The Astros' team charter bus pulled up in front of the dugout at Dodger Stadium following the 162nd game in the 1980 season, and one by one, the players filed into their seats, with self-doubt creeping into their heads, following a demoralizing three-game sweep at the hands of the Dodgers.
They had come to Los Angeles needing just one win against the Dodgers to clinch the National League West title, but now the Astros found themselves forced into a one-game tiebreaker -- win or go home -- at the very unfriendly confines of Dodger Stadium. Sure, the Astros had ace Joe Niekro in line to pitch Game 163, but extending the season wasn't what they had planned.
Game to Remember
|Craig Reynolds and Figures|
|1. Full name: Gordon Craig Reynolds.|
|2. Game to Remember: Oct. 6, 1980 (Astros 7, Dodgers 1)|
|3. Nickname: None|
|4. Jersey number: 12|
|5. Primary position: Shortstop|
|6. Bats/Throws: Left/Right|
|7. Born: Dec. 27, 1952|
|8. Birthplace: Houston|
|9. Major League debut: Aug. 1, 1975|
|10. Years in Major Leagues: 15|
|11. Years with Houston: 11 (1979-89)|
|12. Other teams: Pirates (1975-76), Mariners (1977-78)|
|13. Key stats with Houston: .252 batting average, 55 triples, 32 homers, 300 RBIs|
|14. Claim to fame: Reynolds is the only shortstop in Major League history to make the All-Star team in consecutive seasons for different leagues (1978 with Seattle and '79 with Houston).|
|15. Did you know? Reynolds set the Houston club record for triples in a game with three on May 16, 1981, against the Cubs at the Astrodome.|
|16. What's he doing now? Reynolds is a pastor at Second Baptist Church North Campus in Kingwood, Texas, just north of Houston.|
Niekro wound up making believers out of the Dodgers, too, by tossing a six-hit complete game on Oct. 6, 1980, to whack the boys in blue and become the first Astros pitcher to win 20 games in two seasons. The Astros, behind Niekro and a homer by Art Howe, beat the Dodgers, 7-1, to win division.
For Reynolds, who went 3-for-4 with a double and a strikeout on that sunny afternoon in Southern California, it was the thrill of his career.
"Going into Dodger Stadium was never easy for us," Reynolds said. "Certainly, we anticipated we'd win one of those three games, but we just didn't. The thing that made the final game so significant was that no one in that ballpark expected us to go out there and win."
The Astros of the early 1980s were built for artificial turf and the cookie-cutter ballparks of the era. They had speed to burn with Jose Cruz, Cesar Cedeno, Terry Puhl and Joe Morgan, and one of best pitching staffs in the league. Niekro, Nolan Ryan, Ken Forsch and Vern Ruhle formed a solid rotation that would have been even more formidable had J.R. Richard not been lost midseason due to a stroke.
Having Niekro on the mound gave the Astros some much-needed confidence. He wound up going 20-12 with a 3.55 ERA that year after going 21-11 with a 3.00 ERA and finishing second in the NL Cy Young Award race in 1979.
"We knew if we could score a run or two early, we were going to win," Reynolds said.
The Astros certainly felt good with the masterful knuckleballer Niekro on the mound, but throwing him into action in the tiebreaker cost the Astros a chance to use him in Game 1 of the NL Championship Series against the Phillies. Getting a chance to even play Philadelphia was job one, and winning a pressure cooker of a game on your opponent's field almost made being swept in the final weekend series worth it.
"[Everyone else] fully expected us to not to be able to come out and win that day," Reynolds said. "We played well. Everybody on the team had a really good ballgame. In that kind of pressure situations, that's pretty cool."
The Astros flew across country to Philadelphia following the win over the Dodgers for the start of the 1980 NLCS the next day. Even though the Phillies were loaded and sending Steve Carlton to the mound in Game 1 of the series, the Astros were going to enjoy the win over the Dodgers for as long as they could.
"I remember the flight was really fun," Reynolds joked. "I won't tell you the stories, but Bruce Bochy -- who's now managing and was a cerebral guy and a great teammate -- on the bus ride to the airport, he was in rare form. The whole team was thrilled about [the win]."
The NLCS against the Phillies was remembered as one of the best in baseball history up to that time. The Astros split the first two games of the best-of-five series at Veterans Stadium before coming home to win Game 3, 1-0, in 11 innings. The Astros lost Games 4 and 5 in extra innings in the Astrodome in what was nothing short of a heartbreak.
"I tell people I saw a lot of grown men cry that night," Reynolds said.