As most of Willie Stargell's home runs are, this one was a moonshot. It flew high and lazily, floating majestically through the sky, a speck of white on a grand mission. The baseball came down in the second tier of the right field seats. It was a 450-foot home run that meant the Pirates would be in the World Series.
Today's final was Pittsburgh 7, Cincinnati 1. Bert Blyleven pitched an eight-hitter, striking out nine men. The Pirates swept the Reds three straight in the National League championship series. Victory was inevitable today from the moment Stargell -- the old sweet warrior they call Captain Pops -- sent his quick bat against a chest-high fast ball in the third inning.
He had won Game One with a shot Babe Ruth would have liked, an 11th-inning home run that rose into the night and fell to earth an hour or two later. Today the Pirates led on two cheap runs given as gifts by the Reds, who proved themselves sorry successors to the Big Red Machine of 1975 and '76. Ahead, 2-0, already, Stargell stood in against left-hander Fred Norman to start the third inning.
Stargell's home runs are unmistakable and the 42,240 customers at Three Rivers Stadium knew Norman's mistake was headed for the clouds. As Stargell moved around the bases, a greater clamor arose, a waterfall's noise filling the place, and Stargell's admirers wouldn't sit down, wouldn't shut up, wouldn't feel right until Stargell came back out of the dugout so they could thank him some more.
He is 38 years old. This is Stargell's 18th season with the Pirates. In all those years, he played in one World Series, in 1971, when, with a bad knee, he hit only .208 in the Pirates' seven-game victory over Baltimore. Now he had struck a mighty home run, sent it directly over a banner reading "Captain Willie," and they wanted him out of the dugout so they could share the moment a little longer.
Stargell trotted out two or three steps and turned and doffed his cap with his left hand. With his right, he threw the customers a kiss.
"If somebody took a picture of my body," Stargell said of that moment, it would show goose bumps. If they registered heart beats and measured my blood pressure, it would be very high. The good Lord let us shed tears at touching moments, and that's what transpired with me. I wish there was a way to thank every fan individually."
It was 3-0 then and the Reds were dead. Two hitters later, Bill Madlock lined a home run to left, and in the next inning here came Stargell again, the old man wheeling his bat in circles. A hundred pitchers, two hundred, have wished they were someplace else when Stargell is at the plate, wheeling that stick in circles, loosening up for the attack.
With men on first and second, Stargell faced Norman again. Everyone plays Stargell to pull the ball to right. Even so, he ripped a line drive so hard that it flew between first baseman Dan Driessen and the bag before Driessen could get off his feet in a futile dive after the screaming missile.
A double. Two more runs. For three games, Stargell would be five for 11, a .455 average, with two home runs and six runs batted in. He would be voted the most valuable player in the series. "I can't count how many times Willie has come through with the big hit for us," said Manager Chuch Tanner. "Nobody in baseball is more valuable than Willie Stargell."
Given a 6-0 lead, Blyleven was unbeatable today. With wonderful control of both his fast ball and a curve that seemed to begin in Latrobe and wind up in Lancaster, Blyleven allowed the feeble Reds as many as two base runners in an inning only once. He was hurt only by Johnny Bench's home run in the sixth.
"I was that sharp," said Blyleven, who in 37 starts this season pitched only four complete games, a statistic due mostly to Tanner's penchant for the early hook to get his bullpen stars in. Blyleven had only a 15-5 won-lost record, but in his 37 starts the Pirates won 25 times.
As sharp as Blyleven was, and at his best he is one of baseball's premier pitchers, his dominance of the Reds must be understood in context. These are not the Reds who averaged five runs a game in winning the league playoffs and World Series in 1975 and '76. On those teams, Dave Concepcion hit eighth; now he bats third.
The Reds hit .215 against the Pirates in this series. Joe Morgan was 0 for 11. The Nos. 3-4-5 hitters -- Concepcion, George Foster and Bench -- came to bat 26 times with men on base; they drove in one of those runners, one of 26. Pittsburgh's 3-4-5 men -- Parker, Stargell and John Milner -- drove in six of 28 runners.
The Reds suffered in comparison in the field, too. Pittsburgh did nothing spectacular -- "We're not a fancy club," Stargell said, "we just play hard, aggressive baseball and make the routine plays routinely" -- but neither did it hurt itself the way the Reds did today.
The Pirates scored their first run without a hit thanks to the wildness of Cincinnati starter Mike LaCoss and a poor throw by Concepcion, maybe baseball's best shortstop.
LaCoss walked four men in his 1 1/3 innings, three of them on four straight pitches. His first walk went to lead-off man Omar Moreno, who promptly stole second.
Moreno should have been thrown out at third on a Tim Foli grounder to Concepcion. But Concepcion threw high to third and Moreno, brash enough to break a baseball commandment by running on a ball hit in front of him, was fast enough to beat the tag made from a high catch.From there, Moreno trotted home on Dave Parker's fly to left.
The Pirates' second run was no more impressive. As he did in Game One on a Moreno liner, Cincinnati right fielder Dave Collins misplayed a Phil Garner shot into a triple when it should have been a single. Collins let the ball slip under his glove. Foli drove in Garner with a fly to center.
Seond-place finishers to Philadelphia in the East Division the last two years, Pittsburgh this year won 98 games, second-best to Baltimore's 102. Trades that brought Foli to shortstop and Madlock to third, bringing good gloves and good bats, moved the Pirates up. Now they are the first East Division team in the World Series in six seasons.
"The Orioles?" said Joe Morgan to Willie Stargell in the winners' locker room. 'That park is too small for you."