1975 NLCS: The Big Red Machine Handles The Pirates Again

The Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates were two teams that had already gotten familiar with each other in National League Championship Series play. The two teams met in 1970 and the Reds won in a sweep. They met in 1972 and the Reds won a thriller. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh got together one more time in the 1975 NLCS. And one more time, the Big Red Machine asserted themselves.

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The NLCS opened on a Saturday in Cincinnati’s old Riverfront Stadium. Each team had its rotation lined up, and the aces—Don Gullett for the Reds and Jerry Reuss for the Pirates—ready to go.

Pittsburgh drew first blood when rightfielder Dave Parker was hit by a pitch with two outs in the top of the second. Richie Hebner picked up the RBI with a double and then light-hitting shortstop Frank Taveras singled to make it 2-0.

Cincinnati got one back in the bottom of the inning with consecutive two-out singles and then Gullett helping his cause with an RBI base hit. It was just the beginning of what the Reds’ pitcher would do at the plate.

In the bottom of the third, Cincy’s MVP second baseman Joe Morgan drew a walk and then swiped both second and third. Johnny Bench was walked. Tony Perez singled in the tying run. Reuss got two outs and looked like he might escape with a 2-2 tie, but Ken Griffey slashed a two-run double and the Pirate starter took an early shower.

The fifth inning broke the game open. Three straight singles from Perez, George Foster and Dave Concepion loaded the bases with no one out. A productive ground ball out from Griffey made the score 5-2. Cesar Geronimo hit a sac fly to add another run. The coup de grace came from Gullett—the pitcher hit a two-run homer to make it 8-2, and the game ended with an 8-3 final.

Cincinnati came back on Sunday and didn’t take their foot off the gas. Pete Rose singled to lead off the home half of the first inning. Pittsburgh starter Jim Rooker was able to get Morgan and Bench, but Perez took it deep for a 2-0 lead.

Pittsburgh’s veteran first baseman Willie Stargell got a run back in the top of the fourth with an RBI double off Cincy pitcher Fred Norman, but the Reds came roaring right back in their own half of the fourth frame.

Three straight singles from Foster, Concepion and Griffey made the score 3-1 and had runners on first and second. The aggressive Reds then employed a double steal and both Concepion and Griffey were safe.

For the second straight game, a Cincinnati pitcher helped himself at the plate—Norman picked up a run with a sac fly and it was 4-1. And for the second straight game a Pittsburgh starter didn’t make it through five innings.

The Reds added some insurance when Griffey singled to lead off the sixth, stole both second and third and scored on a balk. Perez later delivered an RBI single in the same inning, and the 6-1 final put Cincinnati on the brink of a pennant.

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No team had rallied from on 0-2 deficit since LCS play was instituted as a best-of-five in 1969, but Pittsburgh would get the rest of the series at home in Three Rivers Stadium. They sent John Candelaria to the mound and the lefty did what he could to keep his team’s season alive.

The Reds were able to get a run in the second when the normally light-hitting Concepion went deep for a solo home run. It stayed 1-0 into the sixth when the Pirates got to Cincy starter Gary Nolan. A single from Hebner and a home run by Al Oliver made it 2-1.
Candelaria bailed his team out in the seventh. Bench reached on an error, and even the catcher got in on the basestealing display, taking his own turn at swiping both second and third. Candelaria came up with a big strikeout of Perez, got out of the inning and with the 2-1 lead intact, it looked like the Pirates might live to fit another day.

Fate was cruel in the eighth though. Candelaria got the first two batters out. Then, after having controlled the Big Red Machine’s lineup of future Hall of Famers all night long, he walked pinch-hitter Marv Rettenmund. It flipped the lineup to the top and Rose homered.

Cincinnati was three outs from a pennant, but they wouldn’t get them in the ninth. Stargell and Zisk both singled, and Pittsburgh would load the bases with two outs. Now it was their turn for a no-name pinch-hitter to drive opposing fans crazy. Duffy Dyer drew a game-tying walk and we were going extra innings.

Griffey got one more Reds rally going in the 10th, with a leadoff single. He moved up to second on a balk, and took third on a ground ball out by Geronimo. A sac fly from Ed Armbrister brought in the lead run. For all of the firepower the Reds had, they could move baserunners and execute in key spots, and it gave them the last lead they would need in the 1975 NLCS.

Consecutive hits from Rose and Morgan added an insurance run and reliever Pedro Borbon set the side down in the 10th. The 5-3 win gave the Cincinnati Reds their third National League pennant in six years.

There was no MVP award given in LCS play in 1975. Candidates would include Concepion, whose .455 batting average led Cincinnati regulars. Morgan stole four bases, the leading total on a team whose 11 steals defined this series. Gullett had virtually won Game 1 by himself with his arm and his bat.

All of those were good candidates, but I think the best candidate would be Perez. He hit .417, had four RBIs and his two-out, two-run shot early in Game 2 solidified all the momentum the Reds established at home early in the series.

The Big Red Machine was still seeking to get over the top in the World Series, and they had an epic battle awaiting with the Boston Red Sox. But after a 108-win regular season and a three-game sweep of the NLCS, there was no doubt just how far they were ahead of the rest of the National League.