Mandatory Credit: Photo by Bill Haber/AP/Shutterstock (6607046b) Phillies catcher Bob Boone (8) connects a pitch from Astros pitchers Nolan Ryan during second inning action, Houston, Tex. Boone drilled the ball to center field driving in two runs. Astros catcher is Luis Pujols. Plate umpire is Ed Vargo Phillies vs Astros NL Playoffs 1980, Houston, USA
By ED BARKOWITZ
Note: Ed Barkowitz was a sports writer for the Philadelphia Daily News for nearly 30 years. He still has the scoresheets from the 1980 National League Championship Series he kept as a 10-year-old.
When Yuli Gurriel squeezed the final out to seal the 2017 World Series, it set off a wild scene that was part jubilation, part vindication and, in many ways, part redemption for generations of Astros fans.
Finally, after 55 years, they had their championship.
Aside from the revolutionary domed stadium, irrelevance and mediocrity that marked the first 17 years as they finished an average of 24 games back of a playoff berth. But in 1980, they finally broke through and almost made it to the World Series. Almost.
The Phillies aren’t a rival of the Astros. They were never in the same division in the NL. Now, they aren’t even in the same league. Philadelphia hasn’t even played in Houston in 10 years..
But that Astros’ championship five years ago exorcized a lot of demons. One of those ghosts was the franchise’s first; rising when the Phillies stunned Houston in a National League Championship Series for the ages.
“I’ve cried before, and I’ll probably cry again,” sobbed Astros third baseman Enos Cabell following that series 42 years ago. “I’ll probably cry again tonight when I get home, but there’s nothing you can do about it. God sometimes moves in mysterious ways.”
It was that impactful.
Philadelphia is in town for three games starting Monday and with a final score of 0-3, have ended their own recent agony of a 10-year playoff drought. There will be plenty of fans at Minute Maid Park who would have loved to see the Phillies denied. Sweep them out of Houston, they would have said, with the same blessed heartache they left us with in 1980.
League Championship Series were five games back then and the Astros and Phillies needed even more than that to decide their epic series as the last four games all required extra innings.
Houston, which remember had never been to the playoffs, had to beat the Dodgers in Los Angeles in a tiebreaker then head cross-country to start the LCS in Philadelphia the following day.
They managed to split the first two games and would head to Houston needing two wins in the final three. Houston was a dominant 55-26 at the Astrodome during the season – best home record in baseball. When Joe Niekro pitched 10 shutout innings and the Astros clawed out a 1-0 win in the 11th of Game 3, it appeared that the World Series was inevitable. Instead, heartbreak.
“I had a good year, but it doesn’t matter now,” a tearful Jose Cruz said following Game 5’s loss. “I just wanted to win and be in the World Series. That’s all I wanted.”
The NLCS would alternate from the sublime to bizarre as the pressure and drama increased. Game 4 had a 20-minute interruption when umpires couldn’t decide if Houston pitcher Vern Rhule caught or trapped a line drive. They even called in National League president Chub Feeney who was sitting in the box seats. It was so controversial that both teams played the game under protest.
The Astros held a 2-0 lead heading into the eighth inning of Game 4 and a three-run advantage going into the eighth inning of Game 5. Both times, they failed to close the door.
The Game 5 loss was especially stunning given that Nolan Ryan was cruising with a shutout through seven innings.
The Phillies started the eighth with three soft singles and a walk which led to Ryan’s exit and eventually five runs. The Astros fought back with two runs in their half of the eighth, but ran out of steam as the Phillies won 8-7 in 10 innings.
“It’s the biggest loss I’ve had in my career,” Ryan, 33 at the time, said afterward. “I can’t sum it up in words. … If they hit you hard, you know you don’t deserve to win. But I felt good. I felt like I had good stuff and it just wasn’t enough.”
While the Phillies celebrated, Astros players cried. Their fans politely applauded as they left the Astrodome field. No one could have known that it would be 25 years until their team went to a World Series and 37 until they actually won it.
“To think that all we needed was six outs – a three-run lead, and Nolan Ryan on the mound,” outfielder Terry Puhl told the Edmonton Journal when the Astros did win the championship five years ago. “You think ‘we did go to the World Series, didn’t we?’ But no … It’s always a dream of every player to play in a World Series. [We] didn’t get to do that.”
Vindication eventually came. It just didn’t happen until the 21st century. And now the Astros have to wait another season, for some tasty revenge.