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The 1972 Playoffs

The 1972 Playoffs: The Big Red Machine's Most Dramatic Pennant Clincher.

05/17/12 9:53 AM ET

Looking back it may be difficult to imagine the Big Red Machine in the role of underdog, but in the 1972 National League Championship Series, the Reds' opponent, the Pittsburgh Pirates were the prohibitive favorites. The Pirates finished at 95-59, a record identical to that of the Reds and were the defending World Champions, having defeated the Baltimore Orioles in the previous year's World Series. Their lineup featured All-Stars Manny Sanguillen and Al Oliver and was highlighted by future Hall of Famers Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente. On the mound, 19-game winner Steve Blass topped the rotation while Dave Giusti recorded 22 saves with a 1.93 ERA out of the bullpen.

The clubs split the first two games in Pittsburgh. The Pirates won Game 3 in Cincinnati and the Reds tied the series with a Game 4 victory setting up the first decisive Game 5 in LCS history. The second such game would be played a day later as the Oakland/Detroit American League Championship Series would also be decided in five games.

In Cincinnati, Don Gullett took the hill for the Reds with Blass starting for the Pirates. Blass had beaten Gullet, 5-1, in Game 1. The Pirates took a 2-0 lead in the second on a Richie Hebner double and Dave Cash single. A Pete Rose double in third got the Reds to within one. Gullett was chased in the top of the fourth as Cash drove in another run. The Reds once again closed to within a run on a Cesar Geronimo home run leading off the fifth inning.

Geronimo's shot was the last run scored by either team going into the bottom of the ninth inning. Blass recorded the first out of the eighth inning and turned the ball over to reliever Ramon Hernandez who got the last two. Reds relievers Pedro Borbon, Tom Hall and Clay Carroll combined for six scoreless innings in relief of Gullett.

Ace reliever Dave Giusti was called on to shut the Reds down in the ninth and seal a second consecutive pennant for the Pirates. He would have to retire Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Denis Menke to do so.

Giusti got ahead of Bench 1-2 when the Reds' catcher launched a towering foul ball into the outfield red seats at Riverfront Stadium. On the next pitch, Bench hit another fly ball that lacked the distance of the first but that landed fair just over the rightfield wall. Pirates' outfielder Roberto Clemente was helpless to prevent the ball from clearing the fence. Reds radio announcer Al Michaels' call of the Bench home run became one of the most famous in Reds history. Moments after the Bench long ball, Michaels would give Reds fans another memorable call.

After the elated Riverfront Stadium crowd began to settle down following the Bench homer, Tony Perez strode to the plate and promptly singled over second base. George Foster was summoned from the bench to run for Perez. Giusti next allowed a single to Denis Menke that put men on first and second with nobody out. Bob Moose came on to relieve Giusti and got Geronimo to fly out for the first out of the inning. Foster moved to third on the play and was still there following Darrel Chaney's strikeout.

Hal McRae pinch-hit for Clay Carroll. With the count even at 1-1, Al Michaels' play-by-play told the rest of the story.

"The stretch and the one-one pitch to McRae. In the dirt! It's a wild pitch! Here comes Foster! The Reds win the pennant!" "Bob Moose throws a wild pitch and the Reds have won the National League pennant. Four-three, Cincinnati. Foster scores. It's all over."

The Reds were National League Champions for the second time in three seasons. Although the Reds fell to Oakland in seven games in the World Series, the Game 5 playoff victory remains one of the most cherished of Reds moments.

Learn more about the 1972 season and the entire decade of the 1970s by visiting the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum's Big Red Machine exhibit, presented by Dinsmore & Shohl LLP.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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