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As part of the Astros' 50th anniversary, the weekly "Game to Remember" series features a former Astros/Colt .45s great discussing his favorite game while playing for the Houston franchise. This week: Terry Puhl.
It was the kind of ending that was straight out of a Hollywood script, and considering it took place in the shadows of Tinseltown and was filled with heroes and villains on both sides, it probably was worthy of being put on the silver screen.
The final days of the 1980 season were about as tension-filled as it gets, with the Dodgers and Astros -- fierce rivals in the National League West -- battling it out to determine the division champion and a spot in the NL Championship Series.
The Astros, who had never made the playoffs before, held a three-game lead heading into a season-ending showdown at Dodger Stadium. With a raucous crowd behind them, the Dodgers swept the series to force a one-game playoff. It was win or go home.
Game to Remember
Terry Puhl: Facts and Figures
1. Full name: Terry Stephen Puhl.
2. Game to Remember: Oct. 6, 1980 (Astros 7, Dodgers 1).
14. Claim to fame: He is a member of three Halls of Fame -- Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame, Texas Baseball Hall of Fame and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
15. Did you know? Puhl hit .526 (10-for-19) in the 1980 National League Championship Series against the Phillies, including 4-for-6 in the decisive fifth game.
16. What's he doing now? Puhl is the head baseball coach at the University of Houston-Victoria, as well as the Canadian national team. He's also an investment manager at Corda Investment Management.
"Yes, the pressure was certainly mounting," recalls Astros outfielder Terry Puhl.
On a perfect sunny afternoon in Chavez Ravine, the Astros stunned the Dodgers by winning the 163rd game of the season, 7-1 on Oct. 6, 1980. Joe Niekro threw a six-hit complete game, and Art Howe went 3-for-5 with four RBIs against, including a two-run home run in the third inning that gave the Astros a 4-0 lead.
"It was the first time the Astros had ever won anything as a team," said Puhl, who played 14 of his 15 Major Leagues season with Houston. "That's why I still remember the last out and just how we celebrated after. We had finally accomplished something. We came fairly close in '79. We didn't get it done, but in 1980 we got the division championship."
Had the Astros lost the one-game playoff, it would have gone down in Houston sports history as another collapse in a city that's seen more than its share. Instead, the Astros enjoyed what is still one of their greatest moments in their 50-year history.
"We were a little bit more at ease at least having Joe Niekro as the starting pitcher," Puhl said. "Joe was, in my opinion, in '79 and '80, our money pitcher. He was fabulous in those two years. He wanted the ball in those situations. It would have been nice to have him in Game 1 of the playoffs because we could have pitched him two ballgames against the Phillies, but we needed him and he came through pitched a great ballgame."
Puhl batted leadoff and went 1-for-5 with two runs scored in a star-studded lineup that included Joe Morgan, Jose Cruz, Cesar Cedeno and Howe. Puhl hit .282 that season with 13 homers and 55 RBIs and would remain a steady presence in the Astros lineup for the next few years.
He was on the Astros team that won the NL West in 1986, but nothing topped Game 163 in 1980.
"It was something we had wanted as a team, and that just goes to show you the personality of the players at the time," Puhl said. "They were really there to accomplish a goal and that was a goal of winning a division. It wasn't about personal stats. That team never was like that, and that's why we're all friends today."
After the final out was recorded, the Astros reveled in celebrating on enemy territory. The visiting clubhouse at Dodger Stadium was quite cramped in those days, barely big enough to hold the Astros celebration. Who cared they had to board a flight and fly across country to face the Phillies the next day? After 163 games, a celebration was in order.
"I have to admit there was a little bit of celebrating going on," Puhl said. "But the guys did know we had to get back on the field the next day and get it done. That's wasn't a factor. We had quite the celebration in the locker room. The Dodgers locker room wasn't large in size, and the whole floor was filled with liquid. I remember they had plastic on all the lockers and everything. It was hard to contain the mess."