Reds Memories

Reds Memory: 1972 NLCS, Game Five, 9th inning | Kipp Martin

[This Reds Memory was submitted by long-time Reds fan and friend of Reds Content Plus, Kipp Martin. The moment is one of the greatest in Reds history. The call of Bench’s homer by Al Michaels (yes, that Al Michaels), who was the Reds play-by-play announcer at the time, was the best I ever heard. Thanks, Kipp, for bringing back all these memories. — spm]

I have been a fan of the Cincinnati Reds since the early 1960s and have amassed a mountain of vivid Reds memories over the years. However, the ninth inning of Game Five against the Pittsburgh Pirates for the 1972 National League Championship easily dominates all of the others. I will recount my experience of this inning along with a bit of early 1970s Cincinnati Reds history that led up to that inning.

I felt a great deal of excitement as the 1972 season approached. The Reds were looking for their first World Series championship since 1940. The 1970 team had been outstanding. A great hitting early incarnation of the Big Red Machine. They had Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, and Lee May in the heart of the lineup and Pete Rose and Bobby Tolan at the top of the lineup. The team also featured two good young hitters in Hal McRae and Bernie Carbo and a slick fielding shortstop by the name of Davey Concepcion. They could put runs up on the board. This team went 70-30 in their first 100 games and finished 102–60.

Game One of the 1970 World Series was the first World Series game I ever attended. We lost this game and the Series to the Baltimore Orioles five games to one. I will never forget Game One. This game featured the infamous play later captured in the iconic photo of Bernie Carbo sliding into home and missing it (later touching it making him safe), the Baltimore catcher Elrod Hendricks slapping Carbo with his glove hand, the umpire Ken Burkhart with his back to the plate calling Carbo out and the baseball clearly in Hendricks’ bare hand. What a memory!

In 1971 the Reds finished a disappointing 79-83. Centerfielder Bobby Tolan had been a real catalyst for the 1970 team. Tolan was an excellent player with a 5.4 WAR in 1970. He could hit for average (.316), get on base (.384 OBP) and had some power with 16 home runs. He could also run and had 57 stolen bases in 1970. He missed the entire 1971 season with a torn Achilles tendon. Many fans felt that the key factor in the poor 1971 season was the absence of Bobby Tolan.

More importantly, the general manager Bob Howsam also shared this view. The Reds had moved from old Crosley Field to the astro turf of Riverfront Stadium and Howsam wanted good hitters with speed. Howsam was also not sure of Tolan’s recovery and this led to the famous trade with Houston bringing Joe Morgan to the Reds (along with Cesar Geronimo, Jack Billingham, Denis Menke, and Ed Armbrister) in exchange for the Big Bopper Lee May, Tommy Helms, and utility man Jimmy Stewart. Like most Reds fans at the time I wished we had gotten Cesar Cedeno (although we got a diminished version of him in 1982) not Cesar Geronimo. I really liked Lee May and had some trepidation about the trade and of course never dreamed Morgan would become the player he did. However, I was still optimistic about the upcoming 1972 season.

My optimism was rewarded. The Reds had a good year finishing 95-59. Back then there were two divisions the West and the East. The Reds were in the Western Division (and the Cubs and St. Louis in the East — go figure). The main rival at the time was the Los Angeles Dodgers who finished second in 1972. Any Reds fan in good standing back then hated the Los Angeles Dodgers. As much as I dislike current division rival St. Louis nothing will compare with my utter contempt and disdain for Tommy Lasorda, Steve Garvey, Mike Marshall and the rest of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Even today I gleefully laugh every time Clayton Kershaw gives up a clutch playoff home run.

The Pittsburgh Pirates were the 1972 Eastern Division champions and defending 1971 World Series Champions. The upcoming 1972 National League Championship was going to be a clash of titans. I hated the Dodgers but respected the Pirates. What a great hitting team with guys like Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente, Al Oliver, and Manny Sanguillen. Any game back then between the Reds and Pirates was worth the price of admission.

With with five-game series tied 2-2, Game Five was played on Wednesday, October 11 in 1972 [box score]. It was an afternoon game. I was an overly serious mathematics major at the University of Cincinnati and relieved I would not have to miss any classes in order to attend the game. Of course my tickets were up in the red seats. We referred to the red seats as nose bleed heaven. Green or blue seats for a playoff game were out of the question. See Chad Dotson’s memories of Riverfront Stadium.

I knew this was going to be a great game. My favorite pitcher, Don Gullett, was the starting pitcher for us. Gullett was only 21 and a flame throwing left hander. He first started out in the bullpen in 1970 at age 19. Fortunately Sparky Anderson was smart enough to recognize his talented left arm and make him a starter (are you listening Dusty Baker). The Pirates started Steve Blass a hero of the 1971 World Series.

Blass pitched very well but poor Gullett did not have a good game. He was knocked out in the top of the fourth with no outs and gave up three earned runs. However, the bullpen was a major strength of this team. Down 3-1 the trio of Pedro Borbon, Tom (the Blade) Hall and Clay Carroll pitched six scoreless innings giving up only two singles and a walk while striking out five. An outstanding performance against a team like the Pirates.

Despite hitting only four home runs all year long, Cesar Geronimo hit a home run in the bottom of the fifth to make the score 3-2 Pirates. It stayed that way until the bottom of ninth.

I remember how worried I was in the bottom of the ninth. Our first batter was Johnny Bench and he was facing the Dave Giusti the best Pirate relief pitcher. Giusti’s strength was keeping the ball down and he had given up only three home runs all year in 74 and 2/3 innings. I did not like this matchup. I was even more concerned when Giusti got Bench down 1-2 in the count. Pessimist that I am, I just knew Bench was going to go fishing for a pitch below the strike zone and whiff.

Then a miracle occurred! Giusti got the pitch up about belt high and slightly outside. Bench went with the pitch and lifted a ball to right center. Time stood still — there was Roberto Clemente drifting and drifting and drifting back. Gone!

Here is the video of Bench’s homer. Enjoy.

To say that utter pandemonium broke out is an understatement. No one sat down after the home run. No one! The score is now 3-3. Not only did everyone stand and scream but everyone was jumping up and down. Riverfront Stadium was literally shaking like we were having an earthquake. I honesty thought it might collapse. I have never witnessed anything like this.

Tony Perez followed Bench to the plate and singled on the first pitch. Sparky went into “old school” management mode. First, Sparky replaced Perez with George Foster as the pinch runner. With only two home runs in 1972 Foster was basically a utility player and did not fully blossom as a dangerous power hitter until the 1975 season. Next, Sparky had the weak hitting Denis Menke bunt. Menke could not get the bunt down fouling off two pitches. He then worked the count full and got a single to left.

The Reds had runners at first and second with no outs and Cesar Geronimo at the plate with a fifth-inning home run to his credit. When the count went to 2-0 on Geronimo, Bill Virdon the Pirate manager, replaced Giusti with Bob Moose. Although ahead in the count, Geronimo failed in his sacrifice bunt attempt. Like Menke, Geronimo hit away with two strikes and hit a deep fly to Clemente. Very deep because Foster made it to third despite Clemente’s great arm. At least Foster is now at third.

I am still screaming and jumping up and down like everyone else but getting worried because we have the eight and nine hitters coming to bat. The number eight hitter Darrell Chaney strolls to the plate. For Reds fans who do not remember Darrell Chaney the best way to describe his offensive prowess is tell you that his career OBP is one point below Billy Hamilton’s OBP. Imagine a slow Billy Hamilton and you have Darrell Chaney. Darrell was Darrell and hit a popup to short.

With two outs Hal McRae pinch hit for Clay Carroll. Hal McRae was a good young hitter with his best years ahead playing for the Kansas City Royals. McRae worked the count to 1-1 and then as they say “the rest is history.” Wild pitch and the Reds win. The video above with Bench hitting the home run also has the wild pitch. If you watch Hal McRae jumping up and down in the video it will give you an idea of what I was doing from the time Bench hit the home run until the end of the game. I still can’t believe the stadium didn’t just crumble into the Ohio River.

You can listen to Al Michaels and Joe Nuxhall’s radio broadcast of the game. Listen to the crowd in the ninth. [Editor note: The 9th inning starts at 1:43:43 of the recording.]

The 1975, 1976 and 1990 World Series championships were fantastic. I also loved the brilliance of Joe Morgan, watching Aroldis Chapman blow fastballs by hitters, the ever so cerebral Joey Votto, Pete Rose breaking Ty Cobb’s record, a young Jay Bruce, Johnny Cueto, Mario Soto or Homer Bailey at the top of their game, a Tom Seaver no hitter, the speed and power of Eric Davis. Those are great memories. But as I round third and head into old age and face the inevitable memory decline I know there is one thing I will never forget. That ninth inning in the Autumn of 1972 and how Riverfront Stadium shook like we were having an earthquake.

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Matt Habel
6 months ago

Great post! I often say I was born in the wrong decade for missing out on all the amazing live music back in the 70s but this makes me really wish I had been alive to be a Reds fan back then too!