July 1, 1973: Third-string catcher Hal King slugs one of the most famous home runs in Reds’ history, a two-out three-run walkoff home run in the ninth inning to give the Reds a 4-3 come from behind win over the division league Los Angeles Dodgers. The King home run moved the fourth place Reds to nine games behind the Dodgers.

King’s homer is widely credited with sparking the Reds to an incredible 60-26 finish, with the Reds overtaking the Dodgers and winning the National League’s Western Division with a 99-63 record, 3.5 games ahead of the second place Dodgers. While King’s homer sparked the first win of the Reds’ comeback, the series fireworks actually began the night before, on Saturday, June 30.

The Reds had struggled to defend their 1972 National League pennant. They lost their first two games of the season and had barely played .500 ball for the first half, entering a four game series with the Dodgers only three games above .500 at 39-36. The Reds were leading the Dodgers on this Saturday, 5-1, on the strength of home runs by Tony Perez and Bobby Tolan. However, the wheels fell off in the Dodgers’ seventh when Los Angeles scored six times off Reds relievers Clay Carroll and Pedro Borbon, three of the runs unearned. The Reds tied it in the bottom of the ninth Joe Morgan, pinch hitting for Cesar Geronimo, stroked a two-run homer scoring Dan Driessen, who had singled off Dodgers reliever Pete Richert.

Both teams had multiple opportunities to win the game in extra innings. The Reds left runners on second and third in the 11th when Larry Stahl flied to right, and left runners stranded on first and second in the 12th when Pete Rose struck out. The Dodgers left runners on first and third in the 11th when Don Gullett struck out Lee Lacy and stranded a runner on third in the 12th when Gullett induced pitcher Andy Messersmith, pinch hitting for Brewer, to popup to Gullett on a bunt. The Dodgers won it in the 13th when Lacy singled to right field off reliever Ed Sprague to score Manny Mota. The Dodgers won this thriller, 8-7, and the Reds were now 11 games out first place on July 1.

Sunday called for a doubleheader between the two clubs. The Dodgers started future Hall of Famer Don Sutton while the Reds countered with newly acquired lefty Fred Norman. The Dodgers were leading 3-1 going to the bottom of the ninth when Tony Perez led off with a double. However, Tolan popped up to the second baseman and Stahl struck out and the Reds were down to their final out. Reds manager Sparky Anderson called on star catcher Johnny Bench to pinch hit for shortstop Dave Concepcion. Bench had hit a ninth-inning game-tying homer off Sutton on June 22 (the Dodgers won that game in 10 innings), but on this day Sutton pitched around Bench, eventually intentionally walking him bringing the potential winning run to the plate (Bench lifetime vs. Sutton: .900 OPS with 12 homers in 160 plate appearances). Scheduled to bat was light hitting “catch and throw” catcher Bill Plummer (.541 OPS), but Anderson sent lefty power hitting catcher Hal King to the plate to pinch hit.

King had been acquired in the offseason from the Texas Rangers for sore-armed former 20-game winning Reds pitcher Jim Merritt. King had been a former Astros, Braves, and Rangers catcher whose best season came in 1970 when he batted .260 with 11 homers in 239 plate appearances with the Braves. His career average was .214 with 20 homers in 742 plate appearances. He had pinch hit the previous night vs. the Dodgers in the 12th inning and had reached on a fielder’s choice. King had previously homered off Sutton, a grand slam back in 1971 while with the Atlanta Braves (info from “Big Red Dynasty” by Greg Rhodes and John Erardi). King had been recalled from AAA Indianapolis in the middle of June and had gone 1-10 since joining the Reds, the “1” being a solo homer in his first game as a Red vs. the San Francisco Giants. Sutton got two strikes on King, before King powered a Sutton screwball over the right field wall to give the Reds a 4-3 walk-off win.

The Dodger win wasn’t the last of King’s heroics. On July 9, King powered a grand slam home run off his former Brave batterymate Pat Jarvis, then pitching for the Montreal Expos, in a seven-run Reds sixth inning to give the Reds a 11-6 victory. Then on August 17, King’s pinch hit homer in the top of the tenth inning provided the winning margin for the Reds in a 2-1 victory over the New York Mets.

In two seasons, Hal King played in only 55 games with the Reds, covering 69 plate appearances. He batted .183 with four homers and 13 rbi, with three of the home runs being game winners. He was out of baseball after the 1974 season.

Many remember King’s game winning home run off Sutton, but he wasn’t the only hero that day. King’s homer came in the first game of the doubleheader. Game two was also an extra inning win for the Reds. Trailing 2-0 in the sixth, Tony Perez plated a run with a single, and Pete Rose tied the game in the seventh with another single. The game went into the 10th with the Dodgers getting runners on first and second off Pedro Borbon before Steve Yeager flied to centerfield and pitcher Charlie Hough lined to right to end the Dodgers threat. The Reds won it in the bottom of the tenth when Joe Morgan drew a one-out walk and advanced to second on a passed ball. One out later, Johnny Bench walked, and Perez followed with a single to left scoring Morgan and giving the Reds their second come from behind victory on the day, both coming in their last at bat. The Reds had narrowed the gap to nine games behind the Dodgers.

The series excitement still wasn’t over. The Dodgers stayed over for a fourth game in the series, a Monday game in Cincinnati. Once again, the Dodgers were leading 2-0 through the middle of the sixth inning. Phil Gagliano, pinch hitting for Jim McGlothlin, drew a one-out walk and Rose followed with a single to center. Morgan doubled to score Gagliano, and Rose scored on a Dan Driessen sacrifice fly to knot the game at 2-2. Again, the Reds on the game in their last at bat when Johnny Bench led off with an infield single. Reliever Tom Hall pinch ran for Bench, and he scored when Perez homered to give the Reds the 4-2 victory. The Dodgers’ lead had been cut to eight games.

Perez and King had provided the game winning highlights (now you know why Perez is considered a clutch performer), but nearly all the Reds contributed to the come from behind wins. The Reds pitching staff was incredible. They had allowed a total of 15 runs over 41 innings, but six of those runs came in the seventh inning of the first game of the series. Reds’ pitchers allowed only seven runs over the final 35 innings of the four game series against the Dodgers, whose offense had been the best in the league to that point.

The Reds finally caught the Dodgers on September 3 when the Reds beat the Astros, 4-3, while the Dodgers were losing to the Giants, 11-8. The Reds took first for good the next day when they scored five times in the top of the tenth to beat the Astros 12-7 as the Dodgers lost to Giants again. The Reds never looked back and finished the season 3.5 games ahead of the Dodgers. The Reds were upset in the National League Championship Series, losing to the New York Mets, three games to two.

Join the conversation! 13 Comments

  1. Believe it or not, I was listening to the first game of the DH…. Was off camping with a church group and smuggled my ‘transistor’ radio and turned it on and caught up the tail end of that first game of the DH….including King’s long ball….

  2. I was at the double-header with my Dad, sitting near the field at Riverfront on the 1B line. My only memories of the entire day are King’s home run and that it was a Sunday double-header.

    King pulled the home run down the RF line, screaming just past me. I still vividly remember it even 37 years later.

    All I remember about the second game was that the Reds came back that game, too. I didn’t remember it was extra innings.

    The Reds started that day 11 games back of the Dodgers and ended 9 back. I remember at the time thinking what a big deal it was because the Reds easily could have been behind 12 games.

    Many people don’t appreciate how good the Dodgers were during the run of the Big Red Machine. They may have been the second best team in MLB and that was well before the Wild Card, so only one team from each division made the playoffs.

  3. I was at that DHer as well. It was Banner Day, My friend and I missed seeing the homer as we were underneath waiting to go out on the field. While waiting there was this guy jumping up and down who came running by us. We stopped him and ask him what happened since we had heard the roar of the crowd. He says, “Hal King hit a three-run homer with two out in the bottom of the 9th. Reds win! Reds win!”

  4. Banner Day! I’d forgotten all about them. I wonder how that would go today. That, and double-headers.

  5. With computer design, you would likely have some outstanding banners. Ours was a sheet written on with cow markers. It said something like “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” Each link had a player’s name. The Richie Scheinblum one was broken. Needless to say, the Riverfront Stadium gestapo didn’t let us on the field.

  6. I looked over the ’73 roster. Man, there’s a lot of quality there (Morgan, Bench, Rose, Perez, Driessen, etc, but man, Menke, Gagliano, Stahl, Scheinblum, Cheney, even Geronimo then.. yikes… Andy Kosco had a heck of a year though…155 OPS+. Young ‘uns Griffey and Foster just gettin’ their feet wet…shades of things to come..

    • I looked over the ’73 roster. Man, there’s a lot of quality there (Morgan, Bench, Rose, Perez, Driessen, etc, but man, Menke, Gagliano, Stahl, Scheinblum, Cheney, even Geronimo then.. yikes… Andy Kosco had a heck of a year though…155 OPS+. Young ‘uns Griffey and Foster just gettin’ their feet wet…shades of things to

      Bill,

      I think this signifies something most of us don’t realize and that’s how much baseball talent has improved over the years. The starters don’t seem to be as great today because the talent level has improved all across the board. We’ve forgotten how “bad” bench players were then because we expect everyone to be at least average. That wasn’t the case before today’s game…well, after World War II the talent level was pretty even because many minor league players had gotten the experience and learned to play against big leaguers during the war, but that’s been the exception…until now. Same with pitchers, by the way.

    • I looked over the ’73 roster. Man, there’s a lot of quality there (Morgan, Bench, Rose, Perez, Driessen, etc, but man, Menke, Gagliano, Stahl, Scheinblum, Cheney, even Geronimo then.. yikes… Andy Kosco had a heck of a year though…155 OPS+. Young ‘uns Griffey and Foster just gettin’ their feet wet…shades of things to come..
      Reply

      oh, about the Reds’ bench…it was actually a really good one for their purposes. Stahl was a lefty pinch hitter, but failed Padre starter with some pop; Kosco was the righty pinch hitter but failed starter with some pop, but from the Dodgers and Brewers, Menke was a former good hit, no glove shortstop (but good enough for 3b) with Astros and Braves, Chaney was all glove and no bat, Gagliano was a career utility infielder/pinch hitter with the Cardinals. Scheinblum was 30 years old, and came out of nowhere to bat .322 for the Royals in 1972 when the Reds acquired him and Roger Nelson for Hal McRae. Scheinblum failed with the Reds, who traded him after he played 29 games. He finished the season with the Angels and batted .328 (148 OPS+) for them through 77 games, then he fell back to being a .180 hitter. Sparky Anderson said he was overwhelmed by the superstar presence in Cincinnati.

  7. The ’73 team’s division run was classic.

    I was disappointed by the NLCS loss to a .500 Mets team. I lived in Manhattan that summer, the stupid Mets fans were sure they’d win. I saw Game 4, where Pete Rose had 4 or 5 hits and won it with a HR in extra innings. The Met fans had thrown all kinds of stuff at him in LF in Game 3 after he’d body slammed Buddy Harrleson.

    That Reds team missed their young SS, Dave Concepcion, after he was lost for the season due to an injury.

    Dan Driessen made a big mental error at 3rd base in Game 5, thinking there was a force when there wasn’t. He didn’t play 3rd after that.

    • That Reds team missed their young SS, Dave Concepcion, after he was lost for the season due to an injury.

      Pinson,

      this is the reason I think the Reds lost to the Mets. Concepcion had exploded this season; Chaney and Crosby were not nearly as good.

  8. @Steve Price: Yes, I’ve always felt that way (about the loss of Concepcion).

  9. […] When a team wins a championship, be it a World Series or a division title, there is often a game, or a play, or a pitch a manager or player is going to recall as the turning point that started their run to the title.  I remember a game as a young(er) Reds fan, when a third-string catcher named Hal King hit a two-out, three-run walk-off home run (only back then they didn’t call them walk-off hits . . . they were just game-winners) to beat the first-place Dodgers 4-3.  The Reds were in fourth place, and the win put them nine games behind the Dodgers.  The Reds went on to finish with an incredible 60-26 record and they took the Western Division by 3-1/2 over the Dodgers, which at that time was a fierce rivalry.  King’s dinger (off Hall-of-Famer Don Sutton) was largely credited with providing a badly-needed boost to the talent-laden team that was wallowing at the .500 mark up to this point.  It was a definitive moment for the Big Red Machine.  You can catch an excellent chronicle of that day in Reds’ history at Redleg Nation. […]

  10. […] With one out, Bench and Griffey both singled. Hal King, who had already delivered a couple of dramatic pinch hit home runs during the year, was called on to pinch hit for Armbrister, but struck out for the second out. […]

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