How they got here
The Phillies had been here before. Multiple times, in fact; so often that they had to wonder if it would ever be their year. After three straight NL East titles from 1976-78, the Phillies took a step back in 1979 before returning to the top of the NL East in 1980. They weren't exactly a juggernaut. On offense, they had Mike Schmidt in the prime of his Hall-of-Fame career, but not much else. They brought in former Red Pete Rose for veteran leadership, but he was clearly on the tail end of his career. Their pitching wasn't much better. Steve Carlton and Tug McGraw were both good, of course, and were postseason veterans, but their primes had come in the late 60s. They had a little bit left, but not much.
Houston hadn't been here before. The division title the Astros won in 1980 was their first, and that was hard-earned. The Astros lost four straight games to the Dodgers to close the season before beating Los Angeles in a one-game playoff for the division title. The Astros got here by finally discovering the formula they would have to use playing in the cavernous Astrodome: good pitching, clutch hitting, and stolen bases instead of home runs.
Game 1 went to the Phillies, as Carlton and McGraw combined for a 3-1 win. The Astros stole a road win with a four-run 10th inning to win Game 2. They won Game 3 as well, getting an 11th-inning sacrifice fly to win that one 1-0, but the Phillies scored two 10th-inning runs to win Game 4 and avoid elimination. It had already been a great series, with three extra-inning games among the first four, so expectations were high for the deciding Game 5.
In retrospect, it's a fascinating scenario. The man who would eventually become baseball's all-time hits leader batting against the man who would eventually become the all-time strike out king. And while it wasn't the at bat that decided the series, it's the one that got the game-winning rally going.
After Pete Rose drew a bases-loaded walk after a seven-pitch at bat against Nolan Ryan, the Astros still had a 5-3 lead in the 8th. But the Phillies still had the bases loaded with nobody, and Rose's walk knocked the Houston ace out of the game. And things were just getting started.
In reality, the plot of the game could be picked up in the bottom of the seventh. With the game tied 2-2, Houston used small ball to scrape together the go-ahead run, only to follow that up with a wild pitch and a triple to make it 5-2.
Then came the top of the eighth. With Ryan still in the game in his second start of the series for Houston, the Phillies loaded the bases with nobody out, bringing up the veteran Rose. He drew the walk, Ryan hit the showers, and the floodgates opened. Four runs later, the Phillies had the 7-5 lead and were six outs from the World Series. But the way this series had gone, it wasn't over. Houston had a chance to answer, and they did, getting four hits off McGraw to tie the game.
After a scoreless ninth, it was extra innings, a stunning fourth straight game to go to extras in this five-game series. In the top of the 10th, Garry Maddox hit a two-out double to drive in the go-ahead run. This time, Houston didn't have an answer, and the Phillies finally broke through to the World Series.
After finally breaking through to the World Series, the Phillies faced the Royals, who exorcised similar demons in 1980. Like the Phillies, the Royals had lost in the League Championship Series in 1976, 77, and 78 before finally breaking through in 1980. Only one team could win, though, and that team was the Phillies, beating the Royals in six to win the first championship in the franchise's 97-year history.
What I'm doing.
The list so far:
3. 1980 NLCS: Houston vs. Philadelphia
4. 2006 NLCS: St. Louis 3, New York 1
5. 1976 ALCS: New York 7, Kansas City 6
6. 1977 ALCS: New York 5, Kansas City 3
7. 1972 NLCS: Cincinnati 4, Pittsburgh 3
8. 1981 NLCS: Los Angeles 2, Montreal 1
9. 1982 ALCS: Milwaukee 4, California 3
10. 2008 ALCS: Tampa Bay 3, Boston 1
11. 1984 NLCS: San Diego 6, Chicago 3
12. 2003 NLCS: Florida 9, Chicago 6
13. 2004 NLCS: St. Louis 5, Houston 2
14. 1972 ALCS: Oakland 2, Detroit 1
15. 1973 ALCS: Oakland 3, Baltimore 0
16. 1985 ALCS: Kansas City 6, Toronto 2
17. 2007 ALCS: Boston 11, Cleveland 2
18. 1991 NLCS: Atlanta 4, Pittsburgh 0
19. 1973 NLCS: New York 7, Cincinnati 2
20. 1987 NLCS: St. Louis 6, San Francisco 0
21. 1988 NLCS: Los Angeles 6, New York 0
22. 2004 ALCS: Boston 10, New York 3
23. 1986 ALCS: Boston 8, California 1
24: 1996 NLCS: Atlanta 15, St. Louis 0
Still to come:
1992 NLCS: Atlanta vs. Pittsburgh
2003 ALCS: Boston vs. New York