Sunday, January 25, 2015

League Championship Series

The tournament has played down to the final four.  While the #1 and #2 Reds and Phillies had muscled their way through the NL field, the #3 Royals and #9 A's had to upset higher ranked and favored teams as they scratched out wins any way they could.

Several Hall of Famers and perennial All-Stars are represented in this four team field.  Some of the top players at their postions in the 70s were ready to prove who was the best of the best.

WAY OUT THERE - Carter longed to introduce the game to others, but was running out of new unreached people groups.  So far during the tournament, he had introduced his family (both daughter and brother), members of the music industry (both country and rock and roll), super heros (both male and female) and various political enemies (both foreign and domestic).  Then the tournament director got a new plan.  Aliens!  Not the kind who sneak across our southern border to find low paying manual labor, but the little green kind in outer space.  But how could he contact them?

He went to a remote area, not far from where the swamp bunny had been captured, and shouted into the sky for a while.  Nothing happened.  Carter then decided the best thing he could do was to mail the aliens a letter expressing his desire to communicate with them.  NASA was commissioned to build and launch the Voyager space probe to take the President's letter into outer space.  It can only be hoped that aliens can read English, and that the letter is not returned for insufficient postage.  Any idea how much a first class letter costs to be mailed to the outer reaches of space?

(Yes, this is real.  Yes, some of our tax dollars went for this)

CINCINNATI, OH - The #2 seed '76 Phillies and #1 seed '76 Reds collided head on in the NLCS of the Jimmy Carter Invitational.  Not only did the matchup put the top 2 teams in the NL battling for a League Championship, it is a rematch of the actual 1976 NLCS.  

This type of matchup, between the exact teams from any particular real life league championship series, had not yet happened in tournament play.  In real life, the '76 Reds plowed over the Phils, sweeping them in 3 games before sweeping the '76 Yankees in 4 in the world series.  Would the APBA matchup end the same way, or would Schmidt, Luzinski and Allen find a way to reverse their fate?

Gary Nolan (B-Z) had been roughed up by Pittsburgh in his last outing and suffered the only loss by the Reds so far in the tournament.  His chances didn't look to be improving as he would face Steve Carlton (B-XZ) in game 1.  George Foster was 0 for 19 coming into the game.  But, Sparky had faith in the big left fielder and left him in the cleanup spot.  In the bottom of the first, with Morgan and Griffey on 1st and 2nd, George busted a 33-5 that I knew was a home run to break the slump...until I looked at the board and saw the 5 was a triple in that situation.  When it rains it pours, and Foster is soaked.  However, two runs did score and the Reds had the lead, 2-0.  Dave Concepcion connected on a 2 run homer in the 2nd and Johnny Bench drilled a solo shot to put the Reds up 5-0, and just as importantly, reduce Carlton to a C.

The Phillies scratched out 1 run in the 4th and Mike Schmidt drove a Gary Nolan offering into the green seats in left field with Garry Maddox on base in the 6th, to bring Philadelphia closer at 5-3.  But Pedro Borbon and Rawly Eastwick held the Phillies scoreless in the 8th and 9th and Cincinnati takes the opener.  Schmidt's blast was his 3rd of the tournament and RBI's 7 and 8.

Dick Allen holds Rose close
PHILADELPHIA, PA - The Reds scored single runs in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th innings and eased away from the Phillies early, as Jim Kaat just could not stay out of trouble.  Pinch hitter Bobby Tolan singled home Bob Boone for Philly in the 5th, and Jay Johnstone continued to be an RBI machine, as he drove in his 9th and 10th RBIs of the tournament with a single in the 6th, cutting the margin down to 4-3.

George Foster seemed to have gotten back on track, and drove home Rose and Griffey in the 7th with a base hit to put the Reds back up by 3.  In the 8th, Concepcion singled, stole second and scored on a Pete Rose single to give the Reds a comfortable 7-3 lead.  When George Foster is not producing in the middle of the lineup, the Reds seem to limp along.  But when the soft spoken Foster lets his big black beauty of a bat do the talking, people listen.

In the 8th and 9th, Borbon and Eastwick held the Phils scoreless again and the Reds clinched the National League Championship by sweeping the '76 Phillies just as they had in real life.  It was a good day to be a Reds fan!

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - In 1973, Carter filed a 2 page report with the International UFO Bureau about an encounter he says he had in 1969.  The quality of the copy isn't great, but most of it can be made out.  Things like this make you realize just how disliked Gerald Ford must have been in this country in 1976 to have lost an election to Carter.

KANSAS CITY, MO - This was a classic.  The 1976 A's have been a pleasant surprise from the start.  They get clutch hitting, the defense is adequate, they steal bases, and when you have 2 A starters plus Rollie Fingers coming out of your bull pen, you're going to be good.

Game 1 was not close.  Bill North led off the game with a base hit.  Bert Campaneris followed with an 11 moving North to third, and then stealing 2nd base.  Baylor's sac fly brought North home and moved Campy to third.  Joe Rudi's ground out to second base plated Campaneris, and the A's had all they would need.

Billy Williams will never look right in
anything other than a Cubs uniform
Tenance homered in the 2nd to put Oakland up, 3-0.  Rudi, Tenace and Washington all singled in the 5th to move the A's ahead 4-0.  Then the flood gates opened in the 7th, as the Oakland batters chased Royals ace Dennis Leonard from the game.  Claudell Washington and Billy Williams greeted reliever Steve Mingori with back to back doubles as the A's piled on 4 more runs.

They would add another in the 9th.  Vida Blue went the distance, hurling a 5 hit shutout, and picking up the win.  With Mike Torrez taking the mound for Game 2, I immediately began making preparation for a rematch of the 1972 World Series between the '76 Reds and '76 A's.  Boy, was that premature.

OAKLAND, CA - The teams headed to the bay, and Oakland fans prepared for a sweep with Mike Torrez (A-Z) going against Jim Colborn (B-YZ) for the Royals.  In the 5th, George Brett tripled home Hal McRae and Al Cowens followed with a long blast over the left field fence to put KC up, 3-0. The Royals added runs in the 5th and 6th to pull out to a 5-0 lead.

Meanwhile, Jim Colburn was humming along.  Campaneris picked up 2 singles and Sal Bando added another, but those were the only hits Oakland could manage.  Colburn out does Blue's performance from the previous night, and throws a 3 hit shutout to even the series at a game each.

JUST THE OTHER SIDE OF REALITY - Carter had success!  Somehow, the extraterrestrials Carter was attempting to contact, received his letter.  They hovered over the director, then beamed him into their spaceship.  What happened next is not exactly clear, as Carter himself admits he was incoherent during most of his time in the spaceship.  There are those who would describe him the same way during his time in the White House.  

Carter addresses the press /
Denies they did any
experiments on him
In his press conference, Carter told reporters he remembers little of the encounter.  Carter was quick to point out it was not an abduction.  "I go willingly everytime", said Jimmy.  He told the aliens about APBA baseball and asked if they were using all of the fossil fuels on their planet.  "They flew by the APBA home office and purchased a basic edition.  They picked up the game very quickly, but then I must have blacked out.  I don't remember anything after that", said Carter.

After dropping off the tournament director near his home, the space aliens apparently attempted to fly back to their planet, but failed to quit playing the game.  On behalf of the APBA game company, everyone is advised to please not roll and drive...or fly space craft.
Georgia Highway Patrol are trying to determine how to fill out the accident report on this.
Nevada authorities have been contacted for assistance.

KANSAS CITY, MO - A classic.  One final game for the championship.  No one could ask for more, unless you asked that the final game be something truly memorable.  It certainly was.

Oakland got on top first.  Back to back to back singles from Campaneris, Baylor and Rudi got the A's up 1-0 in the third.  Kansas City answered when Darrell Porter's sacrifice fly scored John Mayberry in the 4th.  In the 1972 World Series, Gene Tenace was referred to as Tenace the Menace.  The term was also applicable in 1976.  Tenace blasted his third home run of the tournament in the 6th putting Oakland back on top, 2-1.

In the 8th, the A's picked up some insurance when Joe Rudi singled, stole second, then scored on a Sal Bando base hit.  With no rest restrictions in effect for the final game, Rollie Fingers entered for a 2 inning save.  He held KC scoreless in the 8th.  The A's locker room was being prepped for the celebration.  3 outs to go.  

In the 9th, Darrell Porter led off with a 66-1 home run off Fingers to bring the score to 3-2.  Frank White followed with a base hit and then stole second.  The tying run was now in scoring position with no outs.  Freddie Patek leaned a little to close to the plate and was hit by a Fingers offering.  The crowd boo'ed, yelled, and Fingers seemed visibly shaken on the mound.  Hal McRae bounced one back to Fingers on the mound, and in his rattled state, misplayed the ball for an error loading the bases.

With the infield in tight playing for the out at home, George Brett's infield single scored White to tie the game 3-3.  The infield stayed tight, and Cowens smashed a 2 hopper at Campaneris.  He gloved it, then rifled a throw to Tenace and back to Baylor at first for a 6-2-3 double play to end the inning and send the game to extras.

Innings 10, 11 and 12 passed with both teams threatening, but neither could get the big hit they needed.  Finally, in the 13th, Porter singled.  Dave Nelson (F) pinch ran.  Frank White bunted Nelson to 2nd base putting the winning run in scoring position.  Paul Mitchell (D-Z) was in for Oakland.  With Lindblad, Fingers and Todd all used, Oakland's biggest weakness was exposed - the lack of depth in the bull pen.  

Freddie Patek flew out to Bill North in center field, but Nelson had to hold second base.  This is where I messed up.  Some of it could be attributed to the fatigue of a 13 inning game.  Some of it could just be getting caught up in the moment and becoming an excited spectator more than a manager.  I could have removed Mitchell for any of three different right handed D pitchers still in the Oakland bull pen and get a grade bump to C against the right handed hitting Hal McRae.  But I didn't.  I only needed to get lucky on one roll, and I could save the others for another spot.  McRae's 31-9 was a single through short scoring Nelson and advancing the Royals into the World Series to face the Reds.  If I had made the change, the 31-9 against a C, is a ground out to 1B.  The game would have continued into the 14th.

The champagne flowed in the Royals locker room, while the '76 A's and I wondered what might have been.

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