Big Red Machine admires Rockies’ unbeaten streak
CINCINNATI — The last time a team won its first seven games in the playoffs, a reputation was made.
The Cincinnati Reds drew acclaim as one of baseball’s greatest teams when they swept through the 1976 playoffs without a loss, going 7 for 7 on their way to a World Series title. No one else had won its first seven games in the playoffs until the Colorado Rockies this postseason.
Members of the Big Red Machine appreciate the Rockies’ playoff perfection, even if there are major differences.
“It’s kind of apples and oranges,” Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan said. “In some ways, what they did is more impressive. I say that because in this day and age, most of the teams are equal. There’s not any great teams; they’re all really good teams.
“So every day they’ve played somebody equal. That makes it more difficult to win seven in a row. Our team was head-and-shoulders above most of the teams, the best team in the game.”
That ’76 sweep distinguished the Reds as one of the best. The Rockies’ surge — 21 victories in their last 22 games — has made them the standard for getting on a roll at just the right time.
“This, to me, is one of the great feats in our game,” former Reds manager Sparky Anderson said from his home in California. “I have to admit, this is exciting.”
Hits king Pete Rose can’t remember a team getting so hot when it mattered most.
“It’s amazing,” Rose said by telephone. “It seems like they don’t blow anybody out, they just win. They’re in one of those deals now where they get all the breaks, which is good.”
Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench appreciates the way the Rockies have won under immense pressure every day for a month.
“Whether they’re an anomaly, I don’t know,” said Bench, who lives in Cincinnati. “For me, it’s great. I can’t tell you how great it is for baseball to have a team like this all of a sudden come to the front.”
No one was surprised when the ’76 Reds pulled off their playoff sweep. They were defending World Series champions and reached the playoffs with 102 wins and an aura of greatness.
First up was Philadelphia.
“A day before the series when we worked out, I said, ‘You’re going to see something really special this week,’ ” said Morgan, covering the AL Championship Series for ESPN radio. “I just knew we were at the top of our game and everybody was healthy, and we were a special team when that happens.”
The Reds beat the Phillies, 6-3, 6-2 and 7-6, then got ready for the New York Yankees. They swept them, too, outscoring them, 22-8. Bench drove in five runs with a pair of homers to complete the unprecedented finish.
“It added a little more icing on the cake to the greatness of our ballclub,” Bench said. “We had beaten the Sox (in the 1975 Series) and we were now at the point of: How great are youâ¢ All of a sudden, we’ve won seven and there was a whole new look at our ballclub and a respect through baseball.”
By winning their first seven this year, the Rockies have gained respect from a team that knows the difficulty of winning them all. But Anderson and his former players agree the toughest part is yet to come.
The World Series is a much bigger stage.
“They’ve handled it pretty well,” Bench said. “The focus will be five times over when the World Series starts. Now they’re under the microscope and everybody wants to know everything about them.”
As Anderson put it: “The next ones get harder. They’re going to get harder.”
And everyone is curious to see what happens if they’re less than perfect once the Series begins.
“It’s going to be interesting to see what happens to them when they lose a game,” Rose said. “Is it going to be one of those deals where they lose one game, and then they lose two or three in a row?”
The Rockies will play the Cleveland Indians or the Boston Red Sox, both having won an AL-best 96 games and division titles.
Colorado will open the World Series at the AL champion’s ballpark next Wednesday. The chance for a championship — and more — awaits.
“If they sweep Cleveland or Boston, it might be the greatest feat ever,” Morgan said.