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Retro Recap (1972): Oakland A’s bench fuels walk-off win in Game 4

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A’s defeat Reds 3-2, in Game 4 of the 1972 World Series

Oakland A’s first baseman Don Mincher tips his hat to thankful fans and teammates during the 1972 World Series.
Photo by MediaNews Group/Oakland Tribune via Getty Images

Last night, NBC Sports California aired Game 4 of the 1972 World Series. Click here to revisit our Game Thread.

Before last night, I don’t think I’d ever heard of Gonzalo Marquez, Don Mincher, or Angel Mangual. Not even once. Perhaps that’s fair enough, as they were just role players on teams more than a decade before I was born. But they teamed up to author a significant moment in Oakland A’s franchise history, fueling a 3-2 walk-off victory in Game 4 of the 1972 World Series.

Nothing much happened for the first seven innings of this game. Lefties Ken Holtzman and Don Gullett shut down their respective opponents for seven frames each, barely even allowing any threats, and the only run came on a solo homer by eventual Series MVP Gene Tenace in the 5th.

The action finally started in the 8th, with Oakland leading 1-0. The Reds chased Holtzman, by small-balling Dave Concepcion around to third base. With two outs, Vida Blue was called on for relief, just as he’d been in Game 1, but this time it didn’t work — Joe Morgan drew a walk, and Bobby Tolan lined a double into the right-field corner to drive in both runners. Script flipped, save blown, and suddenly the Reds held a late lead.

That situation held until the bottom of the 9th. That’s when the A’s bench took over.

With one out already on the board, Gonzalo Marquez was called on to pinch-hit. The lefty had only played 23 games for the A’s that season, and would only play 23 more the next year, in an MLB career that lasted just three summers. He was only on the postseason roster as an injury replacement, for reliever Darold Knowles. But he made the most of his time in green and gold, having already notched a walk-off hit in Game 1 of the ALCS just two weeks prior.

Now, in the World Series with Game 4 on the line, Marquez chopped a grounder up the middle, finding the hole for a single. The A’s had a baserunner (pinch-run for by Allan Lewis), and the rally had begun. Marquez ultimately pinch-hit eight times in this postseason, and went 5-for-8.

Tenace followed with another grounder-with-eyes single, and Oakland called on Don Mincher to pinch-hit for Dick Green. The first baseman had enjoyed a quality career before joining the A’s in 1970, including two All-Star berths, but now he was in his mid-30s and ‘72 would be his final season. In fact, this proved to be the final plate appearance of his career — he was called on twice more in the next two games, but each time the move was countered and he was replaced before ever stepping into the box.

Mincher made his final at-bat worth it. On a 1-0 count he got a pitch up in the zone, and he pulled a liner to right for a clean single. Lewis scored to tie the game, and Tenace moved to third base, 90 feet away from victory. A new save chance had been blown, the script had been re-flipped, and suddenly the A’s plucky rally had turned into an actual comeback.

But Oakland wasn’t done. Next up was Angel Mangual, pinch-hitting for the pitcher’s spot. The Puerto Rican native had debuted with the Pirates in 1969 and earned the nickname Little Clemente as a promising prospect. He never did live up to that comp, but he spent six years on the A’s and won three rings, so his career wasn’t so bad.

Game 4 was Mangual’s first appearance in this World Series, and it only took him one pitch to become the hero. With one out and the infield drawn in, more or less needing only to make contact, the righty got a first pitch in on his hands and fought it off toward the right side of the infield. The hit didn’t have much mustard on it, but rather just enough to dribble past Morgan and into right field. Tenace scored easily, and the game was over. (Click here for full box score and play-by-play)

The postseason has a way of making heroes out of the last guys you’d expect. Over the course of a full season the consistent stars will rise to the top, but in the small sample October, every contest and every individual moment can be massive. This particular game wasn’t won by Campy, or Rudi, or Bando, or any of the normal household names. It was the Killer M’s: Marquez, Mincher, and Mangual.

If the A’s had lost this game, the Series would have been even at 2-2. Instead, they took a commanding 3-1 lead, which proved crucial when the Reds won the next two to force a Game 7. This was one of the tightest Fall Classics in history, a seven-game affair in which six were decided by a single run, and without this Game 4 rally it’s entirely possible Cincinnati would have won the whole thing instead.

***

A few more observations from watching a 48-year-old game:

  • One of the first images we saw was a young Monte Moore in the broadcast booth. He was in his first stint as the A’s broadcaster at the time, and NBC had him join the national crew for all three ‘70s World Series. This is something I’ve often wished networks would do today, as literally nobody has ever asked to hear the likes of Joe Buck & Co., but it might be fun and informative to get some local insight from each team’s normal full-time commentator during these monumental national broadcasts.
  • The ceremonial first pitch was thrown by Hall of Famer and Philadelphia A’s legend Lefty Grove ... not from the mound, but from the first row of the stands.
  • Umpires were still separated between AL and NL, as they didn’t merge into one large MLB group until 1999. They even had different uniforms, though all of them included neckties. The home plate ump is still holding a giant pad, instead of wearing a chest protector under his shirt.
  • Just like in Game 2, Reds #3 hitter Tolan bunted in the 1st inning, with two outs and no one on. And it worked, as Holtzman botched the play and Tolan reached on an error.
  • The commentators told a story about how Johnny Bench went on a date with Charlie Finley’s daughter. Alrighty then.
  • The commentators referred to A’s skipper Dick Williams as “a pepperpot manager who always has been an umpire baiter.” I’ve never heard that term pepperpot before, but it’s wonderfully old-timey.
  • They also referred to Morgan as “Little Joe Morgan,” offering shades of today’s Jose Altuve. Morgan, an inner-circle Hall of Famer, is listed at 5’7, just an inch or two taller than Altuve, but that didn’t stop him from collecting 268 homers and 100 WAR during his career.

One final detail: We got to see a prime example of a Hal McRae takeout slide. McRae was so notorious for his inappropriately, violently aggressive “slides” into second base to break up double plays that when a new rule was written about it, it became known colloquially as the Hal McRae Rule.

Here’s why. This isn’t even a slide, by any conceivable definition. He just leans over, lowers his shoulder, and barrels into the second baseman Green. It’s a tackle.

Screenshots from NBC Sports broadcast

That is disgusting, and it’s not baseball. If you disagree with that sentence, you are wrong. Like, objectively, you are wrong; it was against the rules then and it is now. It’s a football play, not a baseball play, and it’s maliciously dangerous even beyond the scope of the competition at hand. Even in football they wear a mountain of pads before they do that.

And if you think I’m just being a soft millenial snowflake, you are also wrong about that. The commentators even agreed with me at the time, saying, “That man should slide and not come in throwing a block.” They then go on to brush it off in a boys-will-be-boys kind of way, but not before specifically condemning it, live, right then in 1972.

Baseball has made a lot of changes over the years, some more popular than others. This is one place where they got it right. McRae should never have been allowed to play that way, it’s disgraceful that he ever was, and it’s good that it’s gone from the game.

***

That’s it for this game, and this series. NBCS isn’t airing any more 1972 games, and the only one available on YouTube is Game 5, which was a Reds victory. (It’s split into two parts: first link, second link.) But don’t worry, the A’s go on to win the series.

We’ll be back with our next Game Thread on Tuesday (4/21) at 8 p.m. PT, when NBCS airs 1973 Game 1. Click here to see the full schedule of classic games we’re going to watch together.

Catch you on the flipside!