Beat L.A.: 1977 National League Championship

In back-to-back post-seasons, the Phillies and Dodgers met in the National League Championship Series. The first of those meetings came in 1977 as the Phillies looked for their first World Series appearance in 27 years.

In 1976, the Phillies had returned to the post-season for the first time since the Whiz Kids of 1950. While they came in thinking that they were bound for a trip to the World Series, the Cincinnati Reds put an end to that way of thinking.

The following season, the Phillies returned to the post-season against the Los Angeles Dodgers and again thought that they were destined for greater things. After all, there had been arguments about whether the 1977 club was the greatest in the history of the franchise and there were even some that wanted to put them in the company of the greatest teams of all-time.

The pitching featured Steve Carlton, who won 23 games and would go on to win the Cy Young Award. Plus, Larry Christenson, possibly one of the most overlooked members of that club, won 19 games. The bullpen featured Tug McGraw, Ron Reed and Gene Garber and fans saw no way that the '77 Phillies weren't going to down the Dodgers.

Offensively, nobody figured that the Dodgers pitching would be able to stop the likes of Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, Larry Bowa and even Bob Boone, who had a career-year at the plate.

With the series starting in Los Angeles, the Phillies hoped for at least a split.

Game One saw the Phillies take a 5-1 lead and with Carlton on the mound, fans were ready to put it in the win column. Dodgers third baseman Ron Cey had other ideas though when he tied the game with a seventh inning grand slam off of Carlton. While Carlton may have worn down, the Phillies offense didn't and Bake McBride, Larry Bowa and Mike Schmidt led the charge for a two-run ninth inning rally and McGraw added a perfect ninth to preserve the 7-5 win in the series opener.

In Game Two, the Phillies took an early lead on a solo home run from McBride, but quickly let the Dodgers tie the game in the bottom of the inning and then put the game out of reach with a four-run inning off starter Jim Lonborg. The Dodgers rally was capped by yet another grand slam home run, this time off the bat of Dusty Baker. The Dodgers went on for a 7-1 win and a split of the first two games of the series.

With the series even, the Phillies felt that they were convincingly in the driver's seat since they had won 60 home games during the season, to easily lead all of baseball. Plus, they had Christenson on the mound for Game Three, so things were looking good.

A second inning rally by the Dodgers gave them an early, but short-lived 2-0 lead as the Phillies would storm back for three runs of their own in the bottom of the inning. This rally was led primarily by the Veterans Stadium crowd, who literally hooted at Dodgers starter Burt Hooton, who was already upset at some of the calls by home plate umpire Harry Wendelstedt, and caused Hooton to completely lose his composure. A walk to Ted Sizemore loaded the bases and Hooton then walked Christenson, McBride and Bowa, walking four in a row and giving the Phillies a 3-2 lead. Hooton wouldn't make it out of the inning, giving way to Rick Rhoden. The Dodgers later tied the game, only to see the Phillies bullpen shut them down from there and the Phillies offense score two eighth inning runs to take a 5-3 lead into the ninth.

The Phillies had split their closing duties between Gene Garber (19 saves) and Ron Reed (15 saves) and with Reed having pitched earlier in the game, manager Danny Ozark sent Garber out to pitch the ninth. In what was a different era of baseball, Garber had already pitched two innings, just as Reed had done earlier in the game. Perhaps the more curious move - or non-move - by Ozark was leaving the defensively weak Greg Luzinski in to play left field. Throughout the season, Jerry Martin had been the late inning defensive replacement in left, but Ozark was concerned that the Dodgers might tie the game and he would need Luzinski's bat in the lineup. With this being a key game in the series, Ozark sided with going for potential offense and it came back to haunt the Phillies.

With a runner on first, pinch-hitter Manny Mota lofted a fly ball to left. The ball seemed to hang in the air for ever as Luzinski moved back to the fence and got the top of his glove on the ball, but nothing more. Luzinski actually made a good play on the ball and got it in to second baseman Ted Sizemore for a close play at second, but Sizemore let the ball skip by him, allowing Mota to head for third.

Davey Lopes, now the Phillies first base coach, smashed a ground ball at Schmidt and the normally sure-handed third baseman couldn't make a play. The ball bounded right to an alert Bowa at short, who fired to first only to have Lopes called safe by umpire Bruce Froemming. Ozark, along with most of the Phillies infield, argued the call, but to no avail and the tie that Ozark had been concerned about came to be. That play is one that has continued to be argued over the years and Bowa has said that every time he has seen either Froemming or Lopes over the years, he has been sure to point out that Lopes was out. To compound the situation, Garber attempted to pick-off Lopes and threw the ball away, allowing Lopes to move into scoring position. Bill Russell followed with a ground ball up the middle and the Dodgers had a 6-5 lead.

Reliever Mike Garman put down the Phillies in the ninth and the Dodgers suddenly led the series two-to-one and had regained home field advantage.

Game Three - played on October 7, 1977 - is known as "Black Friday" in Philadelphia, because of just how pivotal it would turn out to be for the '77 Phillies.

While their spirits were bruised, the Phillies knew that they had Carlton going in Game Four and they were ready to put themselves back in the series.

Game Four should have been postponed. Torrential rains came down throughout the game, but the umpires and even National League president Chub Feeney, declined to stop the proceedings. It's been reported that network television also played a role in the decision, since they didn't want a postponement of a key nationally televised game.

The Phillies managed just one run off Tommy John, who threw a complete game against the Phillies, to avenge his Game One loss. Carlton would last just five innings and give up four runs as the Dodgers beat him 4-1 to win the best-of-five game series in four games.

The Dodgers went on to play the New York Yankees in the World Series, falling four-games-to-two. The Phillies would look toward 1978 as they hoped for a long-awaited return to the World Series.



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