The A's won the American League West division by 5 1⁄2 games over the Chicago White Sox, then defeated the Detroit Tigers three games to two in the American League Championship Series. The Cincinnati Reds won the National League West division by 10 1⁄2 games over both the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros. The Reds defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates three games to two in the National League Championship Series, marking the first year in which an LCS series in either league went the full five games since divisional play was introduced in 1969. The Reds, who won one fewer game than the Pirates during the regular season, became the first team in MLB history to reach the World Series without having the best record in its respective league. In each of the first six League Championship Series, the team with the better record advanced to the World Series.
This was Cincinnati's second trip to the World Series in three years. It was Oakland's first-ever trip to the Series, and the first for the franchise since 1931 when the team was located in Philadelphia.
This turned out to be a matchup of the two premier MLB dynasties of the 1970s, with the Reds winning two World Series in four WS appearances, while the A's would win three-straight (1972–74). Iconoclastic club owner Charlie Finley's "Swingin' A's" featured day-glo uniforms, lots of facial hair, colorful nicknames, and explosive personalities, while "The Big Red Machine" was a more traditional franchise with a more traditional look (including a facial-hair ban)—and an everyday lineup with multiple future Hall of Famers as well as all-time hits king, Pete Rose. The Series was dubbed "The Hairs vs. the Squares."
Oakland played the Series without its star outfielder Reggie Jackson, who was injured (pulled hamstring) stealing home in the final game of the ALCS against Detroit. Left-handed reliever Darold Knowles was also missing for the A's, breaking his thumb on September 27, less than three weeks before the Series opener.
With Jackson out, the Athletics were decided underdogs. George Hendrick was inserted into center field for Jackson. And while Hendrick only went 2-for-15 (.133 avg.), unheralded catcher Gene Tenace stepped up. Tenace had a poor regular season, hitting only .225 with five home runs. He was even worse in the AL Championship series against Detroit, going 1 for 17 (.059), although his one hit drove in the go-ahead run in Game 5. In the World Series however, Tenace was spectacular, hitting four home runs equaling the World Series mark set by Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Hank Bauer. He also had nine RBI in the Series—no other Oakland player had more than one. Tenace was voted World Series MVP.
By contrast, the stellar Oakland pitching kept the middle of the Reds lineup quiet for most of the series. Johnny Bench (.270 avg., 40 HR, 125 RBI, NL MVP), Tony Pérez (.283 avg., 21 HR, 90 RBI), and Denis Menke (9 HR, 50 RBI), combined for only two homers and five RBI the entire Series. It didn't help that the Reds' "table-setters," Pete Rose and Joe Morgan were a combined 1 for 28 through the first four games, when the Reds lost three of those games.
The teams were fairly equal statistically, each club totaling 46 hits with the same .209 batting average (the combined batting averages were the lowest recorded in a 7-game World Series). The Reds out-scored the A's, 21–16, but lost each of their four games by a single run. Six of the seven games in the series were decided by one run, marking perhaps the most closely contested World Series in MLB history. The only series that competes is the 1991 World Series which featured five one-run games with three of them going to extra innings including Game 7.
AL Oakland A's (4) vs. NL Cincinnati Reds (3)
†: postponed from October 17 due to rain
Oakland jumped out to a one-game series lead behind catcher Gene Tenace, who hit a home run in each of his first two at-bats. Tenace became the first player ever to homer in his two initial Series plate appearances, a feat later matched by Andruw Jones of the Atlanta Braves in 1996. Only two Oakland players collected hits, a pair each from Tenace and Bert Campaneris. The A's received a combined four innings of shutout relief from Rollie Fingers and Vida Blue to secure the victory for starter Ken Holtzman. Blue stranded the potential tying run at third base to end the game by inducing Pete Rose to ground out to second base.
The Game 2 hero would be A's left fielder Joe Rudi, who smacked a home run and added a sparkling, game-saving catch up against the wall in the ninth inning on a ball hit by Denis Menke. Catfish Hunter pitched eight strong innings, consistently wiggling out of trouble, and also added an RBI single in the second off Ross Grimsley. The Reds' failure to produce in the clutch was as much the story as Rudi's heroics as Cincinnati had leadoff baserunners in five innings but only scored a run in the ninth.
In the ninth, Tony Pérez led off with a base hit before Rudi's catch of Menke's drive for the first out. Oakland first baseman Mike Hegan then made another great defensive play when César Gerónimo, the next Reds hitter, lined a shot that appeared headed down the line for extra bases. Hegan dove for the ball, knocked it down, and dove for the bag, barely beating Geronimo. Pérez took second and scored on a Hal McRae single through the middle. Rollie Fingers then relieved Hunter and induced pinch hitter Julián Javier to pop out to Hegan in foul territory to end the game. The World Series home loss was Reds' seventh-straight, which included three in the 1961 World Series against the New York Yankees (at Crosley Field) and two in the 1970 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles.
Jackie Robinson, the first black major-league player of the modern era, made his final public appearance in Cincinnati before Game 2 (he would die nine days later). In a brief speech, he expressed his desire to see a black manager in Major League Baseball, a color barrier that had not yet been broken. Former Reds great, Frank Robinson, would eventually be hired to manage the 1975 Cleveland Indians to break that barrier.
Heavy storms delayed Game 3 by a day, but the Reds got back into the series behind a strong performance from starter Jack Billingham, who held the A's to three hits in eight innings. The Reds pushed across the game's only run in the seventh when César Gerónimo singled home Tony Pérez. Pérez scored despite slipping on the still damp grass as he rounded third. Oakland second baseman Dick Green was apparently unaware that Perez had slipped; otherwise, it appeared Green may have had a play at the plate. Clay Carroll pitched the ninth for the save.
A rare trick play occurred in the eighth inning. The Reds had Joe Morgan on third and Bobby Tolan on first base with Rollie Fingers pitching to NL MVP Johnny Bench. Fingers pitched carefully to Bench before Tolan stole second base on ball three. After the stolen base, with the count 3–2 on Bench, A's manager Dick Williams visited the mound. After a long discussion, he motioned for an intentional walk to Bench. A's catcher Gene Tenace stood to catch ball four, but at the last second returned to his crouch as Fingers delivered a strike on the outside corner. Bench watched the pitch go by for strike three.
Probably the one game that swung the entire series, and it was Gene Tenace and Oakland non-starters who came through in the ninth inning to rally the Athletics to victory.
Oakland left-handed starting pitcher Ken Holtzman shut out the Reds on four hits through seven innings and had a 1–0 lead behind Tenace's third homer of the series. With two outs in the eighth inning and Dave Concepción on second base, A's manager Dick Williams brought in left-hander Vida Blue to face left-handed hitters Joe Morgan and Bobby Tolan. But Blue walked Morgan and allowed a clutch two-run double to Tolan, giving Cincinnati the lead as the Reds seemed poised to tie the series at 2 games apiece.
In the bottom of the ninth, however, with one out, the A's strung together four consecutive hits to score two runs. Pinch hitter Gonzalo Márquez singled, Tenace followed with a single, Don Mincher followed with another pinch-hit single scoring pinch-runner Allan Lewis to tie the game before a third pinch-hitter, Ángel Mangual, singled off Clay Carroll to score Tenace with the game-winner to put Oakland up three games to one. It was the first time that a team collected three pinch hits in the same World Series inning.
Up three games to one and with ace Catfish Hunter on the mound, the A's looked to close out Cincinnati. But the Reds got a home run by Pete Rose to lead off the game and Rose also drove in the game-winner in the ninth. The dramatic game ended when Joe Morgan threw out the potential game-tying run at the plate as the Reds staved off elimination.
Trailing 1–0 in the second, Gene Tenace hit his fourth home run of the series, a three-run shot, to put Oakland up by two. The Reds cut the lead to 3–2 in the fourth on a solo homer by Denis Menke. Ángel Mangual came through with another pinch RBI single in the A's half of the fourth to make it 4–2.
With two outs in the fifth, Joe Morgan walked. With a 3–2 count on Bobby Tolan, Morgan broke for second and was able to score when Tolan lined a base hit into right-center field. The speedy Morgan and Tolan collaborated once again to tie the game in the eighth. Morgan again walked and stole second and Tolan brought him in with a single.
In the ninth, Rose singled in the go-ahead run. The Reds preserved the lead when, with one out and runners on first and third, Bert Campaneris hit a foul pop on the first-base side that first baseman Tony Pérez appeared to call. Second baseman Morgan raced over, waved Perez off, caught the ball, and fired home to nail pinch runner Blue Moon Odom, who had tagged from third.
The Friday afternoon contest was the last non-weekend World Series day game. The three games in Oakland were all scheduled to be played at night, but Game 3 was rained out, forcing Game 5 to be played on a Friday, originally scheduled as a travel day. The game was played in the afternoon (1 p.m. PT) to allow ample time for the teams to travel to Cincinnati for Game 6 the next day.
Back at the friendly confines of Riverfront Stadium, the Reds tied the series at 3 games apiece with a rout. Johnny Bench, who had no homers or RBI in the series to that point, broke a scoreless tie in the fourth with a solo homer off starter Vida Blue. The A's fought back on a Dick Green RBI double in their half of the fifth, but from then on it was all Reds. Dave Concepción had a sacrifice fly in the fifth, and Tony Pérez an RBI single in the sixth (his first RBI of the Series). The Reds then broke it open with a five-run seventh an RBI single by Joe Morgan and a pair of two-run singles by Bobby Tolan and César Gerónimo.
Gene Tenace capped a spectacular World Series with two hits, two RBI and he also scored the game-winning run in the sixth inning on Sal Bando's double.
Oakland scored an unearned run in the first inning off Jack Billingham when Reds center fielder Bobby Tolan misplayed a fly ball by Mangual into a 3-base error. Mangual scored on a two-out infield single by Tenace on a ball that hit a seam in the Astroturf and bounced over Denis Menke. The Reds tied the game in the fifth on a bases loaded sacrifice fly to the center field wall by Hal McRae. However, McRae was pinch hitting for Billingham who had allowed no earned runs in 13 2⁄3 innings in the series against the A's. His replacement in the sixth inning, Pedro Borbón, surrendered RBI doubles to Tenace and Bando. Bando's drive appeared catchable, but Tolan pulled up short of the wall due to a strained hamstring and the ball went over Tolan to the base of the wall. He was later removed from the game on a double switch. The Reds closed to within 3–2 in the eighth on a sacrifice fly by Perez, but A's closer Rollie Fingers shut down the Reds in the ninth.
The World Series victory for the Oakland A's was the first for the franchise since the days of Connie Mack when the team was in Philadelphia and had won in 1930. The victory ensured manager Dick Williams' return for another year. It was the Athletics' sixth World Series title. This is the last time to date that an American League team has won a World Series Game 7 on the road.
1972 World Series (4–3): Oakland A's (A.L.) over Cincinnati Reds (N.L.)This was Al Michaels' first World Series as a play-by-play man; he was then a broadcaster for the Cincinnati Reds. At the time, Major League Baseball and NBC had a policy (which ended in 1977) in which announcers from the participating World Series teams were allowed to commentate on the national television and radio broadcasts. Michaels would not call another World Series until 1979, after he had joined ABC Sports.