The Philadelphia Phillies had built an early 2-0 lead in the 1980 World Series over the Kansas City Royals with a pair of victories at Veteran’s Stadium.
The Fall Classic then shifted to Royals Stadium (now Kauffman Stadium) for three games over the weekend of October 17th through 19th.
In Game Three on Friday night, the two teams battled into the 10th inning tied at 3-3.
There in the bottom of the 10th, the host Royals gained life when their offensive star of the series, big 1st baseman Willie Aikens, singled off Tug McGraw to score Willie Wilson with the walkoff run in a 4-3 victory.
Then in Saturday afternoon’s Game Four, Kansas City tied the series thanks to a pair of home runs from Aikens. Those twin blasts had pushed the home side out to an early 5-1 lead after just two innings.
The Phils fought back with solo runs in both the 7th and 8th innings to make a game of it, but those rallies fell short.
However, a bit of momentum would swing the Phillies way in the 4th inning. With the Royals rolling and the Phils looking listless, KC superstar and future Hall of Famer George Brett stepped into the batter’s box against righty reliever Dickie Noles.
Feeling that the Kansas City hitters were simply too comfortable at the plate, Noles fired a fastball that honed in on Brett’s head like a guided missile.
Brett’s entire body flew out from under him as he evaded the lethal-looking pitch, eliciting an outburst of indignation from Royals’s skipper Jim Frey, and warnings to both benches from the umpires.
But the pitch appeared to serve its purpose. Noles struck out Brett and then Aikens, both swinging. He then struck out two of the three batters he faced in the 5th as well.
There was a noticeable swagger gone from the Royals approach after that “intent” pitch by Noles.
As presented at Wikipedia, Phillies’ future Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, in his book Clearing The Bases, called it “the greatest brushback in World Series history.”
The stage was thus set for a pivotal 5th game, our dramatic Phillies Fall Classics IV. With the two sides knotted at two games apiece, the winner would take a 3-2 lead and move to within a single victory of their franchise’ first ever World Series championship.
Game Five was played on a Sunday afternoon in direct competition with the NFL, in the days when Major League Baseball was still concerned enough about issues like presenting the national pastime during a time period when young viewers could enjoy an entire game, rather than milking every last possible advertising dollar.
On the mound, the Royals would bring back veteran lefty Larry Gura, who had been fantastic in taking a Perfect Game into the 5th inning of Game Two.
For the Phillies, it would be 22-year old rookie righty Marty Bystrom getting the start. Bystrom had been a September revelation for the starting rotation, going 5-0 during the month as a surprising key player in the Phillies drive to clinch the NL East.
The old vet and the young gunslinger traded zeroes on the scoreboard through the first three innings.
Finally in the top of the 4th, the Phillies broke through with a pair of runs off Gura when Schmidt drove a 2-2 pitch over the wall in deep right center for his 2nd homer of the series and a 2-0 lead.
Meanwhile, Bystrom had worked around trouble in the 3rd and 4th. But down 2-0, the Royals finally broke through in their half of the 5th inning.
Leadoff singles by U.L. Washington and Wilson, and a sacrifice bunt by Frank White, put a pair of runners in scoring position with one out and the heart of the Kansas City order coming to bat.
Brett grounded out to 2nd base, scoring Washington with a run to cut the Phillies lead in half at 2-1.
Bystrom was able to wriggle out of further trouble again in the inning, but in the home 6th, KC would get to him again, taking the lead and driving the youngster from the game.
The 6th inning trouble began immediately for Bystrom, as Amos Otis led off the frame by crushing an 0-1 pitch deep over the left field wall to tie the game at 2-2.
When the next two batters each singled, that was it for Bystrom. Phils’ skipper Dallas Green went to veteran Ron Reed, who was greeted by a sac fly from Washington to score Clint Hurdle with the go-ahead run.
With the Royals now up 3-2, Wilson slashed a ball into the right field corner that would go for a double. A slow-footed Darrell Porter chugged all the way around from 1st base in an attempt to score a run that would possibly begin to bury the Phillies.
But the Phils’ instead executed a perfect defensive relay from right fielder Bake McBride to 2nd baseman Manny Trillo and finally to catcher Bob Boone, nailing Porter as he slid in at home. Reed got out of the inning without further damage, but the Phillies now trailed.
In the top of the 7th, the Phils put two on with one out, and Gura was replaced by closer Dan Quisenberry, who would get out of the inning cleanly.
Green then turned to his closer Tug McGraw in the bottom of the 7th, and the rest of the game would be a battle between the two talented, veteran closers.
The game moved into the 9th inning with the Royals still holding that 3-2 lead, with Quisenberry having not allowed a hit over his 1 1/3 innings to that point. He was just three outs away from putting Kansas City up 3 games to 2 in the series.
Schmidt led off that 9th inning, and despite the fact that he was perhaps baseball’s top home run threat, Brett smelled a bunt, and played in shallower than normal. Schmidt instead swing away, and sent a smash to Brett’s left.
Had the Royals 3rd sacker been playing back as normal, he may have fielded it cleanly. But up shallow, he could only dive and watch the ball roll off his glove as Schmidt reached 1st base as the potential tying run.
Green then made a move to his bench that was becoming familiar to Phillies fans at this point, sending up Del Unser to pinch-hit for Lonnie Smith.
As he had so often in that postseason, Unser delivered, firing a base hit down the right field line. Schmidt read the ball perfectly, possessed good speed, and never stopped as he went first-to-home, sliding in with the tying run well ahead of the Royals relay throw.
Unser rolled into 2nd base with a double, and would then move up to 3rd when Keith Moreland followed with a sacrifice bunt.
Quisenberry got Garry Maddox to ground out to Brett, who was able to freeze Unser at 3rd base. So now the Phillies had the go-ahead run just 90 feet away, but there were two outs.
Trillo, who had come up with a number of key hits in winning MVP honors in the NLCS, stepped in against the Royals closer, who was hoping to keep it tied and give his team a chance to win it in the bottom of the 9th.
Instead, it was Trillo who would again play the hero, smashing a ball right back at Quisenberry, who could not handle the hot-shot. As it rolled away from the mound, Trillo reached with an infield single, and Unser crossed the plate with the go-ahead run.
The Phillies would take that 4-3 lead into the bottom of the 9th, and Green left his indomitable closer McGraw in the game, despite his having already tossed 25 pitches over the previous two innings.
Tug walked two of the first three Royals batters, surrounding a strikeout. He induced the tough Hal McRae to ground into a force out at 2nd base for the second out of the inning, but White moved over to 3rd base, putting the tying run just 90 feet away for Kansas City.
McGraw then pitched around Otis, loading the bases with two outs, and bringing ex-Phillie Jose Cardenal to the plate.
Cardenal had very nearly crushed a 3-run homer off McGraw back in the 7th inning. But here with the game on the line, the Tugger struck him out swinging on a 1-2 pitch to nail down the dramatic victory.
The road win pushed the Phillies on top by 3-2 in the series, and left them just one win away from taking the first World Series title in franchise history. The series would now shift back to The Vet, where the Phils would have two shots to get it done.
The first of those would come with ace Steve Carlton taking the mound on a Tuesday night in South Philly in what will be our ‘Phillies Fall Classics V’ presentation.