On the morning of June 3, 1972, the Reds found themselves in second place 1 1/2 games behind the Dodgers. They were coming off a grueling, yet exciting 17 inning win over the Phillies from the night before. The Reds had won that game with four runs in the top of the 17th on a Bobby Tolan single followed by a Johnny Bench three-run homer.
The Reds were rebounding from a disappointing 1971, their only losing record of the 1970’s. They had traded Lee May for Joe Morgan, but had dropped to last place on April 25. By June 3, they were in the midst of a six game winning streak, before losing one, and then winning seven more consecutively. Winning 13 of 14 games took them from third place, four games behind, to first place with a 2 1/2 game lead. The Reds remained in first place for all but three days the rest of the season, and they were never further than 1/2 game out of first place on those three days.
The exciting June 2 game helped, but their June 3 game took them to the next level. Down 5-0 to the Phillies and Steve Carlton, after six innings, Johnny Bench homered yet again, his seventh home run in five games to get the Reds on the board. Bench’s seventh inning home run tied a major lead record for the number of home runs in five consecutive games with at least one home run in each game. During those five games, Bench went 11-26 with five homers, one double, and 13 rbi, raising his batting average from .269 to .296 and he went on to win his second Most Valuable Player Award (.270, 40 homers, 125 rbi for the season). This was also Carlton’s best season, going 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA on a Phillies team that only won 59 games all year.
The Reds weren’t finished in the seventh. One out later, George Foster doubled and Julian Javier (former Carlton Cardinal teammate) hit his second Reds homer to bring the Reds within two, 5-3. Javier had been the Cardinals second baseman for nearly a decade, but was playing out his final season with the Reds. One out later, pinch hitter Hal McRae, batting for Cesar Geronimo, singled and was balked to second base. Pinch hitter Denis Menke walked to put the tying runs aboard, but Pete Rose grounded out to end the threat.
The Reds got within one in the eighth when Joe Morgan led off with a double. Reliever Dick Selma replaced Carlton and walked Bench. The Reds then attempted a double steal, with Morgan stealing third and Bench thrown out at second base by Phillies catcher Tim McCarver. Tony Perez followed with a triple into right centerfield, scoring Morgan. Pinch runner Ted Uhlaender replaced Perez on third base. Lefty Chris Short replaced Selma and struck out Bobby Tolan, walked Javier, and struck out Dave Concepcion to end the inning, Phillies leading, 5-4.
The Reds tied it in the ninth. McRae, now playing third base after the eighth inning substitutions, led off the ninth with his second home run of the year to tie the game at 5-5. Just two days earlier, McRae had slugged a pinch hit grand slam home run in the sixth inning in Houston to give the Reds the lead in a 10-3 win over the Astros. Short retired the next three Reds in order and Reds reliever Tom Hall did the same to the Phillies in the bottom of the ninth.
The Reds won it in the tenth. Ken Reynolds was now on the mound for the Phillies. Bench popped out to start the inning, but Uhlaender and Tolan both singled to centerfield, with Uhlaender advancing to third. Javier, having his best game as a Red, followed with a single to left with Uhlaender scoring the deciding run. Tolan was thrown out at third base by little used Phillie outfielder Ron Stone after a play at the plate, with Javier advancing to second base. Concepcion followed with another single to left, but the Phillies ended the inning when Stone got his only other assist of the year by throwing out Javier at the plate to end the Reds half of the inning. Hall retired the Phillies in order in the tenth, having retired the final seven Phillies he faced, and 12 of the 13 batters he faced for the game. Hall finished the 1972 season with a 10-1 record with a 2.62 ERA, striking out 134 batters in 124 innings pitched (40 relief appearances and seven starts).
As mentioned earlier, the Reds were possibly playing their hottest baseball of the year. They had nine-game winning streak in May which brought them four games closer to first, and they had another seven game winning streak in July, but these 13 wins in 14 games allowed them to take over first place. What’s even more remarkable is how every player on the roster seemed to add something of value to the team. GM Bob Howsam knew how to construct a roster and manager Sparky Anderson knew how to utilize each player’s talents.
This sometimes forgotten Reds team lost to the Oakland Athletics in the 1972 World Series, four game to three. While the sixth game of the 1975 World Series is often said to have been the best WS game ever, and the 1975 WS often mentioned as one of the most dramatic World Series events ever, the 1972 World Series is often considered one of the best played classics. Every game except for the sixth game was decided by one-run in a period of low-scoring baseball. The Reds outscored the A’s in the 1972 Series, 21-16, aided by the Reds 8-1 victory in game six.