Shortly after the Pirates had swept the Reds in the best-of-five playoff to win the National League pennant, Pittsburgh's Tim Foli, clad in his underwear, sprang into Manager Chuck Tanner's office. Foli was smoking a fat cigar, and on his head was a cowboy hat that John Candelaria, in celebration, had taken a bite from. Foli was holding a bat down by the knob—ordinarily he chokes way up—and waving it menacingly in the manner of a home run hitter. "How's this look for the World Series?" he asked.
"That's all we need," Tanner replied with an uneasy grin.
From the hallway Second Baseman Phil Garner shouted, "I'll bat second, Skip. He's going to go for the fences. Bat him fourth."
Willie Stargell, who has been the Pirates' clean-up hitter for at least 100 years, nodded his approval. While his teammates were celebrating with champagne, the man they call Pops was working on his customary postgame bottle of wine, this one being a 1977 Napa Valley Chardonnay. Willie's approval is a must on any matter concerning the Pirates, and he doesn't dole it out grudgingly. Some superstars are referred to as my man or the man, but to one and all Stargell is simply a man—the consummate encomium. Champagne in hand, Garner was telling anyone who would listen that he would go to war for Stargell, or, at the very least, "jump off a bridge." Shouting above the disco vibes of Ain't No Stop-pin' Us Now, Lee Lacy added, "Willie Stargell made the whole city happy!" But it was Pirate trainer Tony Bartirome who most succinctly voiced what nearly everyone was feeling. As Stargell waved his wine bottle at him, threatening, "Drink it or wear it," Bartirome put his hands on the sloping shoulders of the 38-year-old Pittsburgh captain and said softly, "You deserve all of this and more."
October 14, 1979
Stargell had made the whole city happy. The Pirates had got back-to-back extra-inning wins in Cincinnati—the first of which had been decided by Stargell's three-run homer in the 11th—so that the team which calls itself "the Family" returned to Three Rivers Stadium on Friday poised for a sweep. The Pirates were already ahead 2-0 in the finale when Stargell led off the third inning with a towering home run that Reds Manager John McNamara described as having been "deposited somewhere in the ionosphere." After Stargell had done his trot, the 42,240 fans, sensing the kill, set off fireworks and screamed until he came out of the dugout, doffed his cap and blew them a kiss as the organist played Jesus Christ Superstar. In his next at bat, Stargell drove in Pittsburgh's fifth and sixth runs with a two-out double, effectively silencing McNamara's band and ending the afternoon's suspense. With Pirate starter Bert Blyleven snapping off nasty curveballs, exhibiting a seldom-used changeup and thoroughly frustrating the overmatched Reds, the festivities began in earnest during the seventh-inning stretch. The Pirate theme song, We Are Family, was struck up, and who should appear behind home plate in an impromptu chorus line but a contingent of players' wives, kicking, waving pompons and discoing in anticipation of the first Pittsburgh pennant in eight years. For Pops and Pirate fans who remembered all too clearly the 1970, '72 and '75 playoff losses to the Big Red Machine of old, the 7-1 final-game victory and the sweep constituted oh-so-sweet revenge.
As for Cincinnati, all McNamara could say was, "Where did our bats go?" The Reds scored just five runs in 30 innings, one less than Stargell (.455, two home runs, two doubles) knocked in by himself. "We just didn't hit well enough to win. That's the sum and substance of it."
Tuesday night's opener matched Tom Seaver, who had won 14 of his previous 15 decisions, against Candelaria. The Candy Man, as he is known within the Family, had been hampered late in the season by a muscle pull in his rib cage, but he gutted out seven painful innings, allowing only five hits and two runs, which came on a 450-foot blast by George Foster into a vacant area beyond the fence in left-centerfield. "Your basic George Foster home run," said Pittsburgh Catcher Ed Ott. "It probably would have killed four people and broken three seats. Candelaria was in pain from the moment he got to the mound. I finally went out and asked him, 'Are you grunting because you're throwing hard or because it hurts?' With every pitch, he'd scream 'Aaaaah!' "
Things sounded different to the denizens of the Reds' dugout. "His ribs definitely weren't hurting him," Dave Collins stated flatly.
The Pirates got their two runs off Seaver in the third inning when Garner led off with an opposite-field home run—"Once in a while a blind dog finds a bone," he would say—and the fleet Omar Moreno, whose speed on the bases was a factor in all three games, scored on a sacrifice fly by Foli. Moreno had reached third when Collins ill-advisedly tried to shoestring his line drive, and the ball bounded over him off the wet artificial grass. "I was trying to keep him off base," Collins said afterward, referring to the Pirate centerfielder's 77 stolen bases during the regular season. "I went down so it would hit me, but the way the ball was skidding off that wet turf, it probably would have killed me if it had."
It was still 2-2 in the 11th when Foli, who batted .333 during the series, led off with a single against Reds reliever Tom Hume. Dave Parker followed with a hit to left, which set the stage for Stargell. He hit Hume's first delivery 300 feet high and 400 feet deep for the first home run allowed by Hume in 52 innings. As Tanner hugged him in the dugout, Stargell winked and told him, "Fine me, Skip, I missed the bunt sign."
Johnny Bench had a chance to tie the game in the bottom of the 11th when, with two out and two on, he faced the Pirates' fourth reliever, 22-year-old Don Robinson. It was only the fifth time in 1979 that Robinson, a Goose Gossage-like fireballer who is ordinarily a starter, appeared in relief, and he walked Bench on a 3-2 curveball. That loaded the bases for Ray Knight, the potential winning run. Stargell jogged to the mound. "How about you moving to first base and I'll pitch?" he suggested. Robinson broke up, then relaxed and fanned the overanxious Knight to earn his first save of 1979.
Tanner's philosophy on the bullpen is simply "the more you use something, the better it gets." He stayed in his office until after 1 a.m. explaining that the human arm, like a rubber band, can be stretched a few times each day without harm. Hence the Pirates have the third bullpen in baseball history with three pitchers who each worked in more than 70 games. The boss reliever is Kent Tekulve, who, despite being 6'4" and only 160 pounds, appeared in 94 games and had 31 saves.
So when one of the other 70-game relievers, Enrique Romo, gave up back-to-back singles to Dave Concepcion and Foster with one out in the eighth inning of Wednesday's game, Tanner turned to Tekulve. The Pirates led 2-1, thanks to Jim Bibby's four-hit pitching—he left after the seventh with a crick in his neck—and a questionable call by Second-Base Umpire Frank Pulli, the same Frank Pulli who failed to call Reggie Jackson for interference in last year's World Series when Jackson did a hula dance into Bill Russell's throw to first. Garner, who was spectacular at the plate and in the field all series, hit a liner toward Collins in the fifth inning. Collins, who played rightfield like a colt on a frolic throughout—alternately making brilliant catches and misplaying singles into triples—made an apparent diving catch, but Pulli ruled that Collins had trapped it. Two outs later, Garner scored on Foli's double. "I caught it," Collins said. "I'm an honest person. I'm not going to say I caught it when I didn't. If I'd have short-hopped the ball, you would have seen water because the field was wet."
The play would have wound up as a mere oddity had the Reds been able to hit in the clutch. No fewer than seven different hitters failed to produce with runners in scoring position. Upon arriving on the scene in the eighth, Tekulve promptly wild-pitched Concepcion and Foster to second and third, so that a fly ball by Bench would have tied the game. A single would have given them the lead. "That wild pitch might have turned into a blessing," Tekulve would say. "Bench's job became to lift the ball into the outfield. If I'm throwing my slider on the outside corner, that's hard for him to do."
There was some question as to whether Tekulve was throwing his best sliders out there—Catcher Ott said, "They weren't exactly on the black; my eyes lit up pretty good a couple of times"—but he struck out Bench on four pitches. Then, following an intentional walk, Tekulve almost forced in the tying run before inducing Knight to fly out.
With one out in the ninth, pinchhitter Heity Cruz and Collins doubled off Tekulve, tying the game 2-2. Suddenly a hit would have evened the series. After Joe Morgan walked, Tanner brought in his sixth pitcher, the hard-throwing Robinson, and this time he needed no settling down from Stargell or anyone else. "He struck out Concepcion on a pitch God couldn't have hit," Ott said of Robinson's 0-2 curve. Then he brought a fastball in on Foster's fists to end the inning on a grounder to Garner at second.
The Pirates won it 3-2 in the 10th when Parker, a Cincinnatian by birth, drove home Moreno with a single. Robinson mowed down the Reds in order, to get the win and give the Family a new favorite son. "That country boy from West Virginia was flat throwing a baseball," Stargell whistled. "I wouldn't have wanted any part of him."
Having lost both games in their home park, the Reds, who so badly lack the leadership that Stargell gives the Pirates, knew they were beaten. "It looks like it's going to be another one of those winters," Bench said.
Friday, when it was all over, Stargell was the last player to leave the dressing room. He undressed slowly, emotionally drained. The '77 Chardonnay was also drained. The third Oriole-Angel game was showing on a TV in a corner, and Stargell found it in himself to cry out, "Baltimore's probably saying, 'Damn, I wish we could lose.' They don't want to mess with us!"
Not you, Pops. Anyone but you.