We Feel Your Pain

The games were eerily similar. They were five outs away from a trip to the World Series, and held a three-run lead. The ace of the staff was still on the mound, pitching a gem that day. Then the bottom fell out. To our friends in Chicago and in Boston – been there, done that – we feel your pain.

For the Chicago Cubs, game six of the National League Championship Series, was going swimmingly until shortstop Alex Gonzalez booted a double play ball, opening the floodgates for an 8-run Marlins eighth. For the Boston Red Sox, Grady Little stuck with his ace, Pedro Martinez, through 120 pitches. Jorge Posada, a target of Martinez' in game three, promptly ended his night with a bloop double to center to tie the game. Both situations brought to mind the long curses on both teams. But those games paled in comparison to what Phillies fans experienced on October 7th, 1977. Otherwise known in Phillies history as "Black Friday".

That game against the Dodgers started out well. Los Angeles starter Burt Hooton was uncharacteristically wild that day, walking four batters in an inning and two-thirds. When the sellout crowd at the Vet caught on, the noise generated from the seats was enough to drive the perpetually miserable Hooton from the game. But the baseball gods were not on the Phillies' side that day. In the second inning, Steve Garvey rounded third on a double by Dusty Baker and made his way to the plate; Phillies catcher Bob Boone had the ball in plenty of time, blocked the plate beautifully, and tagged Garvey. Plate Umpire Harry Wendelstedt called Garvey safe, though, and Garvey, to this day, still has not touched the plate.

The Phillies broke open a 3-3 game with 2 runs in the eighth to build a 5-3 lead going into the ninth, and had relief ace Gene Garber on the mound. Garber, in 1977, had 8 wins, 19 saves, and a 2.35 ERA for the Phils, and was part of a bullpen that included Ron Reed (7 wins, 15 saves) and Tug McGraw (7 wins, 9 saves). Garber got the first two outs, and the Phils were on their way to the World Series. Ageless Vic Davalillo beat out a bunt to keep the inning alive, then the equally ageless Manny Mota hit a fly to deep left that defensive replacement Jerry Martin should have had easily, except for one thing; Martin wasn't in the game. Manager Danny Ozark inexplicably left the plodding Greg Luzinski in the game, and "The Bull" promptly fumbled Mota's fly ball, and then trapped it against the fence. Davalillo scored, and Mota ended up on third base after the throw got by Ted Sizemore at second.

With two outs, a 5-4 lead, and a runner on third, Garber got leadoff hitter Davey Lopes to hit a ball to Mike Schmidt for what should have been the final out. The ball hit a seam in the hard Vet Stadium turf, went off Schmidt's knee, and caromed to Larry Bowa, who made possibly the single greatest fielding play by a shortstop - bare-handing the ball and throwing in the same motion to first base to get Lopes by a half-step. But that's not the way first base umpire Bruce Froemming saw it, and called Lopes safe; Mota scored, and the game was tied. Garber then had Lopes picked off first, but threw wildly past Rich Hebner, and Lopes went to second, where he eventually scored on a single by Bill Russell to give the Dodgers a 6-5 lead.

The Phils went down meekly in the ninth, then proceeded to lose game five to Tommy John in a driving rain, and the World Series dream was over. It would be three more years before the World Series came to Philly, and six more years before exacting revenge on the Dodgers in the NLCS.

The "curse" of 1964 was only 13 years old in 1977, not 58 years for Cub fans or 85 years Red Sox fans, but as I watched the Cubs and Red Sox lose their leads this week, I thought back to "Black Friday". The pain I felt that day was probably as stifling as the pain Chicago and Boston fans are feeling this week. 1980 got rid of that pain for me, but when will the pain go away for Cub or Sox fans?

Thanks to www.BaseballLibrary.com and www.Retrosheet.com for statistical and historical help with this column.


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