The Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds were old “friends” when it came to hooking up in the National League Championship Series. They met in 1970, 1972 and 1975, with the Reds winning all three times. The Pirates finally got their revenge in the fourth meeting in the 1979 NLCS.
You can read more about the paths the Pirates and Reds took their respective division titles and the seasons enjoyed by their key players at the links below. This article will focus strictly on the games of the 1979 NLCS.
The series opened in Cincinnati by virtue of the rotation system that determined homefield. The series that was then best-of-five would see two games in Cincy, with the balance of games being played in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh sent 25-year-old lefty John Candelaria to the mound to face Cincinnati veteran Tom Seaver, who had helped the New York Mets win a World Series in 1969 and an NL pennant in 1973.
Johnny Bench tripled for the Reds in the bottom of the second with one out, by Ray Knight and Dan Driessen failed to pick him up. It would be the Pirates who struck first in the top of the third, with a solo homer by Phil Garner, then a one-out triple from Omar Moreno, followed by a sac fly from Tim Foli. The Pirates had a 2-0 lead.
Cincinnati showed their own muscle in the fourth when Dave Concepion singled, and George Foster tied the game with a two-run homer. The pitching took over, the starters gave way to the bullpens and the game went to 11th inning still tied 2-2.
Foli led off the top of the 11th with a single off of Cincinnati’s Tom Hume, who had been in since the ninth. Dave Parker then singled. Willie Stargell then delivered the big blow, a home run to put Pittsburgh up 5-2.
Cincinnati tried to rally with two outs in their own half of the 11th. Concepion singled and Foster worked a walk. Pittsburgh summoned righthander Don Robinson to replace lefty Grant Jackson, with righty hitters Bench and Knight coming up. Bench walked, but Knight struck out to end the game.
The teams came right back the following afternoon and the tense games continued. Each team turned to a pitcher who had split time between the bullpen and rotation, Jim Bibby for Pittsburgh and Frank Pastore for Cincinnati. The Reds got on the board first, with Pastore helping himself, delivering a sac fly following hits by Driessen and Knight.
Pittsburgh tied the game in the fourth with consecutive singles by Foli, Parker and Stargell to start the inning. But Stargell was thrown out on the bases and an inning that might have been big, ended with the score still tied 1-1. The Pirates got the lead in the fifth when Garner singled to start the inning and Foli drilled a two-out double.
The Reds didn’t rally until the eighth, when they loaded the bases with two outs against Pirate closer Kent Tekulve. Knight flied to center. In the ninth though, the Reds broke through. With one out, Hector Cruz pinch-hit for Hume and singled. Dave Collins doubled him in to tie the game. Concepion and Foster missed chances to end it right here and for the second time in less than 24 hours, we were going extra innings.
Doug Bair was on for the Reds, and Moreno started the Pittsburgh tenth with a single. He was bunted over and Parker drove him in. The Reds went quietly in the 10th, with Knight again making the last out. The young third baseman was the replacement for Pete Rose, and while Knight had hit .318 in ’79, the NLCS just wasn’t going his way.
After a day off, the teams resumed play in Pittsburgh, but it was all over but the shouting. Moreno got it started quickly against Cincy starter Mike LaCoss, drawing a walk, stealing second and scoring a sac fly from Parker. The Pirates got another run in the second when Garner tripled and scored on a sac fly from Foli.
Stargell homered to start the third and Madlock went deep later in the inning. The barrage continued in the fourth when Pirate starter Bert Blyleven singled, as did Parker and Stargell pulled a two-out double down the right field line. It was 6-0, and other than a solo home run by Bench, the Reds went quietly in a 7-1 final.
The selection of NLCS MVP was easy—Stargell was 5-for-11, he drew three walks, hit two home runs and had six RBIs. That included the biggest hit of the series, the three-run blast that won Game 1. Honorable mention goes to Garner, who was 5-for-12, and Parker’s 4-for-12 showing, including the winning hit of Game 2.
Pittsburgh went on to face the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series, where they rallied from a 3-1 deficit in games to win a seven-game Series. Pittsburgh won the final two games on the road, the last team to achieve that.
1979 was the last hurrah for the Pirates and Reds. When the 1970s disappeared, so did each team from the October stage, with no playoff appearances in the 1980s. Ironically, the each came back in the same year—it was 1990 when they met in the NLCS, and Cincinnati ultimately won the World Series.