The 2015 League Championship Series offered a hotly contested ALCS and a comparable wipeout in the NLCS. The Mets swept Chicago four straight, and never trailed at any point in the series. While so much is made of great 1970s LCS like the ’76 and ’77 Yankees-Royals matchup, ’73 Mets-Reds, or ’72 Reds-Pirates, there were 7 sweeps out of 20 LCS during the decade. Because what is now a best of 7 format was only best of 5 back in the day, sweeps were a little easier to come by, and some of them were close and actually pretty entertaining.
Here’s a ranking of the 1970s LCS sweeps, from most competitive to least:
1) Most Competitive: 1970 NLCS, Reds-Pirates
The Big Red Machine, winners of 102 regular season contests under new skipper Sparky Anderson, faced a hard-hitting Pirates club that rode a hot finish to capture the NL East flag by 5 games. In Game 1, Pittsburgh’s bats were promptly cooled off by young starter Gary Nolan, who held the Bucks scoreless for 9 innings. In the bottom 8th Willie Stargell smashed a one-out double, but after intentionally walking Al Oliver, Nolan fanned Manny Sanguillen and Richie Hebner to end the threat. In the 9th Matty Alou gave Pirate fans hope with a two-out infield hit, but was gunned down stealing by Johnny Bench, who had picked off Alou at first base earlier in the game. Pirate starter Dock Ellis was equally dominant, holding Cincinnati scoreless for 9 innings. In the 10th, the Reds finally got to Ellis: Ty Cline led the inning off with a pinch hit triple, then scored the go-ahead run on Pete Rose’s single. With two out and Rose on 2nd, Johnny Bench was intentionally walked, but Lee May’s double to left scored both runners. Clay Carroll pitched a 1-2-3 bottom 10th to close out the win. In Game 2 the score was Bobby Tolan 3, Pirates 1. Tolan singled in the 3rd, stole second base, advanced to third on a wild throw, and scored on a wild pitch. In the 5th he homered. Roberto Clemente broke Pittsburgh’s 15 inning series scoring drought with a 6th inning RBI single. Then Tolan singled in the 8th and came around to score on Tony Perez’ double. 19 year-old rookie Don Gullet dominated in relief, tossing 3 1/3 hitless innings to record the save. In Game 3 the Pirates grabbed their first lead of the series on a single by Al Oliver to score Clemente. In the bottom half Perez and Bench hit back-to back homers. Pittsburgh fought back in the 5th on a 2-out RBI single by Stargell. Bob Moose, who had kept the Reds in check since the first inning, walked Ty Cline and yielded a Pete Rose single in the 8th, then Tolan greeted reliever Joe Gibbon with a go-ahead RBI hit to score Cline. The Bucs mounted one last threat in the 9th, as Clemente singled off Wayne Granger with two out. Gullett replaced Granger and yielded another hit to Stargell, sending pinch runner Johnny Jeter to third. But with the tying run 90 feet away, Oliver grounded out to end it. This was a sweep that was anything but one-sided, though amazingly the Lumber Company was held to 3 runs and no homers in the series.
2) 1971 ALCS, Orioles-A’s
The Orioles continued their dominance of the American League with a 3rd consecutive LCS sweep, and for the 2nd straight year, they needed only 4 pitchers total over the 3 games. Oakland actually led the opener at Memorial Stadium 3-0 thanks to 2 RBI extra base hits from Angel Mangual and another by Dave Duncan off Dave McNally. An RBI double by Merv Rettenmund in the bottom 4th put Baltimore on the board, and the Birds’ four-run rally in the 7th off Vida Blue, thanks to RBI hits by Mark Belanger, Curt Motton and Paul Blair put them ahead to stay. Eddie Watt pitched two scoreless innings to close it out. Mike Cuellar went all the way in Game 2 behind homers from Boog Powell (3 RBI), Brooks Robinson, and Elrod Hendricks for a 5-1 decision over Catfish Hunter. Game 3 saw Jim Palmer toss another complete game to beat Diego Segui 5-3; he overcame two solo homers by Oakland’s Reggie Jackson, and another from Sal Bando, thanks to 3 hits from his centerfielder Don Buford.
3) 1975 ALCS, Red Sox- A’s
Oakland’s 3 year World Championship run was sandwiched between LCS sweeps. This time it was at the hands of the Boston Red Sox. Luis Tiant went all the way on a 3-hitter in the opener at Fenway Park in a sloppy 7-1 Red Sox win that featured 7 errors between the two clubs. The A’s took a 3-0 lead in Game 2 against Reggie Cleveland before Boston came roaring back with a 3-run 4th off Vida Blue. Carl Yastrzemski’s 2-run homer was the key blow. In the 6th, Carlton Fisk RBI single off Rollie Fingers scored Yaz with the go-ahead run, and Boston cruised to a 6-3 win with 4 combined scoreless inning of relief from Roger Moret and Dick Drago. Back at home for Game 3, Oakland could not overcome an 11-hit Red Sox attack as Rick Wise went 7 1/3 in a 5-3 win over an ineffective Ken Holtzman, who also was the losing pitcher in Game 1.
4) 1979 NLCS Pirates-Reds
Pittsburgh returned the favor to a Reds club that swept them in two LCS earlier in the decade. In the opener, Tom Seaver’s 8-inning, five hit effort was not good enough in the future Hall of Famer’s first post-season appearance since being traded from the Mets two years earlier. A Phil Garner homer and Omar Moreno triple highlighted the Bucs’ two-run 3rd, but the Reds tied it on George Foster’s 2-run homer in the 4th off John Candelaria. Neither team mounted a serious threat over the next 6 innings, but NL MVP Willie Stargell’s 3-run homer in the 11th gave Pittsburgh what seemed like a safe lead. Cincinnati loaded the bases in the bottom half before Don Robinson fanned Ray Knight to end it. In Game 2 Tim Foli’s 5th inning RBI double broke a 1-1 tie, but Dave Collins’ 9th inning two-bagger off Kent Tekulve sent the game to extras. The home crowd was sent away disappointed again as Dave Parker scored Omar Moreno with a 10th inning hit, and Don Robinson closed out the Reds with a perfect bottom half. The deflated Big Red Machine, by now an aging shadow of its former self, never mounted much resistance in a Game 3 7-1 loss, as the Pirates’ Bert Blyleven went all the way, with the support of 2 hits each from Stargell (double, HR, 3 RBI) and Garner (single, triple, 2 runs scored).
5) 1976 NLCS Reds-Phillies
In what would be a recurring pattern in the series, the Phils landed the first punch in Game 1 on a Mike Schmidt sacrifice fly. Don Gullett then loaded the bases on walks before retiring Tim McCarver to avoid further damage. Tony Perez’ sac fly in the 3rd tied it, then in the 6th George Foster broke the tie on a homer off Steve Carlton, and later that inning Gullett added an RBI single. 2 innings later, Gullett struck again with a 2-run double off Tug McGraw, and scored on another two bagger by Pete Rose. Rawly Eastwick survived a shaky 2-run 9th to seal the 6-3 win. Game 2 saw the Reds overcome a 2-0 deficit with a 4-run 6th inning, including 2 unearned run resulting from first baseman Dick Allen’s error. Pedro Borbon stifled Philadelphia with 4 shutout relief innings. A wild Game 3 saw the Phils take a 3-0 lead on RBI doubles from Greg Luzinski, Garry Maddox, and Mike Schmidt. The Reds roared back with 4 in the 7th, capped by a Cesar Geronimo 2-run triple off Ron Reed. Philly responded with an RBI double from Larry Bowa and Dave Cash sac fly to go back in front. Jay Johnstone’s run-scoring triple in the 9th made it 6-4 Philadelphia. In the bottom 9th, Foster and Johnny Bench opened the inning with back-to-back homers to tie the game off Reed, who accounted for 4 runs, 5 hits allowed, and 2 2-run leads blown in 2+ innings of work. Later that inning Gene Garber and Tom Underwood allowed the Reds to load the bases, and Ken Griffey’s single scored Dave Concepcion with the game-winner and series-clincher.
6) 1975 NLCS Reds-Pirates
In the opener Pittsburgh went out in front on 2nd inning RBI hits from Richie Hebner and Frank Tavares off Don Gullett, but the Reds came back with 1 in the 2nd, 3 in the 3rd, and 4 in the 5th to make the game a laugher. While Pete Rose, Tony Perez, and George Foster all contributed 2 hits each, it was the hitting of the pitcher Gullett that was most notable. As if the Reds didn’t have enough firepower in the top 8 spots in their All-Star laden lineup, Gullett contributed an early 2-out RBI single and later a 2-run homer. Game 2 was an uneventful 6-1 Reds win featuring 3 hits each from Dave Concepcion and Tony Perez (including a 2-run home run). Game 3 was the best contest of the series, a seesaw battle with lead changes resulting from Dave Concepcion’s solo home run in the 2nd, an Al Oliver 2-run shot in the 6th, then a Pete Rose 2-run homer in the 8th. Rawly Eastwick could not close out the 3-2 lead in the 9th, walking 2 straight batters with 2 out, the latter free pass bringing in the tying run. In the 10th Ed Armbrister hit a go-ahead sacrifice fly, and later Joe Morgan added an insurance run when his double scored Pete Rose from first base. Pedro Borbon closed it out 1-2-3 in the bottom half.
7) Least Competitive: 1970 ALCS Orioles-Twins
The same combatants from the initial ALCS met once again in 1970, with the results even more convincing than the sweep from 1969, which did feature two one-run contests before a blowout in Game 3. The opener at Metropolitan Stadium saw the Twins grab their only lead of the series (which lasted half an inning) on a Harmon Killebrew RBI single off Mike Cuellar. After the clubs exchanged runs in the 2nd, Baltimore exploded for 7 runs in the 4th frame that featured a grand slam from Cuellar and solo homers from Don Buford and Boog Powell. Minnesota knocked Cuellar out of the box in the 5th thanks to a homer by Killebrew and a Geroge Mitterwald 2-run single, but Dick Hall held the Twins scoreless over the last 4 2/3 innings in a 10-6 victory. The next day, homers by Powell and Frank Robinson, plus an RBI single by pitcher Dave McNally staked Baltimore to an early 4-0 lead before the Twins drew to within a run in the 4th on back-to-back shots by Killebrew and Tony Oliva. Minnesota had a chance for more in the 5th, but Killebrew popped out with the bases loaded. From there the pitchers settled in, and the score was still 4-3 in the 9th when the Birds put it away with another 7-run inning, the key hits a leadoff double by McNally, a 2-run double by Powell, and a 3-run homer by Dave Johnson. Game 3 was never really close; in the third game in as many days Baltimore jumped out to a 5-0 lead after 3 innings and in total pounded out 10 hits, including 3 from Brooks Robinson, and 2 each by Don Buford and Dave Johnson (including the game’s only home run) in a 6-1 complete game win for Jim Palmer.
Joe Gersbeck is a baseball historian and lifetime fan/student of the game who lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons. His website is http://www.1970sBaseball.com and his book, 1970s Baseball: A History and Analysis of the Decade’s Best Seasons, Teams, and Players is available on Amazon, B&N, and iBooks: