The Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies carried on a lively postseason rivalry, meeting three times in seven years for the National League pennant. The 1977 NLCS was the first of those meetings, and after at least two instances of the Phillies appearing ready to take control, it was the Dodgers who snatched it back and won the pennant.
You can read more about the regular season paths each team took to the playoffs and about their key players at the links below. This article will focus strictly on the games on the 1977 National League Championship Series.
Game 1 was a battle of the top two finishes in the Cy Young voting. Philadelphia ace Steve Carlton had won the award, with Los Angeles’ Tommy John coming in second (albeit a distant second). In spite of the pitchers on the mound, it was the bats that would tell the tale in the opener.
With two outs in the top of the first, Dodger shortstop Bill Russell committed an error to keep the inning alive. Phillie leftfielder Greg Luzinski, one of the best power hitters in the National League made it costly, with a home run that staked Carlton to a 2-0 lead
The score held through four, when Carlton—who had already singled—was hit by a pitch to lead off the top of the fifth. Bake McBride grounded into a force out and replaced the pitcher on the bases. Russell booted another grounder, and with two outs, Davey Johnson (the future manager of the 1986 New York Mets and elsewhere) hit a two-run single to center. John was chased and the Phils were on top 4-zip.
Los Angeles got to Carlton in the fifth when Lee Lacy hit a one-out single, was balked to second and scored on a base hit by Davey Lopes. But the Phillie pitcher again did it with his bat in the top of the sixth, delivering an RBI single.
Everything was cruising along for the Phils, up 5-1 in the bottom of the seventh. Then two walks and a Lopes single loaded the bases with two outs. Ron Cey came to the plate The Dodger third baseman hit 30 home runs in the regular season and he hit another one now. The grand slam tied the game and sent Carlton to the showers.
Elias Sosa had a 1.98 ERA all year for the Dodgers and came in on the ninth, but didn’t have it. McBride, Larry Bowa and Mike Schmidt all hit consecutive one-out singles that broke the tie, and then a balk brought in an insurance run. Philadelphia had a 7-5 win. Their time out west was a success no matter what, and they could put an early stranglehold on the series if they won Game 2.
Los Angeles’ rookie manager Tom Lasorda turned to 32-year-old vet Don Sutton. McBride got him for a home run in the third that gave the Phils a 1-0 lead, and the Dodgers desperately needed to shift momentum. They started doing it immediately in the bottom of the inning, when Rick Monday hit a leadoff double and then scored on a two-out single from Lopes to tie up the game.
Philadelphia had 35-year-old Jim Lonborg on the mound, inconsistent all year, and a long way removed from being the ace of the 1967 Boston Red Sox pennant-winning team. The Dodgers nailed him in the fourth. Russell and Reggie Smith singled, and were bunted over. Steve Garvey took a walk. Then leftfielder Dusty Baker, then a 28-year-old power hitter, unloaded with LA’s second grand slam of the series.
This time, there was no Philadelphia comeback. Sutton was locked in and threw a complete game. Los Angeles got two-out RBI hits from Steve Yeager in the sixth and Reggie Smith in the seventh, wrapping up a 7-1 win that evened the series.
Philadelphia still had the NLCS where they realistically wanted it—down to a best two-of-three at Veterans Stadium for the weekend. They sent Larry Christenson to the mound, while LA countered with Burt Hooton. Neither starter was effective.
Baker continued his hot hitting, with an RBI double in the second, and then scored on a two-out single by Yeager. Hooton ripped a double, but Yeager was thrown out at the plate, keeping the score 2-0. The Phils quickly answered—or, more accurately, Hooton answered for them. With two on and two out, Hooton issued four straight walks, was removed from the game, and just like that it was 3-2 Philadelphia.
Christenson couldn’t make it through the fourth. After a Cey double and another RBI single by Baker, the Phillie starter was pulled. With one out and the bases loaded, new Dodger pitcher Rick Rhoden lofted a fly ball to right. McBride made the catch and the gunned down Baker at the plate, keeping the score 3-3.
The first four innings of Game 3 had already seen a lot of what-ifs and changes of fortune. And we were just getting started.
In the bottom of the eighth, Sosa came in for Los Angeles and again couldn’t get it done. Richie Hebner ripped a double and scored the lead run on a single from Garry Maddox, who went all the way to third on a bad throw. When Cey booted a Bob Boone grounder, Maddox scored and Boone went all the way to second, still no one out. Boone was not able to come around. It didn’t seem to matter in the moment, but it would prove to be enormous.
Philadelphia’s Gene Garber got the first two outs in the ninth. Lasorda summoned Vic Davalillo to pinch-hit for Yeager. Davalillo was 40-years-old and in August had been playing in Mexico, out of the majors since 1974 when the Dodgers added him for the stretch drive. The veteran kept Game 3 alive by dropping down a bunt single.
Manny Mota then hit a long double to left. The tying runs were in scoring position, and Lopes singled to center. Stunningly, the game was tied. It got worse. An errant pickoff throw sent Lopes to second base, where he was able to score on a single to center from Russell.
Game 3 is one of the truly underrated gems in LCS history. Because it wasn’t a deciding game, and neither team ended up winning the World Series, it gets forgotten. But the comeback was stunning, the Davalillo plot twist inspiring and it was the final momentum reversal in this NLCS.
Carlton and John hooked up again for Game 4, with a light drizzle hitting the field. As the game went on, the rain would become oddly symbolic of the Philadelphia mood. Los Angeles kept their momentum, as Baker hit a two-run shot in the second. The Phils had good chances to score in the second and fourth, with two on and one out. They did get a run in the fourth, but in both cases, Tim McCarver struck out for the second out and John escaped with a 2-1 lead still intact.
Baker started the action again in the fifth, with a leadoff walk and then Yeager singled him to third. With two outs, a wild pitch scored a run and Yeager ended up on third base, where he could score on a bunt single from Russell.
The 4-1 lead was plenty for John. The Phils were able to get the tying run to the plate in the eighth inning, but had the pitcher’s spot due up and John got pinch-hitter Jerry Martin to ground out. Los Angeles closed out the game and the series with minimal incident.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE 1977 MLB SEASON
The most consequential teams and each postseason series
Baker was named NLCS MVP, the first time such an honor had been given (the American League would not follow suit until 1980). He had a series on-base percentage of .438, a slugging percentage of .857 and countless key hits, including the Game 2 grand slam that was the first of the two big momentum shifts for his team.
Cey had a good series, at .400/.615 and Lopes always seemed to be around at big times, but Baker was a good choice. Noteworthy in a less positive way was Schmidt for Philadelphia, as he went just 1-for-16.
Los Angeles and Philadelphia were just getting to know each other. They would face head-to-head in this round again in 1978 and 1983. The Phillies were also here in 1980, and the Dodgers in 1981, when each team won the World Series. 1977 got a new mini-era rolling.