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Phillies outlasted pesky Astros in 1980 to win first pennant in 30 years

By Dan Holmes    July 24, 2012

NLCS Game Five, October 12, 1980 | Philadelphia Phillies vs. Houston Astros at Astrodome in Houston

In the 1980 NL Playoffs, the Houston Astros continued their season of tight games and near misses by playing four extra-inning games in a classic playoff series against the favored Philadelphia Phillies. The Astros scored twice in the bottom of the eighth inning to knot Game Five 7-7. However, in the tenth inning Philadelphia’s bearded wonder Garry Maddox doubled in the go-ahead run and the Phillies held of the ‘Stros in the bottom of the frame to win their first pennant in 30 seasons.

The Astros were playing their first post-season series in franchise history, after nearly 20 years of frustration and futility. In their brightly colored uniforms which made them look more like candy corn than ballplayers, the Astros fought their way to the NL West title by defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in a one-game playoff on the Monday following the end of the regular season.  The Dodgers had swept three games at Chavez Ravine to tie Houston atop the standings. But in the one-game playoff, Joe Niekro shut down LA on six hits and Art Howe drove in four runs in Houston’s 7-1 win. As a result, the Astros earned the right to face the Phillies in the NLCS.

Steve Carlton pitched the Phils to a 3-1 win in the opener at the Vet in Philly, but Game Two was a back-and-forth affair. Nolan Ryan kept the Astros in the game and Houston pushed across four runs in the 10th to knot the series. Game Three at the Astrodome was a scoreless duel until the 11th when Joe Morgan tripled and the winning run scored three batters later on a sac fly. The Astros lost Game Four in extra-innings after having tied it in the bottom of the ninth in dramatic fashion. That set up the fifth and deciding game, played under the Dome.

Ryan was again on the mound for the Astros, and he had a 5-2 lead when he toed the rubber for the 8th inning just six outs away from sending Houston to their first World Series. But The Express ran out of fuel. The Phils started their 8th with singles by Larry Bowa and Bob Boone, then Greg Gross bunted toward third and beat out the well-placed hit for another single. The bases were now loaded, setting up a clasic match-up between Ryan and Pete Rose. In his second season with Philadelphia after a superstar career with the Cincinnati Reds, Rose was the catalyst that the team felt could take them to the elusive World Series, a spot they had failed to reach three times in the mid-1970s when they were bounced from the playoffs. Against Ryan, the patient Rose drew a walk that forced in Bowa from third. The score was now 5-3 and Ryan was replaced with reliever Joe Sambito.

After getting a force out and a strikeout of Mike Schmidt, the righty reliever seemed poised to escape the jam with a lead, but pinch-hitter Del Unser delivered a single to tie the game and then Manny Trillo ripped a triple down the left field line that scored two more. The Phils had built a 7-5 lead and the Houston crowd was silenced.

But Houston still had some magic left in their wands.

In their half of the 8th, the Astros got to relief ace Tug McGraw, using four singles to score two runs, the tying run coming on a hit by Jose Cruz. Neither team could score in the 9th, which set up the dramatic 10th where Unser again delivered, doubling. He scored on Maddux’s hit and the Phillies celebrated after Ruthven got three outs in the bottom of the 10th. The four-extra-inning games in one playoff series remains a post-season record that has been unsurpassed.

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About the Author

Dan Holmes is an author and baseball historian. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and Major League Baseball. He once defeated George Brett in Texas Hold Em poker and faced Phil Niekro's knuckleball. He has two daughters and he writes regularly about baseball and many other topics.

3 thoughts on “Phillies outlasted pesky Astros in 1980 to win first pennant in 30 years

  1. Well you don’t have your facts straight. Dick Ruthven pitched the 10th inning and was the winning pitcher of record for game 5 NOT TUG MCGRAW.

  2. Sambito was a lefty. And a damn good one.
    I wonder if the Astros would have triumphed if Cesar Cedeno had not been injured. Terry Puhl starred, and adding Cedeno’s bat may have been the difference.
    Ryan folded in the clutch, which he did again in the 1986 NLCS. He was never a great big-game pitcher.
    That was a classic series.

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