A Look to the Past: 1983 NLCS


Every week, I look through the weekly match-ups and find one that is a postseason rematch. This week the Philadelphia Phillies renew a classic rivalry with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

1983 National League Championship Series
Philadelphia Phillies 3, Los Angeles Dodgers 1

Phillies fans hated the Los Angeles Dodgers. Well, maybe it would be more accurate to say that Phillies fans were afraid of the Los Angeles Dodgers and for good reason. The Phillies couldn’t beat the Dodgers when it counted. Philadelphia in the late 70’s and early 80’s had a very talented baseball team with the likes of Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Greg Luzinski, Tug McGraw and maybe most importantly in 1979 Pete Rose. However, in 1977, the Phillies lost a game in the NLCS that typified their failure in big games. In Game Three against the Dodgers, they had a 5-3 lead with two out in the ninth when improbably the Phillies lost in a game that became known as Black Friday. The Dodgers won the next game to advance to the World Series. One year later, this time in Game Four, the Dodgers took advantage of a Garry Maddox (who was nicked named “Secretary of Defense) error in the ninth inning that set up the pennant winning run. By 1983, the Phillies had exorcised their postseason demons by winning the World Series in 1980*, but they would again be facing the Dodgers.

The 1983 Phillies were a Big Red Machine redux nicknamed the “Wheeze Kids” a play on the 1950 “Whiz Kids” Phillies. The elderly Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez all signed on to play for the Phillies to relieve the magic of the 1970’s Cincinnati Reds. They still had perennial MVP candidate Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton, so there was a lot of talent. It just might have been a much better team had this crew gotten together in 1976 instead of 1983. The Dodgers were in a period of transitioning from their success in the late 1970’s to their success in the late 1980’s. They had some veterans like Bill Russell and Dusty Baker but also mixed in some youngsters like Orel Hershiser and Pedro Guerrero. Again, there was a lot of talented players, but not many in their prime.

In Game One, Steve Carlton threw a gem besting out Dodger’s ace Jerry Reuss. Mike Schmidt provided the offense by homering in the first inning and Carlton’s pitching made that hold up as the Phillies won 1-0. The Dodgers evened the series in Game Two when the Dodgers’ Fernando Valenzuela bested the Phillies’ John Denny. The game turned when Garry Maddox dropped a deep drive hit by Valenzuela in center field. Valenzuela huffed and puffed his way to third and even though he was eventually thrown out at the plate, the error set up a two run triple by Guerrero.

Game Three started amid some tragedy. An accident took place on a major highway that was one of the main arteries to Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. Two were killed in the accident which prevented many from getting to the game on time. The game was also delayed because of it. When the game eventually did start, the Phillies’ bats woke up, especially that of Gary Matthews. Matthews, known as “Sarge”, took the lead in this series with a huge display of power. He had homered in Game Two and added another one in Game Three. He homered to lead off the fourth and then added run scoring singles in the fifth and seven innings to give the Phils a 7-2 advantage. Rookie Charles Hudson made that advantage to hold up by throwing a strong complete game.

The Matthews’ show continued in Game Four when he hit a three run homer in the first. Matthews knew exactly when he had touched off a homer and he doesn’t mind letting anyone else in the park know that either. Shortly after the ball hit the bat, Matthews flipped it straight back hitting Dodger catcher Steve Yeager. The Phillies built up their lead to 7-1 by the sixth, which sent the fans at Veteran Stadium into a mood of celebration. Chants of “Beat LA” were heard long and loud throughout both games at the Vet and while that chant is by no means unique to Philadelphia, it might never have been sung with such joy and relief. Finally, the Phillies were able to beat the Dodgers. Finally, they had a measure of revenge for those painful losses in the 70’s.

MVP: Gary Matthews who hit three homers and drove in eight. Steve Carlton also deserved some recognition for two wins and an earned run average of 0.66 in the series.

*In the 1980, the Phillies beat the Astros in five thrilling games in the NLCS and then went on to beat the Royals in six games. However, the Astros had to win a division playoff against the Dodgers to advance to the NLCS. Phillies fans must have felt like they dodged a bullet there.