July 25, 1974: Tony Perez hits a dramatic two-out two-strike two-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to cap a five-run Reds rally. The Perez homer enables the Reds to beat the San Francisco Giants, 14-13, in the first game of a double header. In the second game, Fred Norman shuts out the Giants, 5-0.
I don’t get to attend many Reds games, but the first game was one I saw as a boy and was easily the most exciting Reds game I’ve ever seen.
The Reds entered the game with the second best record in baseball at 58-40, but the best record in baseball was held by the division leading Los Angeles Dodgers. The Reds had fallen 10 1/2 games behind back (48-37) as recently as July 10 and had cut five games off the lead in about two weeks. The Reds had the best record in baseball the rest of the way through season’s end.
The Giants opened the game with three runs off Clay Kirby. After retiring the first two batters, Kirby walked four, allowed two singles, and threw a wild pitch before manager Sparky Anderson replaced him with Dick Baney.
The Reds struck back for five runs in the bottom of the second off Giants’ starter Mike Caldwell and reliever Tom Bradley. Third baseman of the day Johnny Bench led off with a single and Tony Perez reached on an error with Bench stopping at second. Dave Concepcion doubled to left scoring Bench with the Reds’ first run. George Foster grounded out to shortstop for the first out of the inning, Perez scoring and Concepcion holding at second base. Concepcion stole third and Bill Plummer doubled to left field to tie the score at 3-3. Terry Crowley pinch hit for Baney (second inning–Sparky’s playing to win) against Bradley, but grounded out for the second out. Merv Rettenmund walked and Pete Rose followed with an infield single to load the bases. Joe Morgan singled to right field, scoring Plummer and Rettenmund, and giving the Reds a 5-3 lead. Bench popped out to end the inning.
Pedro Borbon came on to pitch in the third inning for the Giants, but gave up a run on a Gary Matthews triple and a Tito Fuentes single, closing the gap to 5-4. The Reds made it 7-4 in their half of the third when Concepcion homered after a Perez single.
The bottom fell out for the Reds in the top of the fifth when the Giants scored six times off Reds relievers Borbon, Will McEnaney, and Clay Carroll to take a 10-7 lead. The big play of the inning came with the game tied at 7-7, the bases loaded and Bobby Bonds at the plate. Carroll threw away Bonds’s infield grounder allowing the bases to clear and giving the Giants the lead.
The Giants scored twice more in the seventh off Tom Hall on four singles, but the Reds countered with two runs of their own in the eighth on a two-run homer by Johnny Bench. Bonds added an insurance run in the ninth off Jack Billingham, stretching the Giants lead to 13-9. This game was Billingham’s only relief appearances of the year and it turned out to be a winner for him.
Giants relief ace Randy Moffitt was in his second inning of relief work when he struck out Cesar Geronimo on a called third strike to begin the bottom of the ninth. Dan Driessen singled and Rettenmund drew a walk. Rose followed with a single to center, scoring Driessen, with Rettenmund safe at third and Rose moving to second on the throw. Morgan grounded to first base for the second out, Rettenmund scoring and Rose moving to third. Bench reached on an infield single with Rose scoring and the Reds cutting the lead to one, 13-12 with two outs. Moffitt got two strikes on Perez, before Perez unloaded for a line drive home run over the center field wall to give the Reds a remarkable 14-13 comeback win. (At least, I think it was the center field wall–I was high up in the right field stands and sometimes the angles were distorted…).
With all the runs scored by both teams in the game, there could have been a whole lot more. The Giants left 11 men on base, the Reds left ten. The Reds used 21 players in this game, including seven pitchers. The Giants used 15 players including five pitchers. Concepcion and Rose each had four hits in the game for the Reds.
Fred Norman was dominant in the second game, pitching a five-hit shut out for the Reds. Norman improved his record to 10-9 with a 2.58 ERA. Geronimo led the hitting attack with three hits, including a triple, raising his batting average to .313. 1974 was the year Geronimo won the center field job for the Reds and he finished the season batting .281 and won the first of his four consecutive Gold Gloves.
The Reds never did catch the Dodgers. They came as close as 1 1/2 games on September 14 when Don Gullett beat Geoff Zahn and the Dodgers, 4-2. It was the Reds sixth win in a row and and second in two days versus the Dodgers, but Don Sutton and the Dodgers beat Norman and the Reds 7-1 on the very next day to stave off the Reds season long chase. The Reds finished the season at 98-64, four games behind the Dodgers and the second best record in baseball.