By now the rest of the National League must feel like the Reds are always on a hot streak. In 1970 Cincinnati won 70 of its first 100 games and spent all but one day of the season on top of the Western Division; in 1972 a 65-30 midseason binge brought Cincy another title; in 1973 the Reds roared back from 11 games behind to beat out Los Angeles for the division championship; and last year they nearly overhauled the Dodgers again by playing at a .716 clip during the second half of the season.
But these were merely warm spells compared to the streak that began on May 21 of this year. That day the heavy-hitting Reds scored seven runs off Tom Seaver and defeated the Mets 11-4. For the next 7½ weeks, a period encompassing 50 games, Cincinnati was as hot as any team in history, at least as far as baseball's official statisticians can determine.
The streak got under way with seven consecutive victories, and there was another stretch of six straight wins in late June. By the time the Reds had run off 10 more in a row immediately before the All-Star break, they had scored series sweeps over no fewer than half the clubs in the National League: Philadelphia, Montreal, Chicago, St. Louis, Atlanta, Houston and New York.
In 50 games the Big Red Machine had won an astonishing 41 times while losing just nine, a record matched only by the 1953 Dodgers, 1951 Giants, 1946 Red Sox and 1931 Athletics. Surprisingly, no Yankee team—not even the 1947 club that won 19 straight games—rivaled the Reds' feat. Nor did the 1916 Giants, who hold the major league record of 26 victories in a row.
If Cincinnati's May-July run lacked the drama of the 1951 "Miracle Giants" late-season pennant drive from 13½ games behind, the Reds' numbers were more impressive. After trailing Los Angeles by five games on May 20, Cincinnati soared to a 12½-game lead at the end of the streak, a turnabout of 17½ games, and virtually assured itself a fourth divisional title in six seasons.
"We have been destroyed psychologically by the way the Reds have been playing," admits Davey Lopes, the Dodger second baseman. "I don't think we'll catch them." Cincinnati's Pete Rose says, "The best part of it is that we turned the race around and never did see the Dodgers. Now it's too late for them." After the Reds, who have cooled off to a 5-7 record since the All-Star break, split four games with Los Angeles last week to maintain their 12½-game lead, it looked as if Lopes and Rose were right.
How does a team go 41-9 these days while contending with so many night games, extensive travel and the knowledge that Henry Kissinger's wife is a Dodger fan? Hitting is unquestionably the Reds' strength, but they did not amass all those wins with offense alone. Good pitching and spectacular defense played important roles as Cincinnati won in almost every conceivable manner—from an 18-11 slugfest against the Cubs to a 2-1 pitchers' duel with Philadelphia. Simply, the Reds were extraordinary at all phases of baseball during those 50 games:
•Leadoff man Pete Rose had 70 hits, raised his average from .308 to .319 and had a 41-9 streak of his own, getting hits in all but nine of the 50 games.
•MVP favorite Joe Morgan batted .351, was on base 97 times, hit 10 home runs, scored eight winning runs and knocked in the deciding run nine times.
•Johnny Bench had 12 homers, 47 RBIs, seven game-winning hits and played four different positions.
•First Baseman Tony Perez had eight home runs and 31 RBIs.
•Outfielder George Foster averaged .308, hit nine home runs and had four game-deciding RBIs.
•Starting Pitchers Jack Billingham, Don Gullett and Clay Kirby were 17-0, and Reliever Will McEnaney had a 1.15 ERA for 38‚Öî innings.
•With four 1974 Gold Glove winners in the lineup—Second Baseman Morgan, Catcher Bench, Centerfielder Cesar Geronimo and Shortstop Dave Concepcion—Cincinnati set a major league record by going almost 16 games (152‚Öì innings) without committing an error.
"We've won a lot in recent years," says Morgan, "and many guys on the team didn't know anything special was going on until we took 10 straight. But it didn't surprise me because I feel we have the perfect lineup: there are no outs in it. In Houston earlier this year the first eight men in our order got 20 hits, and in Philadelphia last week the first three hitters in the order were on base 12 times. When we put all this together with good pitching and defense, there's nobody like us."