The 1978 NLCS was a rematch between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies. Just as they had the year before, the Dodgers won the pennant in four games (of what was then a best-of-five round), jumping on Philadelphia quickly and then winning good Game 4 to clinch.
You can read more about the regular season paths the Dodgers and Phillies took to their respective division titles, along with their key contributors, at the links below. This article will focus on the games of the 1978 NLCS themselves.
The NLCS opened in Philadelphia. The rotation system for homefield that was then in place called for two games at old Veterans Stadium on Wednesday and Thursday night, followed by the balance of the series over the weekend at Dodger Stadium.
Philadelphia had gone to the season’s penultimate day before clinching, so their ace Steve Carlton, was out of commission until Friday. The Phils instead turned to Larry Christensen to pitch the first game against the Dodgers’ 19-game winner, Burt Hooton. It didn’t go well for Christensen.
The Phils were able to score first, with Greg Luzinski tripled in the second inning and scored on a sac fly from Mike Schmidt, but in the third, the Dodgers broke through. Davey Lopes led off with a double. Schmidt booted a grounder off the bat of Bill Russell. Reggie Smith tied the game with an RBI single and Steve Garvey unloaded with a three-run shot. It was 4-1 and Los Angeles was on its way.
LA added a run in the fourth when Rick Monday hit a leadoff triple. Christensen got the next two outs and looked like he might escape, when Lopes homered. Somehow the Phillie starter was still in the game for the fifth inning, as though manager Danny Ozark was unaware that starters can’t just chew up innings as though this were the middle of August. Garvey tripled and scored to make it 7-1.
The decision to let Christensen continue (he came out after the Garvey triple) looked worse when Philadelphia got its offense going in the fifth. Four singles with one out produced two runs and had runners on first and second. Luzinski popped out, but Richie Hebner drove in a run with a single that made it 7-4.
Schmidt was coming to the plate as the tying run, but Dodger skipper Tommy Lasorda managed the game with an appropriate amount of urgency. He pulled Hooton, brought in 21-year-old Bob Welch and Welch got Schmidt to fly to center. Los Angeles got solo home runs from Steve Yeager in the sixth and Garvey in the eighth, winning the game 9-5.
Dick Ruthven won 13 game for Philadelphia after coming over in a June trade and his team’s hopes were on his shoulders for Game 2, facing Los Angeles’ veteran lefty Tommy John, who had pitched the clinching game here at the Vet in the 1977 NLCS.
Ruthven and John traded zeroes for three innings on Thursday night, when Lopes hit a solo shot to start the top of the fourth.
Dusty Baker hit a leadoff double for the Dodgers to start the fifth and scored on a single from Yeager. The LA catcher than stole second base and scored on a two-out single from Lopes. Ruthven was gone and the score was 3-0.
Lopes made yet another mark on the game, hitting a two-out triple in the seventh to drive in Monday. Meanwhile, John was dominating with his sinker. The only remote Philly threat came in the seventh, with leadoff singles from Garry Maddox and Luzinski, but John promptly got Bob Boone to hit into a double play. The Dodger starter allowed just four hits—all singles—and two walks—in a 4-0 shutout.
Philadelphia’s odds were long, needing three straight road wins but they didn’t mail it in and they had Carlton on the mound. Los Angeles had a quality veteran of their own in Don Sutton, but this time it was the Phillies who attacked early and often.
Schmidt doubled with two outs in top of the second. After Tim McCarver drew a walk, light-hitting second baseman Ted Sizemore singled in a run. Carlton, a good-hitting pitcher, jacked a three run bomb and it was 4-zip.
Los Angeles got something going in the bottom of the inning, as Cey and Baker walked, and Bill Russell doubled them in. But with runners on second and third and one out, Carlton struck out Yeager and got Sutton to kill the threat with just one run. The Dodgers further chipped away in the third. With two outs, a sequence of a Reggie Smith single, a Garvey double and Cey single produced two runs and it was a 4-3 game.
But Philadelphia had a two-out rally of their own waiting. In the sixth, Lopes committed an error and the Phils made him pay. Sizemore singled, and Carlton drove in both runs with a base hit of his own, chasing Sutton. Jerry Martin, a good pinch-hitter, doubled for a 7-3 lead. The Phils added a run in the seventh, Garvey and Luzinski traded solo home runs and Philly was still breathing with a 9-4 win.
The sun splashed over Dodger Stadium on Saturday afternoon for Game 4, as the home team sent the underrated Doug Rau to the mound to face Philly lefty Randy Lerch, who had pitched the clinching game of the NL East race and hit two home runs in the process.
Philadelphia fans got a bad omen early—the loaded the bases with none out, but Luzinski struck out. Then Jose Cardenal hit a line drive right at the shortstop Russell. They got no runs, and in the second, the Dodgers got on the board with a double from Cey and an RBI single from Baker.
Luzinski made amends in the third, hitting a two-out two-run homer for a 2-1 lead. Cey answered with a solo home run and Garvey went deep in the bottom of the sixth. It was 3-2 Dodgers and they were nine outs from a pennant. But with Rick Rhoden on in relief of Rau, the Phils’ Bake McBride picked his team off the mat with a two-out solo home run in the seventh to tie the game 3-3.
Garvey led off the eighth with a single, but was gunned down stealing by Boone. The out negated a pair of two-out singles. But Rhoden, in spite of the home run, was pitching well and turned in four solid innings. The game went to the 10th, a battle between LA closer Terry Forster and Philly reliever Tug McGraw.
There were two outs in the bottom of the tenth when Cey drew a walk. It looked harmless enough when Baker lofted a fly ball to centerfield. Maddox, a top defensive centerfielder muffed the ball. Russell then hit a line drive single to center and Cey came flying in with the run that won the pennant.
Garvey was named 1978 NLCS MVP, hitting .389 for the series, with four home runs and seven RBIs. It’s tough to argue against anyone with those numbers, but Lopes also hit .389 (7-for-18), drove in five runs and controlled Game 2, the game in which the pendulum of the series decisively swung. Of note on the other side was that Schmidt continued what was now a pattern of postseason non-performance, batting .200.
It was frustration continued for Philadelphia, their third straight NLCS loss and second to Los Angeles. For the Dodgers, their own version of frustration would continue, as they lost the World Series to the New York Yankees for the second straight year, this time after winning the first two games at home.