The Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies were two teams with decidedly different pedigrees when they met for the pennant in the 1976 NLCS. The Reds were the Big Red Machine, the defending World Series champions, with three pennants and four NLCS appearances already under their belt from 1970-75. The Phillies were the up-and-comers, who had displaced the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL East. While the Phils would become postseason regulars in the ensuing eight years, they were a fresh face in 1976.
You can read more about the regular season paths taken by each team and about the seasons enjoyed by their key players at the links below. This article will focus on the games of the 1976 NLCS itself.
The LCS round was best-of-five from its inception in 1969 through 1984, and homefield was done on a rotation system rather than merit. This year, that meant the first two games would be in Philadelphia, at Veterans Stadium, before going to Cincinnati and the Riverfront for the balance of the series.
Philadelphia had a future Hall of Famer, lefthander Steve Carlton, to pitch Saturday’s Game 1, and he was promptly greeted with a double by Pete Rose. The Reds loaded the bases with one out, but Carlton struck out George Foster and got Johnny Bench to pop up.
The Phils got their own leadoff double from Dave Cash, and they—no pun intended—cashed in. Garry Maddox moved Cash up with a ground ball and Mike Schmidt picked up the run with a sac fly.
Rose got after Carlton again with a triple to lead off the third, and Ken Griffey immediately walked and stole second. The Reds again left runs on the table. Tony Perez was able to tie the game with a sac fly, but after three innings, the Phils could have been in a lot worse shape than tied 1-1. The pattern continued in the fifth when Griffey lashed a one-out triple, but was doubled off on an ensuing line drive out by Cincinnati’s MVP second baseman Joe Morgan.
Gullett was keeping the Philadelphia bats under control through, and in the top of the sixth, the Reds work against Carlton finally began to bear fruit. Foster homered with one out to break the tie. With two outs, Dave Concepion doubled and a key error by Schmidt kept the inning alive. Gullett, as he had in the opener of the 1975 NLCS, helped his own cause with an RBI base hit to make it 3-1.
The game was broke open in the top of the eight. When Bench and Concepion reached to start the inning, Carlton was removed. Gullett again did the work with his bat, drilling a two-run double and Rose promptly doubled the pitcher home.
Philadelphia got two runs in the ninth, to make it 6-3, and had two runners aboard with one out. They had two cracks with the tying run at the plate against Cincy reliever Rawly Eastwick, but it was the bottom of the order due up. Eastwick got pinch-hitters Bobby Tolan and Tom Hutton to close out Game 1.
The Phillies had lost at home with their ace on the mound, but they didn’t roll over and die. Jim Lonborg took the hill in Game 2 and pitched well, keeping Cincinnati quiet for five innings. Philadelphia picked up a run in the second, but after the bases were loaded and no one out, the 1-0 lead was a little disappointing. Greg Luzinski added a two-out homer in the fifth to give Lonborg a 2-zip lead.
In the sixth, Cincinnati got rolling. Concepion drew a leadoff walk, moved up on a ground ball out and scored on a single by Rose. Griffey singled, and then took second when the throw from the outfield went to third. Morgan was intentionally walked to load the bases and bring up Perez.
Perez hit the ball sharply to first base, where it was mishandled by Allen. Rose and Griffey both scored and Cincinnati had the lead. Foster’s ground ball to the right side picked up Morgan and after having been contained for five innings, the Big Red Machine was suddenly ahead 4-2.
Philadelphia never got another rally going, as the Cincinnati bullpen closed it out, with help from two insurance runs on the seventh, with Rose, Griffey and Perez again at the heart of the action.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE 1976 MLB SEASON
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It would be 1982 before a team would win an LCS after losing the first two games, and with the best team in baseball going home with three chances, it seemed unlikely this series would set a new precedent. Of course, from the perspective of history, we know that rallies from 0-2 down have become more common and the good baseball fans of Cincinnati lived through three consecutive home losses in 2012, at the hands of the San Francisco Giants.
All of which is to say that while history makes Cincinnati’s roll through October seem almost pre-ordained, there was no reason to see it that way leading up to Tuesday night’s Game 3, an outstanding back-and-forth baseball game in which Philadelphia seemed to be getting momentum, only to have the veteran Reds rip it from their grasp.
Phillie starter Jim Kaat was brilliant, and he cruised through the first six innings, pitching shutout baseball. Philadelphia got a run in the fourth when Schmidt and Luzinski each hit consecutive doubles. In the seventh, Phillie shortstop Larry Bowa drew a leadoff walk, and with two outs, it was Maddox and Schmidt who hit consecutive doubles. It was 3-0 when the Reds finally got going into the bottom of the seventh.
Griffey singled and Morgan walked, resulting in Kaat’s removal for towering righthander Ron Reed. The reliever was not effective. Perez singled in a run and with runners on the corners, Foster hit a sac fly. Philly still held a 3-2 lead with two on and two out. Cesar Geronimo then tripled in two runs.
With their season down to six outs, the Phillies could have been forgiven if they would have just called it a great year and mailed it in. But they didn’t, showing the comeback tenacity that would bear its ultimate fruit when a lot of this core group won the World Series four years later.
Jay Johnston doubled, setting up a first-and-third with one out situation. Bowa doubled to tie the game, and Cash hit a sac fly to give the Phils the lead. When a Johnstone triple in the top of the ninth led to a run that made it 6-4, it looked like we’d come back for Game 4 and a little bit of pressure on the Reds.
But Reed, still in the game, immediately gave up home runs to Foster and Bench to open the ninth and just like that, the game was tied. Concepion singled, Geronimo walked, and they were bunted up. With one out, Rose was intentionally walked. The speedy Griffey chopped the ball in the infield and Concepion came home with the run that brought Cincinnati its fourth pennant of the 1970s.
There was no MVP of the League Championship Series named at this point, but Rose would have been the certain choice, with his .429 average for the three games and big hits at so many key moments. A huge shout-out has to go to Philadelphia’s Johnston, who went 7-for-9 with a walk and whose Game 3 heroics should have bought his team another day to breathe.
In the end, the Big Red Machine was simply too good. They went to on the World Series are steamrollered the New York Yankees in four straight. The Phillies would eventually come back for more.