The world champion Reds were steadfastly themselves through the opening two games of the National League playoffs, which is to say they were resolute, unflappable, supremely confident, flawless a field, intimidating on the bases and powerful at bat. Also unbeatable. The Phillies, on the other hand, were obviously someone else—the Montreal Expos perhaps, or possibly the harlequin impostors who played in their uniforms during the near collapse of late August and early September.
In the first playoff game, a 6-3 loss, the Phils were even confounded by their own artificial turf, a carpet on which they had played 81 games this season. The Reds, who had set foot on it only six times, seemed as familiar with it as with the living room rugs in their own homes. Phillie Shortstop Larry Bowa reacted to ground balls as if he were a jaywalker dodging midtown traffic, and Rightfielder Ollie Brown played nearly everything hit to him into a triple. In the third inning, a Pete Rose fly ball sailed past him untouched, and in the fifth a Ken Griffey liner skidded under his glove as he groped for it. Bowa and Brown sought forgiveness on grounds that the field was stained and slippery from daylong rains and that the lights in Veterans Stadium are sometimes blinding.
In one maddening sequence in the sixth inning there were consecutive misplays by Centerfielder Garry Maddox, Third Baseman Mike Schmidt and Bowa. However, Schmidt, who fell victim to indecision on a ground ball by Cesar Geronimo, was the only one assessed an error. The Reds, meanwhile, pressed on behind the pitching of Lefthander Don Gullett, whose two hits (a single and double that drove in three runs) were equal to the number he allowed the Phils in the eight innings he worked. Gullett's teammates backed him up with seven extra-base hits and four stolen bases.
The Phillies at least began well in the second game, a 6-2 loss deplored by a playoff-record 62,651 fans at Veterans Stadium. They led 2-0 through five innings—one run scoring on a second-deck Greg Luzinski homer—as Jim Lonborg held the Reds hitless. Lonborg lost his "rhythm," his no-hitter, his shutout and the game when the Reds scored four times on only three hits in the sixth. The most controversial play of the inning was an "error" charged to First Baseman Dick Allen on a smash by Tony Perez that nearly decapitated him. Allen, ever popular, was nevertheless booed his next time at bat.
After two games the Reds had 12 runs, 16 hits, no errors, a 2.50 ERA, five stolen bases and two wins. All the Phillies had was one big problem.
Pete Rose, who had five hits, and his mates, who had five steals, dimmed Philly's hopes, particularly those of Jim Lonborg, whom Manager Danny Ozark yanked after he lost a no-hitter in Game 2's sixth inning. First-game winner Don Gullett allowed two hits and had two himself.