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Baseball History: Dick Williams Embarrassed Johnny Bench

Harold FriendChief Writer IAugust 19, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO - JULY 08:  Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers particpates in the Taco Bell Legends & Celebrity Softball Game at AT&T Park on July 8, 2007 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

The Oakland A's took the first two games of the 1972 World Series from the favored Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati. The A's were in an enviable position since no team had ever lost the first two games at home and won the Series.

The teams traveled to Oakland for the next three games, but rain caused the third game to be moved up a day.

One of the Series' most memorable plays, which has been almost forgotten with the passage of time (which means it is no longer considered memorable, but still is worth remembering) occurred in the eighth inning.

The Reds sent right-hander Jack Billingham to the mound to face Oakland's John "Blue Moon" Odom. California Governor Ronald Reagan threw out the first ball, and as was expected, both pitchers were on their games. There was no score after six innings.

The Reds struck in the seventh inning.

Tony Perez led off with a single to left field. Denis Menke sacrificed him to second, bringing up Cesar Geronimo, who singled to center.

The field was still wet from the previous day's rain, which caused Perez to slip rounding third, but Oakland center fielder George Hendrick had already made his relay to the infield, no Oakland player noticed Perez' quandary, and Tony scored the game's only run.

The play occurred in the Reds' eighth inning.

Left-hander Vida Blue came in to pitch. Pete Rose hit a screaming line drive to the right side that second baseman Ted Kubiak speared for the first out.

Future announcing great Joe Morgan walked and moved to third on a Bobby Tolan single to center. That was it for Blue.

Manager Dick Williams brought in Rollie Fingers to face Johnny Bench with runners at the corners and only one out.

Tolan stole second, which dictated an intentional pass to the second greatest catcher in baseball history, but Dick Williams marched to his own tune. He had Fingers pitch to Bench, with Tony Perez on deck.

Forget the potential inning-ending double play. Forget about the potential force out at home. Pitch to Bench.

The count went full when Williams had a change of heart. He strolled to the mound, made the signal to give Bench ball four, and had a brief conference with Fingers and catcher Gene Tenace.

Tenace went back behind home plate, stood tall, and signaled for ball four as he moved to the right.

Fingers nodded assent and went into his delivery, but Tenace quickly jumped back behind the plate as Fingers was delivering the ball.

Fingers fired a slider that caught Bench sleeping as it caught the outside corner for a called third strike.

It was a play that is thought about often, but that is rarely executed. Williams had the guts to pull it off in the World Series. Turn an "intentional" ball four into strike three.

Tony Perez really was walked intentionally to load the bases. Fingers retired Menke on a pop-up to second to end the threat.

It was all for naught when Billingham and Clay Carroll combined to shut out the A's, but all turned out fine when the A's won the Series in seven games.

Those who saw the third game will never forget what happened to Johnny Bench.

Neither will Johnny.



Reference

by JOSEPH DURSO. Special to The New York Times. (1972, October 19). Reds Win, 1-0, on 3-Hitter, A's Now Lead Series, 2-1: Reds Win on 3-Hitter, 1-0; A's Lead, 2-1 Carroll Saves the Shutout for Billingham. New York Times (1923-Current file), p. 97. Retrieved August 19, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851-2006). (Document ID: 79475397).

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