The National League Championship Series was becoming old hat for the Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Dodgers. They had already played in 1977 and 1978. The Phillies had been here in 1976 and 1980, with the Dodgers also playing this round in 1981. The two best National League teams of their era hooked up again in the 1983 NLCS.
You can read more about the regular season paths that Philadelphia and Los Angeles took to the playoffs, and the years enjoyed by their key players, at the links below. This article focuses on the games of the 1983 NLCS.
The League Championship Series was best-of-five until 1985 and homefield advantage was determined on a rotation basis. This series would be begin on a pair of games in Los Angeles on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then go to Philadelphia for the duration over the weekend.
Two veteran lefthanders took the mound in the opener. Steve Carlton was one of the game’s all-time greats, a lefty with a nasty slider who would win more than 300 games and make the Hall of Fame. He was on the mound for Philadelphia. Jerry Reuss didn’t have anything close to Carlton’s resume, but Reuss was a very steady pitcher in his own right.
Philadelphia jumped on top quick when Mike Schmidt hit a two-out home run in the first inning. The two pitchers then settled into a great duel. Philly put runners on first and second with none out in the fourth, but couldn’t score. In the sixth, the Dodgers got speedy Steve Sax to third base with one out. But Carlton got Dusty Baker to pop up and escaped.
In the bottom of the eighth, the score still 1-0, Los Angeles loaded the bases with two outs. Philadelphia closer Al Holland was summoned and induced a fly ball to right from Mike Marshall. Holland closed out the ninth without incident and the Phillies, with three home games still in the bank, were in control of the series.
Another big-time pitching matchup was set for Game 2. Fernando Valenzuela, the 22-year-old Dodger lefty, had won the Cy Young Award as a rookie two years earlier and won 15 games in 1983. The Phillies had the soon-to-be named Cy Young winner for 1983 to come back with, in John Denny.
With two outs in the bottom of the first, the Dodgers finally got on the board, with help from the Philly defense. Shortstop Ivan DeJesus booted a play that should have ended the inning. A hit batsman set up Ken Landreaux’s RBI single. The Phils didn’t wait long to answer—Gary Matthews hit a leadoff home run to start the second.
Los Angeles manager Tom Lasorda got aggressive in the bottom of the fourth and it blew up. With runners on first and third with one out, a double steal didn’t work, as Mike Marshall was nailed at third. But what the Dodgers couldn’t create for themselves, the Phillies again gave them in the fifth inning.
Gary Maddox, one of the great defensive centerfielders of his era, muffed a fly ball off the bat of Valenzuela to start the inning. Ironically, it wasn’t the first time Maddox had made a big error in Dodger Stadium in October—the 1978 NLCS had ended when he let a single skip through his legs and the winning run came around.
This error resulted in Valenzuela getting all the way to third. When he was thrown out at the plate on a one-out ground ball, it looked like Denny might escape. But with two outs, Baker drew a walk and then Pedro Guerrero lashed a two-run triple to make it 3-1.
Valenzuela was locked in and he got an insurance run in the eighth when Bill Russell drew a walk, stole second and scored on a base hit. In the top of the ninth, the Phillies finally showed signs of offensive life. Matthews singled and Greg Gross drew a walk to start the inning. Valenzuela was removed for Tom Niedenfuer, who blew right through the 7-8-9 spots in the order with a couple strikeouts. The series was tied.
After a day off for travel, Philadelphia sent out Charles Hudson to pitch in front of the home fans, while Los Angeles answered with Bob Welch. Lasorda had little patience for Welch though, and after consecutive one-out walks in the second, the manager went to Alejandro Pena, the fourth starter who had a nice season. A passed ball, another walk and a productive out from catcher Bo Diaz still resulted in the Phils grabbing a couple runs without the benefit of a hit.
Philadelphia had two old members of the great Big Red Machine in Joe Morgan and Pete Rose. They each singled and a sac fly from Joe Lefebvre made it a 3-0 game after three innings.
Los Angeles struck back in the top of the fourth when Baker singled and Marshall homered. But Matthews again had an immediate answer—a home run to start the bottom half of the inning and it was 4-2. That was it for Pena and Lasorda turned to lefthander Rick Honeycutt.
The pitching change didn’t work. Rose again got a rally going with a one-out single in the fifth. Schmidt doubled to put runners on second and third. Lasorda summoned Joe Beckwith, who struck out Sixto Lezcano. But Matthews was next, and he singled to right to score both runs and then stole second for good measure.
He didn’t make it around, but it was 6-2 and Matthews had more one more RBI single coming, this one in the seventh. Hudson went the distance and with the 7-2 win, the Phillies had two chances to close out a pennant on their home field.
Saturday saw Carlton and Reuss back on the mound. It didn’t take long for Philadelphia to amp up the pressure on LA and once again it was Matthews doing the damage. In the bottom of the first, Schmidt and Lezcano hit consecutive two-out singles. Matthews unloaded with a three-run blast and it was quickly 3-0.
After rolling through three innings, Carlton finally showed a crack in his armor. Baker led off the fourth with a home run. Mike Marshall followed with a double. But Carlton picked him off second, then struck out Landreaux and Derrell Thomas to keep it 3-1. And the Phils struck back in the fifth when Rose singled and scored on a double by Schmidt. After Schmidt was bunted to third, Lasorda ordered Matthews intentionally walked, but Maddox still picked up the run with an RBI ground ball.
With a 5-1 lead, Carlton was in firm control, but to remove any doubt, Lezcano followed a Schmidt single with a two-run blast in the sixth inning. The Dodgers got a run in the eight and Holland came on for Carlton, who had been masterful in what would prove to his final year in the postseason. The closer got the last five outs, striking out Russell to clinch the pennant.
Matthews and Carlton were both worthy choices for NLCS MVP. Matthews went 6-for-14, homered three times and drove in eight runs. Furthermore, those hits all came at key times, often answering Dodger successes, making their ultimate impact seem even greater. Carlton got two of his team’s three wins, pitching 13 2/3 innings and giving up one run. Matthews was the one chosen as series MVP.
Other strong performances came from Rose and Schmidt, who combined for 13 hits while Lezcano went 4-for-13. On the Dodger side, only Baker’s 5-for-14 hitting was at all noteworthy.
Philadelphia briefly kept the momentum going by taking Game 1 of the World Series in Baltimore, but that was their last win as the Orioles took over and won the World Series.
This was the last run for a great stretch of Phillies baseball. They didn’t make it back to the postseason until 1993 with a completely different cast. The Dodgers still had some winning ahead of them, reaching the NLCS again in 1985 and winning the World Series in 1988.