A Dodgers-Astros Game in 1978
by Lincoln Mitchell
There are a few individual baseball games that, for one reason or another take on a greater significance as time passes. One of those games occurred on September 7th, 1978 when the Dodgers beat the Astros in Houston 3-2.
In 1978, both teams were in the NL West, but they could not be called rivals. By September of that season, the Dodgers were tightening their hold on first place after a summer long battle with a surprisingly good Giants team. The Astros would finish the season in fifth place and were still two years away from their first ever playoff appearance.
Much of the baseball world was focused on Boston that Thursday as the Yankees were opening a four game series there against the Red Sox. The Yankees began that day four games out of first place and drubbed Boston in the opener of the series by a score of 15-2. They would go on to sweep the series and tie the Red Sox for the division lead. In October the Yankees beat the Dodgers in the World Series.
But this is about the Astros and Dodgers, not the Yankees.
The Astros lineup that day featured some relatively obscure players including Keith Drumright, who batted second and played second base, as well as starting pitcher Mark Lemongello. However, Terry Puhl and Jose Cruz, solid players on those late 1970s and early 1980s Astros teams, were in the lineup. Cruz, one of the most underappreciated players in baseball history got one of the Astros seven hits and their only extra base hit of the game.
The Dodgers lineup included all four players from their famous infield that played together from 1974-1981. Davey Lopes led off and played second base. Shortstop Bill Russell batted second. Steve Garvey played first base and batted cleanup, and third baseman Ron Cey batted fifth. The pitcher that day for the Dodger was Burt Hooton, who threw seven strong innings and picked up his seventh win of the season.
The only home run in that game was struck by the Dodgers left fielder Dusty Baker. Baker had a bit of an off-year in 1978. He would not hit another home run for the rest of the season and would end up with only 11 on the year.
When Baker touched home plate in the top of the fifth after his round-tripper, the Astros catcher who was likely looking on with less than a cheerful mien was, you guessed it, Bruch Bochy.
Bochy had played in his first big league game about seven weeks earlier and was on his way to a respectable rookie year in which he hit .266/.311/.377. However, this was the first time Bochy had played against the Dodgers and Dusty Baker. That game was 45 years ago and now these two baseball lifers are meeting again, this time managing against each other in the ALCS.
Bochy went hitless in four at bats, but he helped Lemongello pitch nine solid innings against a very tough Dodgers lineup. The rookie catcher also threw out Rick Monday trying to steal second base in the second inning.
It is extremely doubtful that anybody watching that game looked at the established veteran, who many viewed as a star, playing left field for the Dodgers and the rookie backstop for the Astros and thought they were seeing two managers who would meet in an ALCS in the year 2023 and will likely be enshrined in Cooperstown someday.
When Bruce Bochy and Dusty first met during a big league game, they were young men. Baker would continue to be a valuable player for a few more years, while Bochy spent nine years in the big leagues as a backup catcher. Major League Baseball was different then. There was no interleague play or wild cards. It had been 13 years since a Japanese player had been on a Major League Roster and nobody had heard of WAR or OPS. The Astros were playing in the NL West. The American League was in its sixth year of an experiment with the designated hitter that is now used almost universally in baseball.
Much has changed in the world since that game. In late 1978 Donald Trump was still a relatively unknown heir. The Cold War dominated global politics as the USSR seemed eternal. The Shah was still in power in Iran and Joe Biden was a senator with presidential aspirations, a role he would occupy for the next thirty years.
Today Baker and Bochy are older men from another baseball era. They are baseball lifers who have learned how to combine some understanding of advanced metrics with the people skills and baseball instinct that every great manager needs. They are both among the top ten in games managed and wins. They have won a combined four World Series, and it about a fifty-fifty chance that number will increase to five within a few weeks.
From my perspective as a fan, one of the powers of baseball is that people like Baker and Bochy stay in our baseball worlds for so long.
The summer I was nine years old, Baker and Bochy wee playing against other in Houston. A decade or so later when the Giants finally made it back to the World Series, Baker was in the locker room when the earthquake hit. He would later manage the Giants for several years. Shortly before my younger son turned nine, Bochy guided the Giants to their first World Series title in San Francisco. Today, I am well into middle age and that son graduates from college in May. I don’t have as much time to watch the post-season as I would like, but it is somehow comforting to me to see Baker and Bochy battling it out somewhere in Texas.