The Dodgers are playing a Game 163 tiebreaker for the first time in 38 years. In this excerpt from 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, relive the story of the last time …
In the 1980 season, from April 26 on, the Dodgers never lagged nor led by more than three games in a taut NL West. Tied for first place with Houston on September 24 with 10 games remaining, they suffered back-to-back 3–2 defeats to San Francisco and San Diego to fall two back. A week later, yet another 3–2 loss to the Giants put the Dodgers three back with three to play. The saving grace was that the Dodgers would be hosting Houston for the final three games of the regular season. But facing starting pitchers Ken Forsch (3.20 ERA), Nolan Ryan (3.35), and Vern Ruhle (2.37), the Dodgers faced a tall task.
What followed was one of the most memorable series in franchise history.
On Friday, October 3, Alan Ashby’s sacrifice fly off Dodger starter Don Sutton gave Houston a 2–1 lead and put the Astros within two innings of clinching the division. Forsch got four consecutive groundouts to move Houston within two outs of the title. But with one out in the ninth, Rick Monday singled, and Dusty Baker reached on an error by second baseman and ex-Dodger Rafael Landestoy. Steve Garvey flied out, but down to their final at-bat before elimination, Ron Cey singled to center field, scoring pinch-runner Rudy Law. Forsch retired Pedro Guerrero to send the game into extra innings.
Fernando Valenzuela, in his eighth career game, retired the side in order in the 10th inning, his second inning of work. And then, in the bottom of the 10th, Joe Ferguson homered off Forsch, frenzying the crowd. Flinging his helmet like a frisbee as he crossed home, Ferguson kept the Dodgers alive for one more day. Finally, an important 3–2 game went the Dodgers’ way.
On Saturday, Garvey’s fourth-inning homer off Ryan broke a 1–1 tie, and Dodger starter Jerry Reuss made the advantage stand up, though not without some nail-biters. With two out in the top of the ninth, Reuss gave up singles to Cesar Cedeno and Art Howe, putting the tying run at third base. But Gary Woods, with a .396 on-base percentage, grounded out, and just like that, the Dodgers were playing for a tie on Sunday.
Note: Please enjoy this extended reminiscence of the Saturday, October 4, 1980 game at this link.
For the second time in three days, Houston moved within six outs of clinching the division. The Astros scored two early runs off Burt Hooton, who was removed by desperate Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda after recording only three outs in eight batters. Bobby Castillo gave up a third run in the fourth inning to put Los Angeles behind by three. Pitching two shutout innings for the second time in three days, Valenzuela kept the Astros at bay while the Dodgers got on the scoreboard with a fifth-inning RBI single by Davey Lopes.
In the bottom of the seventh, with runners at second and third, 42-year-old Manny Mota pinch-hit for the 19-year-old Valenzuela. Mota’s pinch single—the final hit of the beloved Dodger’s career—drove in Guerrero to cut the lead to 3–2. But Baker later fouled out with the bases loaded, and the Dodgers entered the eighth inning still down by a run.
NL Rookie of the Year Steve Howe retired the Astros in the eighth. Then, once more, the Astros made a pivotal error—Enos Cabell allowed Garvey to reach base—and the next batter, Cey, sent Dodgers fans into delirium with a homer.
When Howe allowed two singles in the top of the ninth, Lasorda continued to manage within an inch of his life. He brought in Sutton, who had gone eight innings fewer than 48 hours earlier, to get the final out. Denny Walling grounded to Lopes, and the NL West season had gone overtime.
Lasorda chose Dave Goltz, a tremendous disappointment in 1980 after signing a free-agent contract, to start the winner-take-all 163rd game. Subsequent legend has insisted Lasorda made a mistake here—that he should have instead started Valenzuela, who had yet to allow an earned run in his career and would go on to pitch that Opening Day shutout in 1981 to kick off Fernandomania. But, as indicated earlier, Valenzuela had pitched four innings in the past three days already, eliminating him from starting contention. Hooton had just been knocked out, Sutton and Reuss weren’t available. Rick Sutcliffe, the 1979 NL Rookie of the Year, had been banished to the pen after posting a 7.51 ERA as a starting pitcher in 1980.
Though a disappointment, Goltz had a 2.56 ERA in 38 2/3 innings since September 2. It might have been his luckiest stretch of the season, but it made Goltz the best available option.
In the end, Lasorda might have been better off coming out of retirement to make the start himself. Two Dodger errors helped put Goltz in a 2–0 hole in the first inning, and a two-run homer by Howe made it 4–0 in the third. Pitching in relief in the fourth, Sutcliffe surrendered three runs, and the Dodgers were done.
It was a deflating end to an incredible weekend. If the Dodgers had completed that four-game sweep to the title, it would have been a top–10 all-time moment. As it is, even in defeat, it was a weekend that the Dodgers could not forget.