatic, hard-fought, come-from-behind win on a Sunday in the hostile environs of Royals Stadium had left the 1980 Philadelphia Phillies just one win away from the first championship in franchise history.
The series would now return to South Philly for the final two games, the Phils hoping it would be just one, in front of the roaring, partisan fans at Veteran’s Stadium.
Philadelphia at that time had not actually won a major sports championship in 5 ½ years, since the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers had skated off with their second consecutive Stanley Cup in May of 1975. However, Philly was in the midst of a sports renaissance.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia 76ers, featuring a true living legend in Julius Erving, had also become a perennial contender in recent years. Led by ‘Dr. J’, the Sixers had also come close, losing the NBA Finals earlier that year.
For their part, the long-suffering fans of the city’s pro football team, the Philadelphia Eagles, were enjoying their own emergence as a contender under fiery coach Dick Vermeil. The Birds would eventually fly all the way to the franchise’ first-ever Super Bowl appearance in January.
So on the chilly night of October 21st, 1980 the sports fans of Philadelphia could be forgiven if, for once in the town’s history, they felt on top of the sporting world.
What we were on that night, in actuality, was near the top. Our hockey and basketball teams had come close enough to see the summit, but were unable to reach that ultimate goal of standing on top of the mountain. The Phillies would now take their shot.
For Game Six, manager Dallas Green would get to send the greatest pitcher in the history of the franchise to the mound. “Lefty” Steve Carlton was 35-years old, and was wrapping up a season that would see him take home his 3rd career Cy Young Award. He had battled through 8 tough innings in which he threw an unreal 159 pitches to gain a win in Game Two.
Kansas City skipper Jim Frey would counter with his Game Three starter, Rich Gale. The 26-year old righty had gone 13-9 in the regular season , but had not appeared in the ALCS sweep of the New York Yankees. He lasted just 4.1 innings at Royals Stadium in his earlier appearance, a game that saw KC eventually rally for their first win of this series.
Carlton strode to the mound in the top of the 1st inning, and immediately let the Royals hitters know what they were in for. He struck out both U.L. Washington and Willie Wilson to start it off, and then got star 3rd baseman George Brett to ground weakly to 2nd base.
In the 2nd, a nifty 6-4-3 doubleplay from shortstop Larry Bowa to 2nd baseman Manny Trillo to 1st baseman Pete Rose got Carlton out of a bit of a jam, after he had walked a pair with one out. In the 3rd, Carlton struck out two more, and was cruising.
Gale was able to match Lefty with zeroes over the first two frames. When the Phillies came to bat in the bottom of the 3rd with the game still scoreless, the Vet faithful were still excited and anticipatory, but growing somewhat tense.
Carlton’s battery mate, catcher Bob Boone, led off by drawing a four-pitch walk. Rookie Lonnie Smith then grounded to the right side of the infield. Royals 2nd baseman Frank White fielded the ball, pivoted, and threw to get Boone as the lead runner. But his throw pulled Washington off the bag, and the Phillies had the first two runners aboard.
That brought grizzled veteran Rose to the plate, and the man known as ‘Charlie Hustle’ surprised the Royals with a perfectly placed bunt towards 3rd base. Brett fielded it, but had no play, and the Phillies suddenly had the bases loaded without hitting a ball out of the infield.
Now up to the plate strode the Phillies MVP and future Baseball Hall of Famer, 3rd baseman Mike Schmidt. With the bases loaded, Gale had no choice but to pitch to the dangerous Schmidt and hope for the best.
Coming through in the most clutch moment of his long career, Michael Jack sliced a single to right center, scoring both Boone and Smith. The big 2-run single not only put the Phillies on top by 2-0, but also chased Gura from the game.
Reliever Renie Martin came on and was able to wriggle out of further damage, but his team was now trailing by two runs with Carlton looking strong enough to make that hold up.
In the top of the 4th, Washington led off with a single, bringing Brett to the plate for a showdown of future Baseball Hall of Famers. Carlton won, inducing the Royals’ star to ground to Bowa, who started a 6-3 doubleplay. Over the 5th and 6th, all the Royals bats could muster was a two-out single by catcher John Wathan after Lefty had struck out the first two batters of that 5th inning.
Martin had kept the Phillies bats at bay, retiring six straight into the bottom of the 5th with the Phils still coasting on that 2-0 lead. But Smith doubled to lead it off, went to 3rd on a fly ball, and then Schmidt walked on a full-count pitch
That was all for Martin, and Frey opted to bring in lefty swingman Paul Splittorff to face the lefty swinging Bake McBride. Splittorff would get ‘Shake-N-Bake’ to ground out slowly to short, but ‘Skates’ Smith skated on home with another Phillies run, pushing the lead to 3-0 as the home fans roared.
In the bottom of the 6th, with Splittorff still on the mound, the Phillies bats struck again. Garry Maddox led off with a single, but then Trillo hit into a twin-killing, and it appeared that the Royals were out of trouble. But Bowa drove a double to deep left, and Boone singled to bring him home, giving the Phils a 4-0 lead.
Carlton allowed a leadoff single to Brett in the top of the 7th, but kept KC off the scoreboard again, and the game moved into the 8th inning with the Phillies holding a 4-0 lead, their ace on the mound.
Now just six outs from a world title, the excitement level among Phils fans was growing with each pitch. But as with most things involving this battle-hardened team over the last month, these final two innings would not pass quickly or easily.
Wathan led off the top of the 8th by drawing a walk, and former Phillie Jose Cardenal slapped a base hit to left field. Having thrown 110 pitches on the night just six days after making 159, Green felt that Lefty had given enough. Carlton was done after 7 official innings, having allowed just 4 hits, striking out 7 and walking 3 batters.
If there was any thought that anyone was coming in to this game now other than Tug McGraw, then whomever had such a thought simply had not been paying attention to Phillies baseball over this last month.
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The Tugger confidently strode to the mound, though he was admittedly wearing out, the zip on his fastball almost completely gone. However, his assortment of ‘cutters’, the cut fastballs that were his signature pitch, were usually allowing him to remain successful. As a young man, McGraw had been part of the ‘Miracle Mets’ championship team in 1969. Now he would try to finish this one off as a veteran closer.
He began by getting White to pop out in foul territory on just his 2nd pitch, but then walked Wilson, and now the Royals had the bases loaded with one out. Washington sent a sacrifice fly to center, putting the Royals on the board. But now there were two outs, and the Phillies still led 4-1.
With runners at first and second, up strode Brett as the tying run. One of the top hitters in the history of the game grounded a single to reload the bases. Still, under the circumstances, it was a mild setback. McGraw then got the always dangerous Hal McRae to ground softly to Trillo, and the threat had passed with minimal damage.
The Phils got nothing off Royals’ closer Dan Quisenberry in the home 8th, and so Game Six of the 1980 World Series, our TBOH Phillies Fall Classics V, moved into the top of the 9th inning.
Things began calmly enough, with McGraw striking out Amos Otis on a 2-2 pitch to lead things off. But Willie Aikens walked, and he was replaced by speedy pinch-runner Onix Concepcion. When Wathan and Cardenal each followed with singles, the Royals suddenly had the bases loaded.
McGraw had to bear down. The tying run was now at 1st base, the go-ahead run would come to the plate, possibly twice. First up with a shot was Kansas City’s steady 2nd baseman White, to be followed by the similarly tough and speedy center fielder Wilson.
On the first pitch, White popped a ball into foul territory near the Phillies dugout. Boone tossed off his mask and went in pursuit, reaching up as the ball came down, and appearing set to make it two outs. But the ball somehow popped out of Boone’s glove. Just before it fell to the ground, giving White new life, Rose, who had raced over as well, snatched it out of the air for that precious 2nd out of the inning.
Now there were two outs, but the bags were still loaded. The threat to the Phillies 3-run lead was still very real, especially with Brett now just two batters away. McGraw battled ahead of Wilson to a 1-2 count. The crowd of 65,838 was on its feet, roaring with every pitch.
The Tugger breathed deep, set, and delivered a fastball right down the middle. Wilson swung mightily, but it was passed him. Strike three. The Philadelphia Phillies were the world champions of baseball. McGraw thrust his arms into the air. Boone, his knees completely shot, was unable to rush the mound, but simply raised his as well and walked towards his closer.
In a predetermined move, McGraw instead turned towards 3rd base, and was met by the charging Schmidt, who leapt into his arms. Schmidt, who would be named the World Series MVP, had driven to the park with McGraw that day, and had told the closer to look for him if just such a situation should arise.
For the first time in the 98-season history of the franchise, the Phillies and their fans were enjoying a World Series championship. As fireworks filled the chilly skies above The Vet, the crowd remained to cheer their heroes, and the party would go on long into the night on the streets of Philadelphia.
For the crew that had come up through the organization together, fighting through the lean years of the early mid-1970’s and the tough losses in the ’76-’78 NLCS it had to be especially gratifying. Schmidt, Bowa, Boone, Greg Luzinski and Dick Ruthven. And of course, for owner Ruly Carpenter, GM Paul Owens, and for Green.
That Phillies nucleus would never take the field again together. By the time the team returned to the World Series just three years later, there would be new ownership, new management, half the infield and two-thirds of the outfield would be gone, and the pitching staff would have many changes. We’ll talk about that team when our series resumes with Phillies Fall Classics VI: Game One of the 1983 World Series.