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Looking back at the 1974 NLCS: Dodgers vs. Pirates

The Penguin Ron Cey slides into third base as Pirates third baseman Richie Hebner, The Gravedigger, looks on.
The Penguin Ron Cey slides into third base as Pirates third baseman Richie Hebner, The Gravedigger, looks on.
Photo: Getty Images

With the Dodgers and Pirates both currently in playoff position, this weekend at PNC Park in Pittsburgh could very well be a preview of things to come in October. Which makes no better time than today to look back at the only other time the Dodgers and Pirates met in the postseason — the 1974 National League Championship Series.

The 1974 Dodgers are arguably the best Dodgers team since the club moved to Los Angeles. The club won 102 games and outscored opponents by a whopping 237 runs, a number surpassed in franchise history only by the 1953 Brooklyn team, winners of 105 games (in a 154-game schedule, no less) and probably the best overall team in Dodgers history.

1974 was the first full year for The Infield, with 25-year-old Steve Garvey at first base, 29-year-old Davey Lopes at second base, 25-year-old Bill Russell at shortstop, and 26-year-old Ron Cey at third base.

The team was full of young talent, with 25-year-old Steve Yeager and 27-year-old Joe Ferguson splitting time behind the plate, with Ferguson also seeing time in the outfield when he wasn't catching. Willie Crawford, 27, and Bill Buckner, 24, were productive in the outfield corners, with high praise for Buckner coming from United Press International.

"Bill Buckner, the Dodgers' Pete Rose," was how the Dodgers left fielder was described in the NLCS preview, "said, 'We're hungry for the playoffs, and we'll be hungry for the World Series'."

The starting rotation was headed by 28-year-old Don Sutton, 29-year-old Andy Messersmith and 25-year-old Doug Rau, the left-handed Chad Billingsley of his day.

The Dodgers were strengthened in a two-day span in December 1973, trading away a pair of long-term stalwarts in the process. Center fielder Willie Davis, the 3-Dog, a Dodger for 14 seasons and the all-time L.A. Dodger leader at the time in games played, was sent to Montreal in exchange for 31-year-old relief pitcher Mike Marshall.

One day later, pitcher Claude Osteen, a Dodger for nine seasons who you may remember from such games as scoring three runs against San Francisco in 1970, was traded to Houston for center fielder Jim Wynn, the Toy Cannon.

Wynn was a fixture in the middle of the lineup, hitting 32 home runs with 108 walks, but it was Marshall that stole the show.

Marshall was an everyday reliever in every sense of the word. He had two streaks of pitching on six straight days, and another stretch of pitching eight straight days. He also set a record by appearing in 13 straight games, on his way to obliterating the record book with 106 games and 208⅓ innings all in relief. He won the National League Cy Young Award.

"We should be favored. We've got the best record - and the best team - in baseball." -Dodgers C/OF Joe Ferguson

Garvey had a breakout year at first base, hitting .312 with 32 doubles and 21 home runs. He drove in 111 runs, got 200 hits for the first time (which started a run of six such seasons in seven years), was a write-in starter at first base in the All-Star Game, and a surprise winner of National League MVP.

The Pirates won 88 games but were loaded in their own right. Willie Stargell anchored a very productive outfield, with Al Oliver in center and Richie Zisk in right, with a 23-year-old Dave Parker sneaking in time now and then as well.

But as late as July 14, the Pirates were 12 games under .500 and seven games out in the division. They closed the season on a 51-25 clip to secure a familiar berth in October.

Pittsburgh the National League East for the fourth time in five years, while the Dodgers were in the postseason for the first time since Sandy Koufax retired in 1966. Still, the Dodgers were favorites when the series began, at 13-10 odds per UPI.

"We should be favored," Ferguson told UPI. "We've got the best record - and the best team - in baseball. Remember, we won a division with Cincinnati in it."

Indeed, the Dodgers held off the Big Red Machine, beating a Cincinnati team that won the NL West in three of the previous four years.

Back in 1974, home field advantage in the postseason wasn't decided by the result of some ridiculous midseason exhibition contest. It was decided, well, by alternating divisions every other year in the League Championship Series, and alternating leagues every year in the World Series, regardless of record.

That meant the Dodgers had home field advantage in the best-of-five NLCS, but under the old format the first two games were on the road, followed by potentially three games at home. So Game 1 was at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh.

Bill Russell throws to first base while catcher Manny Sanguillen tries to avoid getting hit. (Photo: Getty Images)

Game 1

Saturday, October 5 at Pittsburgh (1:14 p.m. local start time)

The Dodgers got a bases loaded walk by Davey Lopes for a 1-0 lead in the second inning against 25-year-old Jerry Reuss, a future Dodger. Sutton made the lead hold up all game, allowing four singles and a walk while hitting a batter. He pitched a complete game shutout, with the Dodgers tacking on two runs in the ninth for good measure, for a 3-0 win.

Game 2

Sunday, October 6 at Pittsburgh (1:08 p.m.)

Garvey singled home Lopes in the first inning, and Ron Cey added a solo home run against Pirates starter Jim Rooker, giving Messersmith a 2-0 lead that held up until the seventh inning, when Pittsburgh tied the game with a three-hit rally. But the Dodgers came right back with five consecutive hits to open the top of the eighth inning, started by a double from Cey, to take a 5-2 lead. Marshall retired all six batters in the final two innings to close out the win.

Game 3

Tuesday, October 8 at Los Angeles (12:40 p.m.)

The Pirates were in a tough position, heading to Dodger Stadium after scoring just two runs in two games at home, needing to win three straight to avoid elimination.

"We just gotta bust out," Stargell told Charley Feeney of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "They've had good location against us. They've been putting the ball in good spots."

Stargell backed up his words with a three-run home run against Rau in the first inning of Game 3, followed three batters later by a two-run shot by third baseman Richie Hebner, sending Rau to the showers down 5-0 after recording only two outs. Pittsburgh would win 7-0 to stay very much alive in the series.

Game 4

Wednesday, October 9 at Los Angeles (12:38 p.m.)

Sutton and Reuss faced off again, but this game belonged to Garvey, who hit a two-run home run off Reuss in the third inning, then another off Ken Brett in the fourth. The Dodgers scored in six of their eight innings on offense en route to a 12-1 romp for their first National League pennant in eight years.

Garvey finished the game 4-for-5 with four runs scored and four batted in. If there was an MVP of the series (something the NL didn't institute until 1977), it likely would have been Garvey, who was 7-for-18 (.389) with two home runs, a double and five RBI, or Sutton who allowed one run in 17 innings in his two wins, with 13 strikeouts and two walks.

"I'm so proud of this team with so many youngsters going as far as they have," Dodgers manager Walt Alston told Ron Roach of the Associated Press. "This fella right here (Don Sutton), pitched outstanding ball for us."

It was the 14th National League pennant for the Dodgers, who outscored the Pirates 20-10 in the four-game series.

"They outhit us, outpitched us and just outplayed us, all the way around," Oliver told the AP. "They deserve to go to the World Seres."