The Yankees had little time to savor their pennant-winning victory over the Kansas City Royals in Game Five of the 1976 ALCS. After celebrating wildly at Yankee Stadium once Chris Chambliss’ ninth-inning blast cleared the right field wall to give the Yankees a hard-fought 7-6 victory, the Yankees had to board a flight to Cincinnati the very next day. Awaiting them in Cincinnati was The Big Red Machine, a team considered by most baseball historians to be among the greatest ever.
The Reds finished the 1976 campaign with baseball’s best record – a mark of 102-60 that enabled them to beat out the second-place Los Angeles Dodgers for the N.L. West title by a full 10 games. They then swept a Philadelphia Phillies team in the NLCS that won 101 games during the regular season. Cincinnati’s powerful offense led the senior circuit with 141 home runs, 857 runs scored, 210 stolen bases, and a team batting average of .280. The team’s lineup included future Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, and Joe Morgan, along with Pete Rose, who would be in Cooperstown as well, had he not bet on baseball. Injured much of the year, Bench batted only .234, hit just 16 homers, and drove in only 74 runs. Yet, as the Yankees soon discovered, he still presented an extremely serious threat at the plate. Perez, one of the game’s top RBI-men for a decade, hit 19 home runs and knocked in 91 runs during the regular season. Morgan captured N.L. MVP honors for the second consecutive time by hitting 27 home runs, knocking in 111 runs, scoring 113 others, batting .320, stealing 60 bases, and topping the senior circuit with a .444 on-base percentage and a .576 slugging percentage. Rose batted .323 and led the league with 130 runs scored, 215 hits, and 42 doubles, en route to earning a fourth-place finish in the MVP balloting. Meanwhile, slugging left-fielder George Foster placed second in the voting for having batted .306, hit 29 homers, and driven in a league-leading 121 runs.
Cincinnati’s lineup was further bolstered by the presence of Ken Griffey, Dave Concepcion, and Cesar Geronimo. Griffey finished among the league leaders with a .336 batting average, 111 runs scored, and 34 stolen bases. Shortstop Concepcion batted .281, stole 21 bases, and drove in 69 runs. Eighth-place hitter Geronimo batted .307 and stole 22 bases.
The Yankees’ only hope entering the World Series appeared to be their superior pitching. New York posted an A.L. best 3.19 team ERA during the regular season, as opposed to Cincinnati’s mark of 3.51, which placed them just fifth in the N.L. rankings. In Catfish Hunter, Ed Figueroa, and Dock Ellis, the Yankees had three starters who won at least 17 games. They also had one of the game’s top closers in Sparky Lyle.
On the other hand, no one on the Reds won more than 15 games. Their top winner was Gary Nolan, who finished the regular season with a record of 15-9 and an ERA of 3.46. Pat Zachry finished second on the team with 14 victories, and he led the starters with a 2.74 ERA. The man generally considered to be Cincinnati’s best pitcher was the oft-injured Don Gullett, who posted a record of 11-3 and a 3.00 ERA in his 20 starts. Cincinnati’s top reliever was Rawly Eastwick, who finished the campaign with a record of 11-5, a 2.09 ERA, and a league-leading 26 saves.
Joe Morgan set the tone for the entire Series by hitting a home run off Yankee starter Doyle Alexander in the bottom of the first inning of Game One. Although New York tied the score with a run in the top of the second, Cincinnati regained the lead with another run in the third inning. The Reds scored three more times, while Don Gullett and reliever Pedro Borbon kept the Yankees off the scoreboard the rest of the way, giving Cincinnati a 1-0 Series lead with a 5-1 victory.
The Reds jumped out to another early lead in Game Two, scoring three times in the bottom of the second inning against Catfish Hunter. The Yankees, though, eventually tied the score at 3-3, with Hunter preventing Cincinnati from scoring again until the ninth inning. After the Yankee starter retired the first two Cincinnati batters in the bottom of the ninth, a throwing error by shortstop Fred Stanley allowed Ken Griffey to reach second base. Tony Perez then lined a single to left field to bring home Griffey with the winning run.
As it turned out, Game Two ended up being the only competitive contest of the Series. With the Fall Classic shifting to New York for Game Three, Cincinnati pounded Dock Ellis for seven hits and four runs in just 3 1/3 innings, en route to taking a commanding 3-0 lead in the Series with a 6-2 victory. Ironically, backup shortstop Jim Mason, who spent most of the year buried in manager Billy Martin’s doghouse, delivered New York’s only home run of the Fall Classic in a pinch-hitting role in the bottom of the seventh inning.
The massacre continued in Game Four, with the Reds erasing an early 1-0 Yankee lead (their only one of the Series) with a three-run fourth inning. The game remained close until the ninth inning, when Cincinnati scored four more times to put the Yankees out of their misery with a 7-2 drubbing. Johnny Bench’s three-run homer (his second round-tripper of the contest) helped seal the Yankees’ fate. Bench ended up winning Series MVP honors after pounding New York pitching for two home runs, six runs batted in, and a .533 batting average. George Foster (.429), Dan Driessen (.357), and Dave Concepcion (.357) also hit exceptionally well for the Reds.
Meanwhile, the lone bright spot for New York was Thurman Munson, who finished the Series with nine hits in 17 times at-bat, for a .529 batting average.By Bob_Cohen
More From Around the Web
On March 17, 1988, recently acquired slugger Jack Clark tear ...
On March 17, 1984, future Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins is ...
On March 17, 1978, the Cincinnati Reds wear special green un ...
- 1976 World Series, Billy Martin, Catfish Hunter, Cesar Geronimo, Chris Chambliss, Cincinnati Reds, Dan Driessen, Dave Concepcion, Dock Ellis, Don Gullett, Doyle Alexander, Ed Figueroa, Fred Stanley, Gary Nolan, George Foster, Jim Mason, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Ken Griffey, Sr., New York Yankees, Pat Zachry, Pedro Borbon, Pete Rose, Rawly Eastwick, Thurman Munson, Tony Perez