Tag Archives: Vic Davalillo

For Phillies fans like me, there will always be only one Black Friday

The 101-win, star-crossed 1977 NL East Division champion Philadelphia Phillies

 

Across the United States today is known as “Black Friday”, perhaps the single busiest shop-in-person day of the entire year. You may not be aware that the term as popularly used actually originated here in Philadelphia.

In the early 1950’s, the Philadelphia Police Department began referring to the two days after Thanksgiving as ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Black Saturday’ in reference to crowds and congestion which had begun the Christmas shopping season.

On November 28, 1981, the Philadelphia Inquirer was the first to assign a financial aspect to the phrase. Typical accounting practices showed negative amounts in red ink and positive in black ink.

Many businesses would run at a loss for most of the year, and the holiday shopping season would put them “into the black”, thus the significance of the opening of that season was significant for retailers and others.

However, for myself and many other fans of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball club there is only one, true “Black Friday”, especially for those of us who experienced it first-hand.

The date was Friday, October 7, 1977. The place was Veteran’s Stadium in South Philadelphia. The occasion was Game 3 of the National League Championship Series between the host Phillies and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In those days, the League Championship Series in Major League Baseball was only a best-of-five affair. And there was no Division Series. If you came in first place in either the East or West Division, you went to the LCS and played for a shot at the World Series.

The Phillies had reached the postseason for the first time in 26 years the prior season. But that 1976 club was swept out of the NLCS by Cincinnati’s ‘Big Red Machine’, who would go on to capture their second straight World Series title.

In 1977, the Phillies used that sweep as motivation. A more mature and determined team set a then-franchise record by winning 101 games, the most by any team in the National League.

Capturing their second consecutive NL East Division crown, the Phillies faced a 98-win Dodgers squad. The two teams appeared evenly matched, having split their regular season meetings, each winning six times.

The NLCS began in the same manner. The Phillies rallied for a pair of runs in the 9th inning to take the opener at Dodger Stadium by a 7-5 score. The host Dodgers battled back, getting a grand slam from Dusty Baker in the bottom of the 4th inning to break a 1-1 tie, leading to a 7-1 series-tying victory in the second game.

So, Game 3 at Veteran’s Stadium was going to be pivotal. For the Phillies this appeared especially so, as they had lefty ace Steve Carlton scheduled to take the mound in Game 4 the following day.

Carlton would win his second of four career Cy Young Awards that year, and a Phillies win on Friday would mean that the Dodgers would have their season on the line against the best pitcher in the league.

Los Angeles struck first, scoring twice in the top of the 2nd inning off Phillies’ starting pitcher Larry Christenson. It could have been worse, but Dodgers catcher Steve Yeager was thrown out at the plate to end the inning.

In their half of the inning, it would be the 63,719 fans in the stands at The Vet who would literally scream the Phillies into the lead.

Two singles and a walk against Dodgers starter Burt Hooton had the bases loaded with two outs, but it was Christenson at the plate. As the count worked full, the crowd began a deafening roar, and Hooton delivered ball four to cut the Phillies deficit to 2-1.

Sensing they had affected that outcome, the crowd continued to roar, getting louder with each pitch. Hooton appeared unnerved. He would walk each of the next two batters as well, forcing home two more runs to put the Phillies on top by 3-2.

It is fairly amazing then how that inning ended, with the Phillies all-star third baseman Mike Schmidt fouling out to the catcher on the very first pitch. Why under the circumstances the future Hall of Famer didn’t at least take one is hard to imagine.

The Dodgers got even in the top of the 4th inning when Baker singled home Ron Cey, who had led off the inning with a double against Christenson.

The game remained knotted at 3-3 into the bottom of the 8th inning. There, it appeared that the home team would put the game away thanks to uncharacteristically sloppy defense from the visitors.

Richie Hebner doubled to lead it off. He came around to score the go-ahead run when Garry Maddox followed with an RBI single, and Maddox chugged to third base on a throwing error by right fielder Reggie Smith. Then Bob Boone reached on an error by Cey, which allowed Maddox to score what appeared to be an insurance run.

The Phillies thus took a 5-3 lead into the top of the 9th inning. Manager Danny Ozark sent out Gene Garber to seal the deal. Protect the two-run lead, and the Phillies would go up two games to one with Carlton ready to send them on to the Fall Classic the next day.

Garber was one of a trio of relievers who Ozark called upon in such situations that season. He led the club with 19 saves, had a 2.35 ERA, and pitched in a team-high 64 games. Ron Reed delivered 15 saves over 60 games with a 2.75 ERA. Tug McGraw registered nine saves over 45 games with a 2.62 ERA.

A 29-year-old right-hander, Garber appeared well on his way to cruising through the frame by retiring the first two batters with no trouble. The Phillies were now just one out away from victory with nobody on base.

Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda, in his first full season at the helm, decided to send up Vic Davalillo to pinch-hit for Yeager. Garber got ahead of the 37-year-old with a quick strike.

Davalillo then surprised nearly everyone in the ballpark. The crafty veteran laid down a perfect drag  bunt on which Phillies second baseman Ted Sizemore had no play, and the Dodgers would bring the tying run to the plate.

In almost all such situations during the season – protecting a late, close lead – Ozark would have made a defensive substitution in left field, removing the big bat of Greg Luzinski in favor of the far more athletic Jerry Martin. For some reason, Ozark opted to leave Luzinski in this time. It was about to cost him dearly.

Lasorda must have figured that it worked once, let’s try it again. This time he sent up 39-year-old veteran Manny Mota to pinch-hit for the pitcher’s spot.

Mota lofted a fly ball to deep left. Luzinski drifted back to the wall and for a second it appeared that he would snare the final out in his glove. However, the ball popped out of his glove and off the wall. It is a play that Martin almost certainly would have made.

Then to add insult to injury, Luzinski’s throw back to the infield kicked away from Sizemore. This allowed Davalillo to score and sent Mota to third base as the tying run.

Crazy stuff already. But the insanity was about to ratchet up another notch. The next batter, Davey Lopes, laced a rocket that smashed off the glove of Schmidt at third base. The ball popped perfectly to shortstop Larry Bowa, who gunned a throw that appeared to get Lopes for the final out.

If replay existed at the time, the Phillies would likely have won the game, gone up 2-1 in the series, and history may have played out in completely different fashion. But there was no replay review in those days. The call by first base umpire Bruce Froemming stood.

The game was now tied at 5-5, the Dodgers had the go-ahead run on base, and the insanity was not finished. Garber tried to pick-off Lopes, threw the ball away, and Lopes moved into scoring position at second base. Bill Russell followed with a clean RBI single and somehow the Dodgers had miraculously turned sure defeat into a 6-5 lead.

With two out in the bottom of the 9th, Luzinski stepped to the plate as the potential tying run. Perhaps the failure of Ozark to make the defensive substitution in the top of the frame would now pay off with a game-tying “Bull Blast” home run?

No such luck. Luzinski was hit by a pitch instead. Now, finally, Ozark sent in Martin – as a pinch-runner. Dodgers reliever Mike Garman then retired Hebner on an easy grounder to first baseman Steve Garvey to end the ball game.

The Phillies had inconceivably blown what appeared to be a certain victory and in stunning fashion watched a series lead evaporate. On the misty Saturday that followed, it would not be Carlton, but instead another veteran lefty named Tommy John who would close out the series in the Dodgers favor.

That 6-5 loss to the Dodgers in Game 3 of the 1977 National League Championship Series became known almost immediately as “Black Friday”, and has remained so in Phillies lore down through the years.

If you are among the many who will venture out to some mall or shopping center on this Black Friday and come home frustrated after battling traffic and the crowds, just know one thing. You will never be more bitter or frustrated than we Phillies fans who experienced our Black Friday in October of 1977.

 

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Black Friday

For the first time in 15 years our Philadelphia Phillies are preparing to play in the National League Championship Series (NLCS).

The Fightin’ Phils have been here six times previously, all of them in my own lifetime as a fan. In their glory run from 1976 through 1980, the period covering most of my teenage years, the Phils played in the NLCS four times out of five seasons.

In the 1977 season the club won 101 games, their 2nd straight NL East crown, and there were many in baseball who felt the Phillies had the best team in baseball. Standing in the way of a trip to the World Series were the NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

The two teams each had tremendous players. The Phillies were led by sluggers Greg Luzinski and Mike Schmidt, pesky shortstop Larry Bowa, and lefty starter Steve Carlton.

The Dodgers had a longtime infield of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, and Ron Cey as well as slugging outfielders Reggie Smith and Dusty Baker. Their rotation was led by future Hall of Famer Don Sutton.

The two clubs split the first two games out in Los Angeles, and so the Phillies returned home needing to win two out of three at Veteran’s Stadium to advance to their first World Series in 28 years. And then baseball catastrophe struck.

It was October 7th, 1977. It was Game Three of the 1977 National League Championship Series. What is perhaps recognized as the single most devastating loss in Phillies history played out that day in what has become known as ‘Black Friday’ in local Philly pro sports legend.

The Dodgers scored first, with Baker and catcher Steve Yeager each driving in runs in the top of the 2nd for an early 2-0 lead off Phillies starter Larry Christenson. Then came the bottom of the 2nd, and a Philly fan sports legend was born.

With two outs and two runners on-base, Dodgers starting pitcher Burt Hooten began disputing ball and strike calls with the umpire, something that can often get a player ejected from a game. His antics became so annoying that the fans began to boo him vociferously.

Over the course of that one inning, the Phillies fans literally booed Hooten off the mound, unnerving the LA hurler into issuing four consecutive walks that helped put the Phillies up by 3-2.

The Dodgers tied the game in the top of the 4th on another RBI hit by Baker. The two teams then stayed knotted into the bottom of the 8th, when the Phils seemingly took control.

Thanks to the hitting and base running hustle of Garry Maddox, who knocked in one run and scored another, the Phillies took a 5-3 lead into the 9th.

Manager Danny Ozark then turned the game over to reliable closer Gene Garber, and Garber quickly recorded the first two outs. As Garber got to an 0-2 count on weak-hitting Vic Davalillo, the Veteran’s Stadium crowd stood and roared in anticipation of their heroes going up by 2 games to 1 in the series.

The Phillies were just one strike away from needing just one more win to reach the World Series. And they had their ace, future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton, slated to take the mound the next day. It was a dream scenario. Instead, it turned into a nightmare.

On that 0-2 pitch, Davallio shocked the entire stadium, including the Phillies, by laying down a perfect bunt for a base hit. Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda then went to a pinch-hitter, 39-year old veteran Manny Mota.

Mota sent a fly ball back towards the left field wall. The ball was obviously not going to be a home run, and in fact outfielder Jerry Martin would usually have tracked the ball down easily.

Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, Martin was not in the game. It had become standard strategy for Ozark to put Martin in as a late-game defensive replacement for Luzinski. But again, for some unknown reason, Ozark didn’t make that move.

And so as Mota’s ball sailed towards the left field wall, it was the defensively deficient Luzinski who tried to make the play. He appeared to track the ball down right at the wall, but it somehow popped out of his glove. The Bull trapped it against the wall for a missed catch.

Luzinski turned and fired the ball to 2nd baseman Ted Sizemore, trying to nail Mota, who was hustling all the way. But more adventures then ensued as Sizemore mishandled the throw, allowing the ball to bounce away. Davallilo scored and Mota moved on to 3rd base.

Miraculously, the Dodgers had come back from the dead. The tying run was now just 90 feet away from home. Lopes stepped to the plate next and ripped a smash grounder right at Schmidt.

The Phillies third baseman had no time to react as the ball caromed hard off his knee and into the air, going straight into the bare hand of shortstop Bowa. In that one motion, Bowa fielded the ball and fired a strike to first baseman Richie Hebner for the final out.

Only it still didn’t happen. Lopes was ruled safe by the umpire on the bang-bang play, even though he clearly appeared to have narrowly been thrown out, a result which TV replays supported. Mota scored the tying run on the play, and the enraged Phils protested, but it was to no avail.

Garber tried to pick-off the speedy Lopes, but the Phils nightmare continued when the closer threw the ball away wildly. This allowed Lopes to move into scoring position, and Russell then singled him home, putting the Dodgers up by 6-5.

It was an incredible turnaround, and when the Phillies went down in order in the bottom of the 9th, the stunned Vet crowd didn’t even have the energy to wonder what had just happened.

The Dodgers celebrated their victory, and one night later they won the series by beating Carlton in a game sullied by rain.

The Dodgers moved on to the World Series against the Yankees, and the Phillies and their fans were left with the memory of the most emotionally draining loss in what has been a franchise history full of them.

It is known simply as ‘Black Friday’ now, and we still look back on it in astonishment, with the passing of three decades of time only numbing but never erasing the painful memory.

The Phillies and Dodgers will meet now in the 2008 NLCS. It will be the fourth time that this match-up has decided the National League champion. The Dodgers won previously in both that 1977 season and again in 1978, while the Phillies won in 1983.

And somewhere along the way you can expect the TV networks to dig up the old footage of Luzinski, Davalillo, Mota, Garber, Schmidt, and Bowa and the worst loss in Phillies history.