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The Greatest World Series Game Ever Played
By 1975, the Cincinnati Reds organization was starting to feel the pressure of unmet expectations. Yes, the Big Red Machine had averaged almost 95 wins over a five-year stretch. Yes, they'd won three National League West division titles and two NL pennants. But they hadn't won it all, and even they were beginning to wonder if they ever would. To add to the pressure, they were picked by The Sporting News to win the 1975 World Series.
Their pitching staff was finally healthy. Gary Nolan (15–5, 1.99 ERA in 1972) had recovered after missing most of two seasons with shoulder problems. Don Gullett, still just 24, was maturing into one of the league's best left-handers. Veterans Jack Billingham, Fred Norman, and Clay Kirby served as a durable back half of the rotation, and a deep bullpen let manager Sparky Anderson earn his "Captain Hook" nickname on an almost daily basis.
The lineup would be largely the same as it had been to close 1974, with young Ken Griffey (who hit .282/.368/.418) in right field, allowing César Gerónimo to move back to his natural center, and Pete Rose in left.
The sole question mark was third base. The Reds hadn't been happy with third baseman Dan Driessen's 24 errors in 122 starts in 1974. General manager Bob Howsam explored trading first baseman Tony Pérez and moving Driessen across the infield, but Howsam wanted a slugging third baseman in return. After a trade for the Yankees' Graig Nettles fell through, the Reds started the season with light-hitting, but slick-fielding John Vukovich at third — Howsam and Anderson figured the Reds had enough offense that they could carry a weak hitter. With every returning starter carrying an OPS better than the league average, they were right. In short, the Reds were loaded.
With all that, they started the season just 12–12, and fell four games behind the Dodgers by May 2. There were good signs — backup outfielder George Foster was murdering the ball in limited duty (.308/.333/.769) — but Vukovich wasn't working out at third.
So Sparky tried one of the gutsiest moves in managerial history. He asked Pete Rose to move from left field to third base, which would solve the Reds' third base problem and get Foster's bat into the everyday lineup. Rose, an aging star battling to stay at the top, agreed.
It was a deal built on years of trust between these two unique, competitive men. "I just want Pete to be adequate," Anderson said at the time. "I don't want him to be spectacular."
With hard work, Rose made himself adequate defensively, but the change made his team spectacular. From Rose's debut at third base until the All-Star break, the Reds went a mind-boggling 49–17, and turned a four-game deficit into a 12.5-game division lead. They ultimately won the NL West by 20 games, and then steamrolled the Pirates in the NL Championship Series, outscoring Pittsburgh 19–7 in a three-game sweep.
The Reds were highly favored over the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, and they grabbed a 3–2 series lead after a Game 5 blowout in Cincinnati, behind Tony Pérez's two home runs. Needing just one more victory, the Reds returned to Boston for Saturday's scheduled Game 6. A seemingly endless rainstorm delayed the game for three days, but finally, the teams took the field at Fenway Park on a soggy Tuesday night.
The Reds started the classic "Big Red Machine" lineup against Boston's Luis Tiant, who was riding an absurd hot streak. Tiant — the "Cuban of a Thousand Windups" — was already 3–0 in the postseason, including wins in Games 1 and 4, and had allowed only one earned run in his last 45 innings pitched at Fenway Park. He'd given up just 20 hits and eight walks over that stretch, while striking out 33. The Fenway stands were filled with "El Tiante" and "Tiant for President" t-shirts and signs. "Loo-eee, Loo-eee" chants echoed throughout the night.
Nolan got the start on the mound for the Reds. Anderson decided to go with his 15-game winner, even though it was Billingham's "turn" to start. The travel day, plus the three-day rain delay, gave Sparky the option of choosing any of his four postseason starters. Billingham wasn't happy with the decision, but he also knew that Sparky planned to go to the bullpen early if Nolan got into trouble.
After quickly retiring Cecil Cooper and Denny Doyle in the bottom of the first, Nolan allowed singles to Carl Yastrzemski and Carlton Fisk. Fred Lynn followed with a long home run to right-center. Boston 3, Cincinnati 0.
It didn't take Sparky long to show the 70 million television viewers just how he'd earned the nickname "Captain Hook." Both Billingham and Fred Norman were warming up in the bullpen in the first inning; Sparky pinch-hit for Nolan the first time his spot came up in the batting order. The Reds eventually used a then-record eight pitchers in the game, saving only Clay Kirby and ace Don Gullett for Game 7.
The Reds offense got rolling in the fifth. With one out, Tiant walked pinch-hitter Ed Armbrister, who had hit only .185 for the 1975 season. Rose was next. After fouling off several pitches with a full count, Rose drilled a single to center, raising his Series average to .381. Armbrister hesitated rounding second, but then raced to third, surprising Lynn, who had trouble getting the ball out of his glove.
Up next, Griffey hit a Tiant off-speed pitch to deep left-center field, 379 feet from home plate. Lynn — who would go on to win the 1975 Rookie of the Year and MVP awards — just missed the catch and crashed back-first into the concrete wall. The Boston center fielder lay in a motionless heap as Armbrister and Rose scored, and Griffey sped around for a triple.
Lynn stayed in the game, but the Boston crowd was silenced. The Reds had cut the lead to one, and had the tying run on third. One out later, Johnny Bench hit Tiant's first pitch — a low fastball — high off the Green Monster in left field. Yastrzemski, in his 15th season as the Red Sox left fielder, played the carom as he had hundreds of times before, holding Bench to a single, but the Reds had tied it up.
Tiant survived a two-on, two-out Reds rally in the sixth, and took the mound again in the seventh. He immediately worked himself into a jam for the third straight inning. Griffey led off with a single, and Joe Morgan followed with one of his own. After Bench flew out, Pérez lofted a fly ball to Dwight Evans in right, allowing Griffey to tag and advance to third.
Up next, Foster fell behind 0–1. With two out, Boston was conceding second base to Morgan, so he was running with the pitch as Foster drove Tiant's slow curveball off the centerfield wall. Both runners scored easily on the double, and the Reds led 5–3. The lead was extended to 6–3 when Gerónimo led off the eighth with a home run — amazingly, Tiant was still in the ball game.
Pedro Borbon, by then in his third inning of relief for the Reds, allowed a leadoff single to Lynn to start the home eighth. After third baseman Rico Petrocelli walked, Sparky made his fifth pitching change of the night, bringing in his relief ace Rawly Eastwick. Eastwick quickly struck out Evans (avenging Evans' homer off Eastwick in Game 3) and got shortstop Rick Burleson to pop out to Foster in left.
The Reds were four outs away from their first World Series title in 35 years. The game and the Series seemed over. Sport magazine's Dick Schaap was distributing World Series MVP ballots in the press box.
Analysis of thousands of games' worth of play-by-play accounts lets us estimate a team's typical chance of victory, given any particular game situation. In the situation the Red Sox found themselves (three runs behind, with two runners on and two outs in the bottom of the eighth), major league teams have won only 9 percent of the time. Long odds.
Boston manager Darrell Johnson called on his top left-handed bat off the bench, Bernie Carbo. Carbo, who won the 1970 Rookie of the Year Award as a member of the Reds, had slugged a pinch-homer in Boston's Game 3 loss. On this night, Eastwick got ahead in the count, then busted Carbo inside with a nasty rising fastball. Carbo barely fouled the pitch off, offering one of the ugliest and most defensive swings in World Series history. As Ron Fimrite described it in Sports Illustrated, Carbo "swung with all the power and grace of a suburbanite raking leaves."
On the very next pitch, however, Eastwick left a mistake fastball out over the plate, and Carbo knocked it 420 feet into the center-field stands, tying the game and rousing a Boston crowd that had been silent since Griffey's double — and Lynn's crash into the wall — in the fifth.
"I remember everything then went blank for me," Morgan wrote in his autobiography. "I came to thinking only that we were tied, that the rug had been pulled out from under us just at the point where we were going to be world champs."
The Reds went down in order in the top of the ninth. Doyle led off the bottom half with a walk. Yastrzemski followed with a single, moving Doyle to third. The winning run was on third, with nobody out. Remember those probability tables we mentioned a couple paragraphs ago? Boston's probability of winning had jumped from 9 percent to 94 percent.
With the game very nearly lost, Sparky called to the bullpen for Will McEnaney, his top lefty. McEnaney walked Fisk intentionally, loading the bases for the left-handed Lynn.
Lynn sliced a fly ball to very shallow left. Foster hustled over to the line and camped under the fly in foul territory next to the Fenway Park stands. Doyle tagged at third and, mistaking third base coach Don Zimmer's "No-No-No!" for "Go-Go-Go!" he broke for the plate. Bench made an athletic play to field Foster's brilliant one-hop throw and tag Doyle to complete the double play. Petrocelli grounded out to third and the game headed to extra innings.
Even as it was being played, Game 6 was recognized as one of the all-time classics. Longtime Reds TV announcer George Grande was working on the Red Sox crew covering the Series, and later said, "Everybody had the feeling that we may be a part of history, that this may be the greatest game ever played, that this may be the greatest moment in baseball, no matter who you're rooting for."
Even the players felt it. When he batted in the 10th, Rose chattered about it to the stoic Fisk: "This is some kind of game, isn't it? I don't think anybody in the world could ask for a better game than this."
Neither team scored in the 10th, but the Reds rallied in the 11th. Dick Drago, in his third inning of relief, hit Rose with a pitch to start the inning. Griffey tried to sacrifice, but Fisk threw to second to force out Rose. Up next, Morgan got the fastball he wanted and blasted it into deep right, toward the three-foot high fence. Evans sprinted to the tricky right-field corner ("Whoa, where does he think he's going?" Morgan thought), and made a leaping, twisting, one-handed catch that robbed Morgan of at least a double, and probably a two-run homer. Unfortunately for the Reds, Griffey was sprinting around the bases, thinking Morgan had hit a double (at least). Halfway between second and third when the catch was made, Griffey was easily doubled off first by the alert Evans.
In the top of the 12th, one-out singles by Pérez and Foster were wasted when 19-game winner Rick Wise retired Concepción and Gerónimo in short order.
Cincinnati's Pat Darcy had pitched a perfect 10th and 11th. Although he had been used primarily as a starter during the 1975 regular season, Darcy had only pitched a handful of innings in the last month. Bench sensed that his pitcher was running out of gas.
"Pat's warming up, and he can barely get it over the plate," Bench said later. "I looked over at Sparky and shook my head. [Darcy] didn't have anything. His arm was sore. There was no chance."
The Boston hitters had also had two innings to watch Darcy. "I was just watching him throw and noticing that he was just throwing sinkers," Lynn said. "And both Pudge [Fisk] and I like low-ball pitchers, so it was really coming into our favor here."
Fisk, a native New Englander, led off the 12th, having already put together a pretty good night. He was one for three with two walks, and had made two great plays in the field: one on Griffey's bunt in the 11th and another catching a Bench foul pop in the 12th.
Darcy fell behind in the count 1–0. In the Reds dugout, Sparky asked pitching coach Larry Shepard how many pitches Darcy had thrown. The news wasn't what Sparky wanted to hear: Darcy had just thrown his 28th pitch. "Damn," Sparky said. "He ain't thrown that many in weeks."
Darcy's next pitch was one of those sinkers that Fisk loved. Fisk launched a long fly ball down the left-field line. It was definitely long enough to be a home run — the question was whether it would stay fair. Fisk hopped sideways down the first base line, never taking his eyes off the ball, frantically waving his hands to his right, willing the ball to stay fair. It bounced off the foul pole above the Green Monster, giving Boston a Game 7. Fenway Park organist John Kiley broke into Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus," and the church bells tolled in Fisk's hometown of Charlestown, New Hampshire.
Burleson told a teammate, "We just might have won the greatest game ever played." Rose agreed, and couldn't stop talking about how great Game 6 had been. But he also promised Sparky a win. In the Reds clubhouse, confidence reigned. "Beer tonight, champagne tomorrow," Morgan all but guaranteed.
SMELL A RAT?
The television replay of Fisk waving the ball fair, still a staple of highlight reels for 40 years, has become legendary. As with most legends, one has to choose how much to actually believe. In the version long told by NBC cameraman Lou Gerard and director Harry Coyle, Gerard was stationed inside the Green Monster and tasked with following the baseball with his camera. As Fisk came to the plate, Gerard was distracted by a menacing Fenway rat. Rather than pan the camera to follow the flight of the ball — and risk antagonizing the rat — Gerard kept the camera on Fisk, capturing the famous image of the waving, leaping Fisk. Both men stuck with that version until their deaths, but at least one other crew member says it was an exaggeration.CHAPTER 2
Wire-to-Wire Reds Complete the Sweep
At 11:13 pm on October 20, 1990, downtown Cincinnati was eerily quiet, especially for a Saturday night. Police had begun gathering in the area a couple of hours earlier, but there was little to do, with just the occasional straggler wandering by.
Meanwhile, nearly 2,400 miles away, Reds first baseman Todd Benzinger settled under an easy popup. Just moments after the ball dropped softly into his leather mitt, a party broke out on Fountain Square.
People streamed into downtown from every direction, from homes and from bars. Some revelers brought brooms, emblematic of Cincinnati's just-completed sweep of the World Series. Some poured beer and champagne on each other's heads, despite the chill in the air. Seven were rowdy enough to get arrested for disorderly conduct.
In all, 12,000 ecstatic baseball fans came together — friends, neighbors, and complete strangers — to celebrate one of the most remarkable teams in the long history of the Cincinnati Reds.
Six minutes before that final out, José Rijo stood on the pitcher's mound at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and looked over at the visitor's dugout. Manager Lou Piniella hesitated, then began walking slowly in his pitcher's direction, hands stuffed in the pockets of his red jacket. It was the bottom of the ninth, Game 4 of the World Series, and the Reds were clinging to a slim 2–1 lead.
In the bullpen before the game, pitching coach Stan Williams was concerned that Rijo's fastball wasn't popping like it usually did. When the Athletics scored a run in the first inning, and Rijo struggled with command in the second — walking two hitters — those worries seemed to be founded. What no one could know at that time was that Jose Rijo was on the verge of becoming a Cincinnati Reds legend.
Rijo was nearly perfect for the rest of the night. He retired the next 20 Oakland hitters, striking out nine. The last of those strikeouts came at the expense of A's center fielder Dave Henderson, leading off the ninth. That's when Rijo looked over and saw his manager approaching. With just two outs standing between Rijo and a complete game, Piniella approached the mound and asked his pitcher how he felt.
Rijo was calm. "I feel great," he said. "My arm feels great. But do what you have to do."
"Why not let Lou make the move he wants to make in that situation?" Rijo explained later. "He's got the Nasty Boys down there, and they've been nasty all year. This is a team effort, isn't it? That's how we got here."
Rijo was right. Piniella did want to make a move to that "nasty" bullpen, which had already thrown nearly 13 innings of scoreless relief so far in the Series' first three games — and he called on lefty Randy Myers.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Big 50: Cincinnati Reds"
Copyright © 2018 Chad Dotson and Chris Garber.
Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Marty Brennaman 6
A Note on Statistics 9
1 The Greatest World Series Game Ever Played 12
2 Wire-to-Wire Reds Complete the Sweep 20
3 4,192 28
4 Professional Baseball Is Born 36
5 Back-to-Back No-Hitters 40
6 Birth of a Dynasty: 1975 World Champs 47
7 Clinchmas: 2010 NL Central Champs 54
8 Johnny Bench Says Good-Bye 60
9 1940 World Champs 66
10 Ragamuffin Reds: 1961 National League Champs 75
11 Mr. Perfect 84
12 No Weaknesses: Barry Larkin 92
13 1919 World Series Champs 99
14 Baseball Genius: Joe Morgan 107
15 Jungle Cats: 1939 National League Champs 116
16 The Modern Science of Hitting: Joey Votto 122
17 Forgotten Drama: 1972 NLCS 129
18 1995 NL Central Champs 136
19 1976: Back-to-Back Champs 142
20 Johnny Beisbol 148
21 The Nasty Boys 153
22 Happy Father's Day, Junior 164
23 Dual No-Hitters 170
24 The Big Red Machine Roils On: 1976 NLCS 174
25 Marty and Joe 181
26 Pete Rose: 3,000 & 44 187
27 Crazy, Crazy, Crazy 194
28 1970 National League Champs 201
29 Pioneers: Chuck Harmon and Nino Escalera 207
30 Homer Bailey Does It Again 215
31 Powerhouse Reds Play First Televised Game 222
32 Sparky and George 226
33 The Whip's Finest Moment 233
34 Unsung Heroes: Stowe and Schwab Families 240
35 Over and Dunn 247
36 Return of the (Hit) King 252
37 Big Apple Drama: 1973 NLCS 261
38 Come Fly with Me 268
39 The Greatest Batting Performance in Reds History 275
40 Architect of the Big Red Machine 280
41 Eric the Red 290
42 Tom Terrific's No-Hitter 299
43 Billy Who? 306
44 The First Step for the Ol' Left-Hander 312
45 Chapmania 317
46 The Season That Wasn't 324
47 And He Didn't Even Start 330
48 2012 NL Central Champs 335
49 The Out-of-Nowhere 1999 Reds 345
50 1972 World Series 356
Selected Bibliography 366
About the Authors 368