I wrote about Tony Perez’s May 14, 1972, star birthday doubleheader the other day, when the Reds swept the Cardinals while playing in Cincinnati.
Believe it or not, the Reds swept another doubleheader on their next field appearance, May 16, 1972, this time victimizing the San Francisco Giants. The wins were by the very same scores as their double header sweep against St. Louis, 4-3 and 2-0. This time, following a travel day, the games were played in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. The first game featured one of my all-time favorite Reds’ memories. I remember hearing this play on the radio while I was 12 years old and this game solidified my feelings that Pete Rose would be my all-time favorite player. The play also helped jumpstart the Reds 1972 championship run.
With the Reds leading 3-2 in the top of the eighth inning, Dave Concepcion reached first on a walk and Gary Nolan sacrificed him to second base. The Giants and lefty starting pitcher Ron Bryant decided to intentionally walk switch hitter Pete Rose (age 31 and batting .248 with an OPS of .590 entering the game) to get to the lefty hitting Joe Morgan and Bobby Tolan due up following Rose.
With the count 3-0, an alert Rose reached out and punched the fourth ball of the intentional walk past a “startled” Giants third baseman Jim Ray Hart into left field for an error. Concepcion scored the Reds’ fourth run from second base, while Rose was thrown out at second by Giants shortstop (and current Reds coach) Chris Speier. The run proved to be important as the Giants scored in the bottom of the 8th, but the Reds held on to win, 4-3. I should note that Bryant was so rattled that Morgan walked and Tolan singled Morgan to third (with Tolan stealing second) following Rose’s surprise swing. Tony Perez grounded out to third base to end the inning.
The Reds won the nightcap as Jack Billingham pitched a three-hit shut out and Rose drove in both Reds runs with a fifth inning single, scoring Darrel Chaney and Ted Uhlaender to give the Reds their second double header sweep in three days. It was Billingham’s first win as a Red after starting the season 0-5 following his trade acquisition from Houston (along with Joe Morgan, Cesar Geronimo, Denis Menke, and Ed Armbrister for Lee May, Tommy Helms, and Jimmy Stewart). Billingham went on to win 12 games a Red that year, finishing 12-7 after starting 0-5, and won 19 games each of the next two seasons. He allowed 0 earned runs in 13+ innings against the Oakland A’s in the 1972 World Series. The games against the Giants gave Rose the lift he needed to jumpstart his season. Rose finished 1972 batting .307, with an OBP of .382, and scoring 107 runs. The Reds went 82-46 the rest of the way, finishing 95-59 and winning the National League West by 10.5 games.
Now…considering that hindsight brings “20-20 vision,” let’s imagine you’re reading Redleg Nation on May 10, 1972. The Reds are 8-13, after posting a losing season in 1971, following their World Series season of 1970. Redleg Journal notes that from July 27, 1970 through May 10, 1972, the Reds posted a losing record of 119-124…that’s almost two full seasons of losing. And…
The Reds have just lost their fourth game in a row, being swept in a two-game series by the hated Chicago Cubs on a combined score of 11-3…at home. In fact, you’ve just lost four of five games at home having lost two of the three to the Pirates (combined score of 21-12) before playing the Cubs.
Pete Rose, coming off a the first season that he had not reached 200 hits since 1967, is now 31 years old, and is batting .239 with an OPS of .591. He keeps assuring the fans that he will warm up as the temperatue warms up.
Johnny Bench, coming off surgery and a season where he batted .238 with 27 homers, is hitting .208.
Newly acquired starting pitcher, Jack Billingham, is 0-5, with a 6.34 ERA.
The Houston Astros, to whom you dealt star first baseman and fan favorite, Lee May, are in first place.
The aforementioned May is batting .317 with five homers, just coming off a four hit day with 3 rbi against the Cardinals, powered by May’s home run and triple during the game.
During the same game, pinch hitter Stewart has two pinch hit rbi, batting .250, and Helms has a run batted in, too.
Joe Morgan is batting .274; Denis Menke is hitting .230, Cesar Geronimo .167, and Ed Armbrister is plying his trade in AAA Indianapolis.
In case you don’t know…the Reds rebounded to make it to the World Series in one of the best played World Series of all time (losing four games to three to the Oakland A’s) and Bench went on to win the league’s MVP award, batting .270 with 40 homers and 125 rbi.
But we didn’t know that on May 10, 1972. What would we have been saying?