The Giants and Pirates both flirted with division titles, but the Dodgers and Cardinals both proved too powerful in the end, relegating these second-place clubs to the one-game Wild Card playoff on Wednesday.
San Francisco and Pittsburgh have met in the postseason only once before. The 1971 National League Championship Series featured such names as Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, Bobby Bonds, Al Oliver, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry and Dock Ellis.
Pittsburgh's "Lumber Company," who became the first team to field an all-minority starting lineup in September, boasted the league's best offense and won 97 games to cruise to the NL East title. San Francisco held an 8 1/2-game lead in the NL West with 24 games to play, but they lost seven straight and 11 of 12 to make it a race. The Dodgers drew to within one game with four remaining, but couldn't pull even as Juan Marichal's five-hitter on the last day of the season clinched the crown for the Giants.
The best-of-five Championship Series opened at Candlestick Park and the host Giants trailed 2-1 in the fifth inning of the first game. Tito Fuentes knocked a two-out, two-run homer off Steve Blass to push San Francisco ahead. After Willie Mays drew a walk, Willie McCovey slugged another two-run shot. The Bucs came back in the seventh with two runs on Al Oliver's bases-loaded single, but Gaylord Perry wriggled out of the inning to preserve the lead. In the ninth, Perry set down Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell with the tying run on base to end the game for a 5-4 victory.
Game Two was dominated by Pittsburgh first baseman Bob Robertson. Down 1-0 in the second inning, he doubled and scored the tying run. Down 2-1 in the fourth, he tied the game with a homer off starter John Cumberland, who was removed one batter later. The Pirates started to pull away in the seventh by taking a 5-2 lead, and Robertson's three-run knock off Rob Bryant made it a laugher. He put the cherry on top in the ninth by swatting a third long ball, this one against Steve Hamilton, and the Pirates evened the set with a 9-4 win.
Robertson became the second player to hit three home runs in a postseason game, joining Babe Ruth, who did it in the 1926 World Series and again in 1928. Joining them later would be Reggie Jackson, George Brett, Adam Kennedy, Adrian Beltre, Albert Pujols and Pablo Sandoval.
In the pivotal third game at Pittsburgh's new Three Rivers Stadium, Robertson opened the scoring in the second inning with a solo homer off of Marichal. It was the third consecutive plate appearance that Robertson went deep. On the mound for the Bucs, unheralded righty Bob Johnson outdueled the future Hall of Famer, with the only tally against him coming on third baseman Richie Hebner's throwing error in the sixth inning. Two innings later, the score was still tied 1-1 when Hebner made up for his miscue by slugging a home run for the winning margin. Dave Giusti worked a 1-2-3 ninth to push the Giants to the brink.
The Game One mound rematch in Game Four was a high-offense pinball game in the early going. Just two innings in, Blass had allowed a homer and four RBIs to McCovey and a solo shot to Chris Speier. Meanwhile, Perry served up a two-run single to Clemente and a three-run homer to Hebner. This was one of just two postseason games that was tied 5-5 (or higher) through only two frames. Perry settled in as he and Pirates reliever Bruce Kison posted zeroes into the sixth. Clemente broke the tie in the last of the sixth with a two-out single that scored Dave Cash and spelled the end of Perry. Reliever Jerry Johnson walked Stargell to set it up for Al Oliver, who delivered a knockout-punch three-run homer. Up 9-5, Giusti recorded the final seven outs to send the Pirates to the World Series.
They moved on to face the defending-champion Orioles, who won 101 games in the regular season and swept the A's in the ALCS. The Bucs fell behind 0-2 in Baltimore, but came back with three straight home wins before the O's forced a Game Seven. In that ultimate game, Clemente finished his brilliant .414/.452/.759 series with a home run off Mike Cuellar, backing up Blass' complete-game four-hitter in Pittsburgh's 2-1 win.
Madison Bumgarner Buster Posey Brandon Belt Joe Panik Brandon Crawford Pablo Sandoval Hunter Pence Gregor Blanco Tim Lincecum Javier Lopez Jeremy Affeldt Sergio Romo Santiago Casilla Edinson Volquez Russell Martin Neil Walker Josh Harrison Starling Marte Andrew McCutchen Travis Snider Jose Tabata Ike Davis Gregory Polanco John Axford Tony Watson Mark Melancon