Reds-Bucs playoff race reminiscent of '70s showdowns
NL Central foes in midst of resuming rich history of postseason play
The 1970s will be remembered for gas lines, the Iran Hostage Crisis, Watergate and -- in the baseball world -- the Reds, Pirates, Dodgers, Yankees and Athletics dominating in the postseason.
As we sit back and enjoy the final weeks of the 2013 regular season, these teams all appear to have a legitimate shot to make a run at a World Series title. For all but the Yankees, winning the Fall Classic would end lengthy droughts. Other than New York, the most recent World Series winner in the bunch is the Reds in 1990. But the most intriguing storyline involves the fantastic race involving the Pirates and their run for the lead in the National League Central Division.
Two of the teams entangled in the three-team race have quite the history in postseason play. Long ago, before the Central even existed and before there were Wild Cards, the Pirates and Reds were postseason foes regularly representing the East and West, respectively.
The fact the Bucs haven't been to the playoffs in 21 years is well documented. What's not talked about very often is that decades before the extended hiatus, the Pirates were a premier NL franchise, reaching the playoffs in six seasons in a 10-season span. The Bucs played an astounding 36 postseason games in the 1970s. Remember, at that time, the maximum number of games a team could play in a single postseason was 12.
The Pirates' impressive run began with guys like Roberto Clemente and a young Willie Stargell performing on the big stage, and it ended with Phil Garner, Dave Parker and Stargell still leading the way. Perhaps the most enduring image from the 1979 World Series is Stargell jumping in the air after the final out against the Orioles. That series happens to be the last postseason series won by the Pirates -- 34 years ago. That 1979 "We are Family" Pittsburgh club is the last team to win the seventh game of the World Series on the road.
Before that World Series, the Pirates defeated the Reds in the NL Championship Series, sweeping them in three games. That series was the 4th time the clubs had faced each other in the playoffs in that decade. It was almost a given that the clubs would be the last two standing in the Senior Circuit. By 1979, the Reds' run of dominance was over. The Big Red Machine was slowing down. In fact, Cincinnati wouldn't make it back to the playoffs for 11 years.
In the 1970s, we witnessed one of the great dynasties of all time. This weekend, the franchise and their rabid fan base will honor Hall of Famer Joe Morgan and the "Great 8." The entire lineup from that Reds club will be together for the first time at Great American Ball Park. Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Morgan, George Foster, Dave Concepcion, Ken Griffey, Sr. and Cesar Geronimo. Some baseball experts consider that group the best NL club of all time.
The Reds' run at four World Series appearances in the 1970s started with a sweep of the Pirates in '70. They met again two year later in the NLCS that I like to refer to as "The Bob Moose Series." The winning run in the decisive Game 5 was scored by Hal McRae when the reliever, Moose, uncorked a wild pitch in the bottom of the 9th inning. Crazy right? This is even crazier -- the entire nine-inning game took only two hours and 19 minutes to complete.
Three year later, they met again. This time the Machine was well oiled. In the three-game sweep, Cincinnati played from behind for a grand total of about 15 minutes the entire series. Sparky Anderson's club was just warming up. The Reds met the Red Sox in World Series and played an absolute classic. Cincy won in seven. Rose has been quoted as saying Game 6 of that series -- the one in which Carlton Fisk hit his famous home run -- was the greatest game he was ever a part of.
By the late 1980s, the teams were emerging once again as playoff contenders. In 1990, it was the Bucs and Reds going head to head in the NLCS. Cincinnati prevailed. It would be the last time the clubs reached the playoffs in the same season. The last time fans would pack the old cookie-cutter artificial-turf stadiums, Riverfront and Three Rivers, to watch these rivals compete in the postseason.
In a few weeks , fans in both cities may be treated to another duel. And an entirely new generation of fans will become part of the rich October history.
Matt Yallof is the co-host of The Rundown on MLB Network from 2-4 p.m. ET. Follow him on twitter @mattyallofmlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.