Astros chasing 46-year postseason record

October 28th, 2022

HOUSTON — Just winning a World Series is the objective for every team that’s earned the opportunity, but running the table and going undefeated for an entire postseason? That could be an iconic path to a championship.

The 7-0 Astros are the third club in the Wild Card era (since 1994) to reach the World Series without a playoff game loss. The 2007 Rockies and 2014 Royals both came into their Fall Classics undefeated but lost their World Series.

No team has finished undefeated in the postseason since the 1976 Reds.

“It would be [special], but I think it would be incredibly hard,” Astros center fielder Chas McCormick said. “It is insane that we’re 7-0. If we could do that, it’d be amazing. It’s so hard to think about being undefeated throughout the World Series because I’m trying to stay in the present moment as much as possible. Obviously, it would be an awesome goal and I think we could do it.”

The Astros, who won it all in 2017, are back for their fourth World Series in the last six years. Game 1 vs. the Phillies at Minute Maid Park is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET on Friday.

“As long as you win, it’s always special. I don’t think about undefeated,” Astros catcher Martín Maldonado said. “The main goal is winning. It doesn’t matter if it’s undefeated or not. But would it be special? Yes.”

It was a shorter playoff format in the 1970s, but the Big Red Machine solidified its dynasty in the ‘76 postseason. Cincinnati swept the Phillies in the then-best-of-five National League Championship Series in three games, followed by taking all four World Series games vs. the Yankees for back-to-back championships.

Reds Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench told MLB.com on Wednesday that he and his teammates weren’t thinking about back-to-back sweeps, just winning another World Series.

“You know, I don’t think anybody knew that until after it was over. Obviously, it’s been a little more dramatic with what the Astros have done, having gone through two playoff series,” Bench said. “There wasn’t the hype that there is today and the amount of analytics and notes that everybody has. It wasn’t something before Game 4 of the World Series that, ‘If the Reds win the game tonight, they will have swept their playoffs and World Series.’ I hadn’t heard that at any time.”

The Reds played in one of the most thrilling World Series to defeat the Red Sox over seven games in 1975 and returned in ‘76 as a juggernaut. Led by manager Sparky Anderson and with future Hall of Famers Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Pérez, plus all-time great Pete Rose, Cincinnati won 102 games to win the NL West division.

“It seemed like we were so deep. When you looked at our lineup, you just didn’t have any outs,” Bench said.

In the NLCS, come-from-behind wins were needed in all three games vs. Philadelphia. In the Game 3 clincher, the Reds scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth for a 7-6 win. George Foster and Bench opened the rally with back-to-back home runs. Ken Griffey Sr.’s RBI single scored Dave Concepcion for the walk-off pennant win.

Reds win 1976 NL Pennant
“It epitomized what that Reds team was all about,” said Ford Frick Award-winning broadcaster Marty Brennaman, who called Reds games on radio from 1974-2019. “They had the innate ability to come back late, repeatedly. There would be 45,000 people or more at Riverfront Stadium, they would be behind by three runs in the seventh inning, and nobody would go anywhere. They knew, based on what they’d been watching, that sooner or later they would figure out a way to win more often than not.”

The Reds were the favorites to defeat the Yankees, who were playing in their first World Series since 1964. Unlike the tense ‘75 series vs. Boston, Cincinnati mostly steamrolled over New York and outscored its opponent, 22-8, over the four games. Game 2’s 4-3 Reds win was the lone tight contest, which was won by pitcher Jack Billingham after 2 2/3 innings of perfect relief. Yankees starter Catfish Hunter pitched an 8 2/3-inning complete game, but lost on Pérez’s walk-off RBI single.

Bench, who struggled during the regular season with a sore shoulder, batted .533 with two homers and six RBIs in the World Series to earn MVP honors.

“We didn’t hate them, but they were always the team, the most popular team,” Billingham told MLB.com in 2020. “Everywhere you go across the country, you’d see New York hats. We played them four games, won and went home. We swept them, which was wonderful. It was exciting to sweep.”

The Reds became the first NL club in 54 years to earn back-to-back World Series victories. They’re also the last NL team to achieve such a feat.

No team has gone undefeated in the postseason since.

“Even though the game is different the way it’s being played today as opposed to the way it was played back then, it doesn’t diminish the fact that running a streak off as the Reds did then and the Astros are doing now is no small feat,” Brennaman said. “You’re playing, allegedly, the best competition you can play when you get to this stage where these streaks began. You’re playing damn good teams. To do what Houston has done is every bit as big as what the Reds did back in the ’70s without any question.”

The Astros have not had an entirely smooth road in putting together seven straight wins. Against the Mariners in the American League Division Series, it took Yordan Alvarez’s walk-off homer to take Game 1. Houston advanced in Game 3 with an epic 18-inning, 1-0 victory. Three of the four games vs. the Yankees in the AL Championship Series were decided by two runs or less.

“It’s super hard,” Maldonado said of his club’s streak. “We’ve had some grind games, 18 innings and that last game in New York. It hasn’t been easy. We’ve got to keep it simple and try to go out there and win every pitch.”