Friday night’s game isn’t the first time the Phillies have faced an all or nothing Game 5. It’s happened twice before, in back to back years. The 1981 Game 5 provided little drama (The Phillies lost to the Expos 3-0 in a strange NLDS Game 5, thanks to the strike that year.) But by far the most memorable Game 5 came at the end of what was, to the casual baseball observer, the most exciting postseason series the Phillies have ever been involved in. By far. Yeah, Phillies fans might prefer the 1980 World Series or the 2008 World Series, but to the true baseball connoisseur neither of those were half as exciting as the 1980 NLCS between the Phillies and the Astros.
After Steve Carlton won the first game, 3-1, the next three games all went into extra innings, including a Game 3 in which Astros starter Joe Niekro threw 10 shutout innings and still couldn’t get the win (The Astros won 1-0 in 11.) That win gave the Astros a 2-1 series lead.
In Game 4, the ‘Stros were up 2-0 with a mere 6 outs separating them from their first ever Series. The Astrodome was electric. But the Phillies big stars Schmidt and Rose came up with huge hits in the 8th, tying the game at 2. Then Manny Trillo, a Philadelphia legend and eventual MVP of the NLCS, hit a sac fly to give the Phils a 3-2 lead. But the Astros scored in the bottom of the 9th to tie it at 3. In the top of the 10th, back to back doubles by Luzinski and Trillo gave the Phils a 5-3 lead they would not relinquish, setting up a Game 5 that somehow was even more exciting than the previous 3 extra inning games. In fact, MLB Network ranked it as the 18th greatest MLB game of all time.
We tend to view history as an inevitability, but it’s a lot more fun when you try to put yourself in the shoes of the people who experienced it. Matt Stairs home run is not as exciting if we don’t remember the despair we were feeling just a few innings earlier, as a listless Phils team looked a lot like, well, the Phillies team we’ve seen in this years postseason thus far. Such was the case in Game 5 in 1980, as the Phils were down 5-2 with but 6 outs remaining, and pitching legend Nolan Ryan was on the mound. Things could not have looked more bleak. And remember, this was at a time when the Phillies had never won anything, and their fans were still feeling the painful effects of Black Friday. Surely, everyone in Philadelphia was already crying in their beer about another postseason gone down the drain.
But suddenly, they came to life. Three straight singles, followed by a Rose walk, and they had chased Nolan Ryan out of the game. Another run scored. Then with 2 outs pinch hitter Del Unser came in and hit a clutch single. And finally, the immortal Manny Trillo hit a triple, completeing the 5 run inning that saw the Phillies take a 5-2 deficit and turn it into a 7-5 lead. Once again, the Astros weren’t done. In the bottom of the 8th, they scored 2, and the game went into extra innings tied at 7. Del Unser hit a double in the 10th, then Gary Maddox brought him home with another double, and the Phils took an 8-7 lead. The Astros had no answer. Dick Ruthven shut the door on the Astros dreams of a World Series, and the Phillies went to their first Series since 1950. I’m not sure my heart can take a game that exciting tonight.
In the first inning of a June 10, 1974 road game in Houston, a 2nd-year Phillies third-baseman hit the longest single in the history of the game.
After a Dave Cash leadoff walk and a Larry Bowa single, Mike Schmidt stepped to the plate to face Houston lefthander Claude Osteen with no outs and runners on first and second. Osteen challenged Schmidt with a fastball and Schmidt absolutely crushed it, sending the ball towering to center field and on its way well over the fence. Even though Astros center-fielder Cesar Cedeno knew the ball was gone, he did the customary trot back to the wall. But, before Schmidt reached first base, something went wrong. That something wrong was caused by a public address speaker suspended from the Astrodome ceiling 329 feet away from the plate and 117 feet in the air. Schmidt’s ball was hit so hard and so high, that it struck the speaker and bounced all the way back to shallow center field. Dave Cash, who was on second base at the time, said “I took one look and knew it was gone. Then I took another look and there it was coming down in front of Cesar Cedeno.” Fully expecting the ball to sail far over the fence, the Phillies base-runners didn’t break very hard and Schmidt was in full-on home run trot mode. When Cedeno collected the ball, Cash was on third, Bowa on second, and Schmidt, perplexed, was standing on first.
Also confused was the Astros play-by-play announcer: listen to the call here.
It was the first ball in Astrodome history that struck a speaker, but ground rules were in place for such a contingency. The rule related to the speakers is that as fixed objects in fair territory, they are in play. Therefore, on one hand, Cash, Bowa and Schmidt could have advanced if the ball careened far enough away from Cedeno. And on the other hand, if Cedeno got under the ball and caught it, it would have been ruled a fly out.
By all accounts, had Schmidt’s blast not struck the speaker, it would have traveled somewhere between 500 and 600 feet. Those who witnessed the shot said that the ball was still rising as it hit the speaker. Astros manager Preston Gomez called it “the hardest hit ball [he'd] ever seen at the Astrodome.” Cesar Cedeno said he “never saw a ball hit that far in his life.” Michael Jack was left wondering: “I would have liked to see where it would have landed.” I’m pretty sure June 10, 1974 was the only time things like that were said of a single.