The 1980 postseason was one of the most thrilling in years, thanks in large part to the new kids on the block: the pesky Houston Astros, making their first foray into playoff baseball.
After nearly two decades 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 victory.
In the National League Playoffs, the Astros continued their tightrope walking by playing four extra-inning contests in a classic playoff series against the favored Phillies.
Game Five, the winner-take-all match, was a thriller. The Astros scored twice in the bottom of the eighth inning to knot the score, 7-7. The game dragged into extra innings at the “eighth wonder of the world,” Houston’s famed Astrodome.
However, in the tenth inning Philadelphia’s bearded wonder Garry Maddox doubled in the go-ahead run and the Phillies held of the Astros in the bottom of the frame to win their first pennant in 30 seasons.
1980 NL Playoff Summary
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 between Houston and Philadelphia. Nolan Ryan kept the Astros in the game and Houston pushed across four runs in the 10th to earn the win and 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 roof in Texas.
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 classic 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 lead was trimmed to two, and Ryan was replaced by reliever Joe Sambito.
After getting a force out and a strikeout of Mike Schmidt, the southpaw Sambito seemed poised to escape the jam with a lead, but pinch-hitter Del Unser delivered a single to tie the game. Light-hitting Manny Trillo followed with a triple down the left field line that scored two more. The Phillies 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 postseason record for one series that has never been surpassed. The Astros came out on the wrong end of it in the 1980 NL Playoffs, but they were one of the most exciting teams in franchise history.