In 1980, the Phillies as a franchise were at a very frustrating crossroads. By that year, the franchise had not won a single World Series. In fact they had only won one World Series GAME.
And despite wonderful teams that made the post season in 1976, 1977 and 1978, they could not win a pennant. In fact the compounding losses in October and the lack of World Series appearances made the great collapse of 1964 hurt more and more.
1980 looked like more of the same in Philadelphia. Then they participated in one of the great October series in baseball history and turned the ball over to Dick Ruthven.
Ruthven was from northern California and was drafted by the Orioles in 1969 and the Twins in 1972 before being selected and signed by the Phillies in 1973 out of Cal State Fresno.
He made the major league squad that same year and in 1974, threw 212 2/3 innings for the Phillies.
In 1976, he was shipped off to Atlanta and missed the Phillies Division title during the Bicentennial. He did get selected to his first All Star team that year, establishing himself as one of the top pitchers on a non contending Braves squad.
After an injury plagued 1977 season in Georgia, Ruthven was traded back to the Phillies during the 1978 season. He won 13 games for the NL East champs. In his lone playoff start in 1978, he didn’t make it out of the 5th as the Phillies lost the game and eventually the pennant to Los Angeles.
In 1979, Ruthven began the season 6-0 with a 1.65 ERA but saw injuries derail his season. 1980 started in a rocky fashion.
He finished April with a 9.77 ERA and still saw it hovering at 5.71 by mid May. But he threw a complete game shutout against Houston on May 16th that helped turn his season around.
It would not be the last time he would be linked to Houston in 1980.
As the Phillies fought tooth and nail with the Expos for the 1980 NL East crown, Ruthven was a key contributor to Philadelphia.
He even threw a 12 inning complete game victory over his former team, the Braves. He would finish the season with 17 wins and a 3.55 ERA.
In the NLCS with the Astros, both franchises locked up in an all time battle. In Game 2 of the NLCS, Ruthven allowed 3 hits and 2 runs over 7 innings. But the Astros would take the game in 10 innings, winning with a 4 run extra inning rally.
Games 3 and 4 were also extra inning affairs, with the Phillies holding off elimination in Game 4 on the road, 5-3 in 10.
Phillies pitcher Marty Bystrom would get the start versus Houston legend Nolan Ryan. With the score tied 2-2 in the bottom of the 7th, the Astros rallied to take a 5-2 lead. But the Phillies bombed Ryan in the 8th. Capped by Manny Trillo’s RBI triple, Philadelphia took a 7-5 lead into the 8th, with ace reliever Tug McGraw pitching and the Phillies 6 outs from the World Series. With 2 outs, the Astros slapped back to back RBI singles to tie the game.
When George Vukovich pinch hit for McGraw with a grounder, Phillies manager Dallas Green turned to Ruthven.
With the pennant on the line with every pitch, Ruthven got the Astros 1-2-3 in the 9th. A 2 out double by Garry Maddox gave the Phillies the lead going into the bottom of the 10th. It was Ruthven on the mound, trying to close it out.
He retired pinch hitter Danny Heep and then Terry Puhl to start of the inning. Then on a 3-2 count, Enos Cabell hit a fly ball to Maddox to win the pennant. Ruthven got the final out and the Phillies won their first pennant since 1950, shedding the loser label once and for all.
He would get a start in the World Series that the Phillies would lose in extra innings. But eventually they won their first title ever.
Ruthven made the 1981 All Star team and eventually joined the Phillies exodus to the Cubs in the mid 1980’s where he was part of the 1984 NL East winner.
His career ended during the 1986 season after 14 seasons.
No moment in his career will outshine the 2 innings of relief in 1980 which gave great relief to Phillies fans everywhere.