The number one overall seed 1975 Reds faced off against the 1990 “wire-to-wire” Reds group in this first round matchup held at Riverfront Stadium.
Tom Browning took the bump, opposing Jack Billingham, as the two got themselves into a pitching duel in the early going. Through four innings, neither man had cracked. The score was all goose eggs heading into the top of the fifth.
Barry Larkin led off the fifth with a rocket shot to left, which set the tone for the rest of the frame. A batter later, Larkin swept second and put himself in scoring position for Eric Davis, who promptly brought him with a seeing-eye single that got through into right and gave the 1990 squad the lead. Billingham escaped further trouble after having runners on the corners with two out and got Billy Hatcher to pop out to center.
The bottom of the frame began innoxiously enough with both Billingham and Rose being retired before Joe Morgan drew a walk and was doubled home by Johnny Bench. George Foster sent Browning to the showers after hitting a two-run homerun to left-center that barely scraped over the wall and gave the ’75 club a 3-1 lead through 5.
The score remained the same heading into the top of the 7th, where Barry Larkin once again led off the inning with a base hit. After Eric Davis singled him over to third with one out in the inning, Billingham was clearly beginning to fatigue. Sparky stuck with him though, and Chris Sabo proceeded to tie the game up with a two-RBI double to the left centerfield gap. At that point, Clay Carroll was summoned out of the Big Red Machine’s bullpen, and brought in to face Paul O’Neill.
O’Neill almost made an immediate impact by driving a ball to the warning track in right field before having it hauled in right in front of the fence. Billy Hatcher now had chance to put his club ahead and he did not disappoint. The hero of the 1990 World Series, hit a ground-rule double to put ’90 up 4-3. The nightmare was not over for Carroll as Todd Benzinger stepped in next and laced a line drive to right field that brought in Hatcher and pushed the wire-to-wire club’s lead to two.
After mercifully getting out of the top of the frame, Carroll would reap the benefits of pitching behind one of the best offensive teams to ever take the field. Rick Mahler found himself in an unenviable position of having to face Hall of Famer Tony Perez with the bases loaded and two away before he dealt the ultimate deathblow to his club. “Doggie” crushed a ball over the head of Eric Davis and cleared the bases, putting the ’75 bunch ahead for good.
Rob Dibble was brought in about a batter too late to help the bleeding stop, but Davey Concepcion showed he was more than just a slick fielder when he roped a single to right and brought around Perez, extending the lead to 7-5.
Rawly Eastwick was beckoned upon to shut the game down in the top of the ninth. After getting both Sabo and O’Neill, Hatcher notched another base hit to give Benzinger one last chance for Lou Pinella’s club. Rather than more drama at Riverfront, Benzinger simply lofted a lazy fly ball that landed in the palm of the glove of Ken Griffey Sr.
With the victory, the 1975 Reds have advanced to the next round to play the lowest (or highest, depending how you look at it) seed. Tony Perez won player of the game honors after his clutch three-RBI double that clinched victory for the Big Red Machine. The next matchup will feature #2 1976 Reds vs. #7 1919 Reds