Saturday, August 28, 2010

WABAC, 1984: The Trail Of Cheers

In the days of just two divisions in each league, and in the days before expansion to 28 teams, the National League teams played a very simple schedule:  18 games against divisional opponents (90 games in total), and 12 games against teams from the other division (72 games in total).  Every team in the NL East made two trips out west to play the California trio of the Giants, Padres, and Dodgers. 

Most of those trips consisted of three, three-game series.  On the rare occasion when they didn't, a four-game series was scheduled for the return visit.

This schedule was in place from 1969 through the 1992 season.

And in the 24 seasons' worth of road trips made by NL East teams out west, only once in those 24 seasons' worth of road trips, spanning 288 such trips by NL East clubs, did an NL East team win all of the games (8, 9, or 10) of such trips.

The season was 1984.  The Phillies were coming off a World Series appearance against the Baltimore Orioles.  But in the off-season, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, and Pete Rose all had left the club, and newcomers like Juan Samuel had been brought in to fill the void.

Through May 10, the Phils had gotten off to a rocky start.  Standing at 13-16, the Phils were already two games into an 11-game road trip, having lost five in a row and 10 of their last 12.  They had gone from being 1/2-game up in NL East to four games back of the Cubs (who would go on to win the division).  They'd just dropped their first two games of their road trip at the Astrodome.

And, so, on May 11, the Phils traveled to San Diego to face the Padres for a three-game weekend set, followed by a Monday-Wednesday set in Los Angeles, and concluding with another weekend set at Candlestick Park.  Many times over the years, the West Coast Swing (as it was generally called by the media and fans) had resulted in a mixed bag of results, especially in the Phils' glory days from 1976-1981.

Game 1, May 11:  PHILLIES 6, Padres 4 ... The Phils trail, 4-2, heading into the eighth.  But Mike Schmidt hit a 2-run shot (his 10th) off Goose Gossage in the eighth, and Sixto Lezcano hit a two-run shot off Dave Dravecky (his 5th) in the ninth to make a winner of Al Holland.

Game 2, May 12:  PHILLIES 3, Padres 2 ... Len Matuszak hit his fourth homer of the season, a two-run blast in the ninth off Andy Hawkins to break a 1-1 tie, then Al Holland held off a Padre rally in the bottom of the ninth to give Bill Campbell the win in relief of Marty Bystrom, who went seven.

Game 3, May 13:  PHILLIES 8, Padres 3 ... Juan Samuel drove in three, and John Denny scattered four hits over seven innings as the Phils scored in the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th to even their record at 16-16.

Game 4, May 14:  PHILLIES 3, Dodgers 2 ... More late-inning heroics as the Phils, trailing 2-0 heading into the ninth, get three straight hits off Jerry Reuss to plate one run, then turn a sacrifice and an intentional walk into two more runs on an error by 1B Franklin Stubbs and a hit batsman (Matuszek) by Tom Niedenfuer as the Phils turn to Al Holland to finish the game.

Game 5, May 15:  PHILLIES 12, Dodgers 1 ... The Phils unleashed an 18-hit attack, headed by Len Matuszak's four RBI.  The Phils hit three homers (Schmidt, Matuszak, Aguayo), and Jerry Koosman got his 3rd win with seven innings of one-run ball.

Game 6, May 16:  PHILLIES 7, Dodgers 2 ... Steve Carlton's grand slam off Fernando Valenzuela highlighted a five-run fourth inning as the Phils romped in the series finale at Chavez Ravine.  Lefty gave up a run on six hits in seven innings to even his record at 2-2.

May 17 .. off day as the Phils traveled up the coast to 'Frisco to close out the road trip.

Game 7, May 18:  PHILLIES 1, Giants 0 ... Juan Samuel tripled home Ivan DeJesus in the top of the seventh accounted for the game's only run.  Marty Bystrom went seven scoreless innings, allowing just three hits, and Al Holland pitched a scoreless eighth and ninth to record his 8th save.

Game 8, May 19:  PHILLIES 6, Giants 2 ... Tim Corcoran's three-run, pinch-hit double highlighted a four-run seventh inning that broke open a 2-2 game.  Al Holland entered the game in the eighth with the bases loaded and two out, getting Al Oliver on strikes to end the threat.  Holland had a Brad Lidge-like ninth, giving up three hits but no runs as Bob Brenly lined into a double play to assist Holland's ninth save.

Game 9, May 20:  PHILLIES 7, Giants 4 ... Juan Samuel hit a three-run homer as part of a five-run second inning as the Phils made Charles Hudson a five-game winner (5-2).  Larry Andersen earned his first save of the season and Mike Schmidt hit his 12th dinger of the season in the ninth.

Ten days.  Nine games.  Nine wins.  It had never happened before, and it hasn't happened since.  In part, the three-team, three-series "West Coast Swing" died with the advent of three-divison play and the addition of teams in Colorado and Arizona.

Yes, the Phils still take long road trips, and they often play the Padres, Giants, and Dodgers on those trips.  But those teams are usually ducked in as part of the trip, not the entire trip itself.  Gone are the days of those fun trips west, followed a week or two later by return visits to the Vet by those same three teams.

But in 1984, for one glorious, ten-day stretch, the Phils did what no one else has ever done, sweep nine games on a West Coast Swing.  The Phils ended their trip at 22-16, and returned home on May 22 to face the Dodgers.  They won that game, 3-1, to fashion a 10-game winning streak.

It would be the only highlight for the remainder of the season.  From then on, the Phils could never get a long, sustained level of quality play.  They'd win two, then lose three.  Win four, lose three.  Split every other game for a week or ten days.  With just nine games left, the Phils were 81-72, eliminated days earlier from the NL East race.

In a microcosm of things to come, the 1984 Phils lost their last nine games to finish at 81-81.  Little did we know it at the time, but that wonderful road trip spelled, officially, the end of an era that began during the 1975 season, and ran for almost ten seasons ... the greatest stretch of baseball ever played in the city of Philadelphia.

That Phillies dynasty spent its last performing a miracle in May of 1984.  It would be almost ten more years before we would see anything approaching that level of baseball again.

Order up!

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