Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Playoff Excitement

I picked five games, which was hard to do since I've witnessed a lot of great playoff action by every franchise in town. No Redskins games are here because the three playoff victories I've seen under Coach Joe Gibbs, version 1.0, I just knew they would win. 51-7 over the Rams 1/1/84, 19-7 over the Rams 12/28/86 and 41-10 over the Lions in the NFC title game 1/12/91. It was cool seeing the 'Skins win the NFC title and advance to the Super Bowl, but that game was pretty much over after the kickoff. I also left off D.C. United's MLS Cup victory in the pouring rain at RFK Stadium on October 26, 1997, while it was a wonderful game, one they played seven years later described at the end of this post was better, in my opinion.

So here are my five favorite playoff games, listed chronologically that I've seen in person.

June 4, 1978: NBA Finals, Game 6. Capital Centre, Landover MD

Washington Bullets 117
Seattle Super Sonics 82

I bought a ticket to this for six dollars and took a bus to the Cap Centre. It was a must win for the Bullets as they trailed in the series 3 games to 3. Going into the game, the Super Sonics had the edge. Bullets Guard Kevin Grevey was injured, and the backcourt was struggling. Coach Dick Motta inserted 2nd year player Greg Ballard at forward and moved Bobby Dandridge to guard. Risky move as Bobby D had very little experience at guard. It worked pretty well in the first half as the Bullets led by 12. The Bullets then scored 70 points in the second half and just ran Seattle off the floor. Everyone contributed. Mitch Kupchak finished with 19 points, and Ballard had 12 points and 12 rebounds. The Bullets routed the Super Sonics by 35 points win. It was the largest margin of victory by a team in NBA Finals history (This lasted until 1998 when the Chicago Bulls hammered the Utah Jazz by 41).

The Bullets and Sonics played an epic seventh game a few nights later, with the Bullets winning their only NBA title 105-99. Read more here.

October 6, 1983: American League Championship Series, Game 2. Memorial Stadium, Baltimore MD

Baltimore Orioles 4
Chicago White Sox 0

Not a whole lot to say about this game as the O's dominated the White Sox. It was one of the best pitching performances I've ever seen. Oriole pitcher Mike Boddicker dominated the White Sox in game two by striking out 14 and allowed only 5 hits as the O's won 4-0 to even up the best of five series. Gary Roenicke reached base four times, scored three runs and his two run homer in the 7th inning sealed up the victory for the Orioles. The Orioles would go on to win the series 3 games to 1 and Boddicker was named Most Valuable Player in the ALCS based on this performance.

October 15, 1983: World Series, Game 4. Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia PA

Baltimore Orioles 5
Philadelphia Phillies 4

I wasn’t able to attend the first two games in Baltimore, so I took the train up from Union Station and bought a ticket outside Veteran’s Stadium for face value ($25.00). It was an upper deck seat but I was there and witnessed the best game of this series in my opinion.

The O’s took a 2-0 lead in the 4th inning as Jim Dywer, Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray all singled to start the inning. With one out, Rich Dauer singled, scoring Dwyer and Ripken.

In in the bottom of the 4th, the Phillies cut the lead in half as Pete Rose and Mike Schmidt singled and Joe Lefebvre doubled, driving in Rose. Gary Matthews walked and Greg Gross grounded into a double play. 2-1 Orioles.

In the bottom of the 5th, the Phillies took the lead as Bo Diaz doubled, advanced to third as Orioles pitcher Storm Davis threw a wild pitch. John Denny, the Phillies starting pitcher, singled and went to second on an error. Diaz scored on the play to tie the score. Pete Rose doubled, driving in Denny and the Phillies lead 3-2.

It got interesting in the Orioles 6th inning. Here goes: With one out, John Lowenstein singled. Rich Dauer doubled, advancing Lowenstein to third base. O’s manager Joe Altobelli had Joe Nolan pinch hit for Todd Cruz and Nolan was walked intentionally, loading the bases. Altobelli then pinch hit Ken Singleton for Rick Dempsey and Singleton walked, tying the game at 3-3. Lenn Sakata was inserted in the game as a pinch runner for Singleton and Altobelli brought in John Shelby to bat for O’s pitcher Storm Davis. Phillies Manager Paul Owens inserted Willie Hernandez to relieve Denny. Shelby hit a sacrifice fly to left , scoring Dauer scored and the O’s had a 4-3 lead. When it was over, Altobelli used four pinch hitters in the inning.

The O’s got an insurance run in the 7th as Dwyer doubled and Dauer drove him home to make the score 5-3 Orioles.

With one out in the Phillies 8th inning, Tippy Martinez was brought in to close the game. He got out of the 8th inning ok but in the 9th, he struggled. Bo Diaz singled with one out. Bob Dernier pinch ran for Diaz, advanced to second on a ground out and Ozzie Virgil drove him home with a single to centerfield. Joe Morgan ended the game with a line out to Lenn Sakata. The Orioles had a 3 games to 1 series lead. The next day Eddie Murray hit two homers and Series MVP Rick Dempsey hit one while Scott McGregor pitched a five hit shutout for the Orioles third World Series title.

April 16, 1988: Patrick Division Semifinals. Game 7. Capital Centre, Landover MD

Washington Capitals 5
Philadelphia Flyers 4

The Caps were trailing this series 3 games to 1. They fought back and forced a game 7. This game did not start out good for the Caps, who were down 3-0. Their prospects seemed hopeless. Once again in a crucial game the Capitals appeared not to know how to win. But the Caps fought back and in the third period, they took the lead 4-3 on Dale Hunter’s goal. The building went nuts. But the Flyers tied things at 4-4 and that’s how regulation ended. Immediately I thought of the 4 OT game 7 vs the Islanders that the Caps lost a year earlier. That year I was at a bar. This year I was there in person.

It would be a different ending. Larry Murphy pried a puck loose along the wall in the Caps end and Dale Hunter broke for the red line. Murphy hit Hunter with a perfect pass and Hunter skated in alone on Hextall. Hunter did a deke, shot and the puck went through Hextall and into the back of the net. Pandemonium broke out!

I’ve watched this replay over a thousand times and it’s still sweet. Mike Fornes (former HTS Caps play by play man) summed it up "…Murphy starts the rush… he hits Hunter…he’s in alone…a shot…and a GOAL!!!!!" The best thing about the goal was the sight of Flyers goalie Ron Hextall laying on his back and the Flyers defenseman breaking his stick in disgust on the top of the net.

Hunter had a great career for the Caps. He could win a big face-off, pummel an opposing team’s goon, then score a key goal. True, he made some mistakes in his career (1993 playoffs vs the Islanders and Pierre Turgeon). But Hunter’s goal, at the time, was the biggest goal in Capitals franchise history.

November 6, 2004: MLS Eastern Conference Finals. RFK Stadium, Washington DC

D.C. United 3
New England Revolution 3

United win 4-3 in penalty kicks.

90 minutes of regulation couldn’t decide this game. Thirty minutes of overtime could not decide this game. The two teams even went through the best of five penalty kicks deadlocked. In one of the more pressure packed games in front of a passionate crowd, the Eastern Conference title and a berth in MLS Cup came down to the sixth round of penalty kicks. United midfielder Brian Carroll converted his kick in the upper left corner. The season for the Revolution came down to rookie Clint Dempsey vs United goalkeeper Nick Rimando. Dempsey shot toward the lower right corner, but Rimando pushed it aside and danced around the corner of the field pumping his arms before a wave of teammates buried him. United were going to their fifth MLS Cup final and their first in five years.

D.C. United took the lead in the 11th minute on Alecko Eskandarian's goal, but Taylor Twellman tied it for the Revolution in the 17th minute. Jaime Moreno restored the lead in the 21st minute, but Steve Ralston tied the game with a penalty kick as the first half was ending.

Christian Gomez put United back ahead 3-2 in the 67th minute after he headed Earnie Stewart’s cross, but Pat Noonan tied things up 3-3 with about five minutes left in regulation.

In the OT, both teams were exhausted and cramping up. Play was scrappy and there was no score. It came down to penalty kicks. The attendance says over 21,000 were in RFK this night but they made the noise that 55,000 Redskins fans used to make then they played there. Both supporters clubs, Screaming Eagles and Barra Brava did not stop chanting and jumping up and down. I was standing at the last row in section 234 and the passion that night was incredible.

"It was the greatest game I have ever been a part of," defender Mike Petke said. “This game had everything. It was just incredible to be a part of it."

My friend Dave wrote a great article about this game here.

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