Armour: An LCS to remember: Astros-Phillies 1980

From SABR member Mark Armour at The National Pastime Museum on October 2, 2017:

I am here to sing the praises of the 1980 NLCS. All five of the games are on YouTube, and I recommend visiting (or revisiting) all of them. The games were spectacular, and the baseball is nearly unrecognizable to a modern fan. There were 16 bunts—two of them for singles—and just one home run. There were six triples and only 56 strikeouts by both teams. The ball was constantly in play, and the games were decided by defenders and base runners.

The two combatants were the Philadelphia Phillies and the Houston Astros. The Phillies had lost three straight NLCS from 1976 to 1978 and had not reached the World Series since 1950. They had the best player in the league, third baseman Mike Schmidt (48 home runs and a 171 OPS+), and the best pitcher in the league, Steve Carlton (24–9, 2.34 ERA). The Phillies won the division by a single game, taking two of three from the Expos on the final weekend.

In the West, the Astros entered that weekend with a three-game lead over the Dodgers and promptly lost them all in Dodger Stadium before winning a one-game playoff, also in LA, on Monday. The Astros were a more balanced team—their best players were outfielders Jose Cruz, Cesar Cedeno, and Terry Puhl. They had been devastated by a tragic stroke suffered by ace pitcher J. R. Richard in July—he was out for the season, and it turned out his career was finished.

The series also featured baseball’s two most famous players—Phillies first baseman Pete Rose and Astros pitcher Nolan Ryan. Though still considered a team leader and spiritual inspiration, Rose had a terrible season—.282 with one home run. Ryan, who signed a record deal in the previous offseason, was better than that (11 wins with a 3.35 ERA in the world’s best pitcher’s park), though not yet earning his lofty contract.

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Originally published: October 2, 2017. Last Updated: October 2, 2017.