by Harold Friend
At the end of play on October 2, 1980, the Houston Astros led the Los Angeles Dodgers by three games, with three games left to play for each team. The teams would face off at Dodger Stadium for what promised to be a dramatic series. All Houston had to do was win one game. They didn't.
Both Teams Had Solid Pitching
Both teams had solid pitching. The Astros starters included 19 game winner Joe Niekro, the great Nolan Ryan, Ken Forsch, but no longer included the best pitcher in baseball at the time, James Rodney Richard, who had suffered a stroke.
The Dodgers were led by lefty Jerry Reuss, Reggie Jackson nemesis Bob Welch, the solid, steady, and unspectacular Don Sutton, and Burt Hooton. They also had Dave Goltz, whom they acquired from Minnesota, but who had been ineffective as a Dodger.
Los Angeles Ties the Astros in the Bottom of the Ninth and Wins in Ten
The Astros started Ken Forsch against Don Sutton. In a classic game, the Dodgers came to bat in the bottom of the ninth, trailing 2-1. Forsch was still in the game, because that's the way managers managed.
With one out, patriot Rick Monday singled. Dusty Baker reached on a Rafael Landestoy error, moving Vance Law, who went in to run for Monday, to second. Forsch retired Steve Garvey, but Ron Cey, the penguin, singled home the tying run.
The Dodgers won in the tenth when Joe Ferguson hit a home run off Forsch. The winning pitcher was 19-year-old Fernando Valenzuela, who had come in for Sutton after he had been removed for a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning.
Jerry Reuss v. Nolan Ryan
The next day, Jerry Reuss out-dueled Nolan Ryan, who struck out nine in his seven innings of work. Reuss went the route, allowing seven hits as the Dodgers won, 2-1, to pull within a game of the Astros.
A Game to Remember
The final game of the regular season was one to remember. Verne Ruhle started for the Astros against Burt Hooton. Neither pitcher lasted very long.
Houston jumped out to a 2-0 lead going to the bottom of the third. Derrel Thomas led off with single off Ruhle, who was forced to leave because of a cut finger on his pitching hand. Joaquin Andujar replaced Ruhle.
The First Base Coach Pinch-Hits
' The Astros added another run in the fourth, but then the Dodgers came back. They scored once in the fifth and once in the seventh to cut the lead to a run. First base coach Manny Mota contributed to the seventh inning run when he left the coaching box to pinch hit for Fernando Valenzuela. Manny singled home the tying run.
Ron Cey's Dramatic At-Bat
Then, in the eighth inning, with Frank LaCorte on the mound for Houston, Steve Garvey reached on an Enos Cabell error. Dodgers' manager Tommy LaSorda put on the sacrifice with slugger Ron Cey at the plate.
Cey failed at the bunt attempt, fouled one off his left instep, and then hit a long drive to left center that went over the fence. It was here that the fun started.
Jay Johnstone Charged at His Manager
LaSorda wanted to replace Jay Johnstone in right field. Johnstone would have none of it. He charged the erstwhile Los Angeles manager and the two had two be pulled apart. Johnstone was the Dodgers right fielder in the Astros ninth inning.
Steve Howe, who is known for having problems with substances the United States government believes should be banned, started the ninth inning, but he ran into trouble. Don Sutton, who had started the first game of the series, was sitting in the dugout, where he went after replacing first base coach Manny Mota, who had pinch hit.
Don Sutton Saves the Game
Reggie Smith, who was on the disabled list, and Sandy Koufax, who was a part-time instructor, asked Sutton if he could face a batter or two. Sutton responded that he could. He went to the bull pen, warmed up, and came in to retire Denny Walling to end the game.
Los Angeles won three consecutive games against the first place Astros, who were now the tied-for-first place Astros. There would be a one game playoff the next day, with the Dodgers' Dave Goltz facing Houston's Joe Niekro, who would be gunning for his 20th win.
By GEORGE VECSEY Special to The New York Times. (1980, October 6). Dodgers Beat Astros and Force Playoff Today :Dodgers Win, 4 to 3 . New York Times (1857-Current file),C1. Retrieved September 14, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 111297213).