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Revisit the 'Family's' 1979 NLCS10/13/2004 8:00 AM ET
By Ed Eagle / MLB.com
PITTSBURGH -- In celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Pittsburgh Pirates' 1979 World Series championship season, MLB.com takes a look back at the 1979 National League Championship Series between the Bucs and the Cincinnati Reds.
We meet again...
The 1979 NLCS pitted the Bucs' free-spirited "Family" against the final remnants of the "Big Red Machine."
While the Pirates were one of the most successful franchises in the big leagues during the 1970s, the Reds were the one team that seemed to have Pittsburgh's number in the postseason. Led by Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, all-time hits leader Pete Rose and other stars such as Dave Concepcion, Ken Griffey and George Foster, the Reds knocked Pittsburgh out of the playoffs in the 1972 and 1975 NLCS.
The 1972 loss was a particularly tough pill for Pittsburgh to swallow. With the Bucs leading, 3-2, in the bottom of the ninth and closer Dave Giusti on the hill, Cincinnati tied the game on a Bench home run to begin the final frame. Later in the inning, with two outs and runners at first and third base, Bob Moose uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Foster to scamper home from third with the winning run in what would be the last game of Pirates legend Roberto Clemente's career.
By 1979, the "Big Red Machine" had lost two of its key cogs. Perez, a top run producer in the middle of the order, was traded following the 1976 season. Rose, the ultimate sparkplug to any lineup, bolted to Philadelphia as a free agent prior to the 1979 season. Despite their losses on offense, the Reds won the NL West title by 1 1/2 games over Houston. Cincinnati also had something in 1979 that it never had during its previous matchups with the Bucs: a Hall of Fame ace in Tom Seaver.
The NLCS opener pitted Seaver against Bucs southpaw John Candelaria, and the odds appeared to be stacked against Pittsburgh once again.
Seaver entered the postseason as a winner in 14 of his previous 15 decisions. Candelaria, although he paced the Pirates' staff with 14 wins, was plagued by back and rib injuries throughout much of the season, and he went 0-2 with a 6.05 ERA against the Reds in 1979.
The Pirates jumped on Seaver early. No. 8 hitter Phil Garner led off the third inning with a home run to initiate the scoring. Speedy center fielder Omar Moreno tripled two batters later and scored on a Tim Foli sacrifice fly to stake Pittsburgh to 2-0 advantage.
The lead wouldn't last long. Foster, the NL home run champ in 1977 and 1978, drilled a two-run shot to center field off Candelaria in the bottom of the fourth to tie the game at 2.
The contest would remain deadlocked until the 11th inning, when Willie Stargell added another chapter to his storybook season. "Pops" launched a three-run home run to right-center field off Reds closer Tom Hume to send the Bucs to an all-important road win against Seaver in the series opener.
With a 1-0 series lead and Seaver in their rearview mirror for at least the next two games, the Pirates were suddenly in the driver's seat heading into the second game of the five-game set.
The Pirates sent intimidating starter Jim Bibby to the mound against Reds right-hander Frank Pastore, a rookie who had posted a less-than-impressive 6-7 mark while splitting time between the Cincinnati starting rotation and bullpen. However, the powerful Pirates hitters would not have their way against the inexperienced Reds hurler. Pastore limited the Bucs to two runs in seven solid innings.
The second Pittsburgh run came as a result of the most controversial play of the series. Reds right fielder Dave Collins made what appeared to be a diving catch on a sinking Garner liner to begin the fifth inning, but the play was ruled a trap despite the protest of Collins and Reds skipper John McNamara. Tim Foli drilled a two-out double later in the inning to give the Pirates a slim, 2-1, lead.
After Bibby limited Cincinnati to one run in seven innings, the Reds battled back to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth on a double by Collins off Pirates closer Kent Tekulve. But the Pirates once again prevailed in extra innings when Moreno scored from second base on a Dave Parker single in the 10th inning.
Pirates right-hander Don Robinson was an unheralded hero for Pittsburgh in the first two games of the series. Despite pitching with a sore shoulder, he tossed a scoreless inning of relief during each contest to earn a win and a save.
Thanks to a pair of extra-inning thrillers, the "Family" returned home to Pittsburgh needing just one win to earn its first World Series berth since 1971.
Unlike the first two games, however, the series finale wouldn't call for much nail-biting from the crowd of 42,240 on hand at Three Rivers Stadium. Led by Stargell's offensive heroics and starter Bert Blyleven's masterful performance, the Bucs trounced their nemesis, 7-1, as the fans and players' wives danced jubilantly to the team's theme song, the disco hit "We Are Family" by Sister Sledge.
Stargell, who hit .455 with two home runs and six RBIs in the NLCS to capture the series MVP trophy, went deep in the third inning to give the Pirates a 3-0 lead. Bill Madlock followed two batters later with another long ball to all but put the game on ice.
Blyleven, who had been labeled earlier in his career as a guy who couldn't handle pitching in big games, silenced his critics by tossing a complete-game win. His only blemish was a solo home run by Bench in the sixth inning.
When Blyleven dropped one of his trademark curveballs over the plate to buckle Cesar Geronimo's knees with the final strike of the game, the celebration had officially begun. The "Family" was on its' way to a World Series showdown with the mighty Baltimore Orioles.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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