The ghost of Manny Mota
Take that, Manny Mota.
Oct. 7, 1977. If you’re of a certain age and a die-hard Phillies fan, I probably do not have to go any farther.
Maybe one of the lowest moments in Philadelphia sports history.
Ironically, it also provided one of the high points, one of those occasions that people often point to when talking of the legendary passion of Philly sports fans.
I know because I was there.
It was Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. Dodgers starter Burt Hooton was spotted to a 2-0 lead, but was struggling with his stuff. In the bottom of the second, the Phils were rallying. With two men on and two out, Hooton was facing his pitching counterpart Larry Christenson. With the count 1-2, Hooton fired what he clearly thought was strike three to end the inning. Only home plate umpire Harry Wendelstedt didn’t see it that way. He called it a ball.
A perturbed Hooton kicked at the rubber on the pitcher’s mound. That’s all Phillies fans needed.
What happened next is something I will never forget. I rank it as one of the truly great moments in Philadelphia sports. In part because it defines us as fans.
The fans unleashed their fury on Hooton. He responded by walking Christenson. Things got louder. Hooton was rattled. Theh he completely unraveled. With each ball he uncorked, the din grew louder. Christenson walked three straight batters before being lifted. As he walked to the dugout under the unrelenting verbal assault, for a second I actually felt sorry for him. Then I continued screaming at the top of my lungs.
Of course, we all know how that game turned out. Manny Mota hit a line drive that Greg Luzinski could not get to. Fans turned their wrath on Manager Danny Ozark, who failed to insert defensive replacement Jerry Martin as he had all year.
It was like knocking over the first domino in one of those intricate displays. Current Phils first base coach Davey Lopes then hit a ball that went off the glove of third baseman Mike Schmidt. Shortstop Larry Bowa barehanded and fired to first, seemingly just in time to get Lopes.
Only this time the call went the other way. Safe.
The Phils 5-3 lead crumbled. The Dodgers won, 6-5, and went on win the series.
Walking out of the stadium, I remember two things from that day. How loud the crowd was in literally chasing Hooton off the mound. And how quiet it was just a few hours later, after enduring one of the most painful losses in Philly history.
Monday night I figure the Dodgers and their fans were feeling the same way.
It took more than three decades, but the ghost of Manny Mota had finally been exorcised.