This day in baseball history — Reds sweep Phils; Yanks pull away

On September 23, 1964, the Cincinnati Reds completed a three game sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies. They thus pulled to within three and half games of Philadelphia. St. Louis and San Francisco were both five games back.

The most exciting game of the Reds-Phillies series (played at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia) was the opener. The Reds won that contest 1-0 behind the shutout pitching of journeyman John Tsitouris (9-13 on the season with a 3.80 ERA).

Cincinnati scored the lone run on a steal of home by utility infielder Chico Ruiz (in a parody of the utility man’s usual demand, Ruiz once joked “bench me or trade me”). Ruiz stole home on his own initiative, with the great Frank Robinson at the plate. But since there were two outs and he had the element of surprise in his favor, his attempt was a reasonable move. (It’s difficult to say who was more surprised by Ruiz’s romp, Phillies pitcher Art Mahaffey or Reds manager Dick Sisler).

Cincinnati won the second game 9-2 behind Jim O’Toole. The Reds pounded Phillies starter Chris Short, chasing the overworked left-hander in the fifth inning.

This game also featured a steal of home. However, it was a more conventional play — a double steal in which Vade Pinson stole second while Pete Rose came home.

The final game was another tight affair. The Phils took a 3-2 lead into the seventh inning behind Dennis Bennett. One of the Reds runs had come on a solo home run by Ruiz, one of only two he hit during his eight year career.

It was a sweet moment for the Cuban utility man. He had been subjected to merciless bench jockeying from Philadelphia manager Gene Mauch for stealing home in the opener. Mauch had insisted, erroneously, that Ruiz’s gambit was “the bonehead play of the year.”

The Reds blew open the series finale with four runs in the top of the seventh. Rose knocked in the tying run with a single, and Pinson drove home three more with a home run off of reliever Ed Roebuck.

Suddenly, with nine games left to play, the Phillies’ lead no longer looked insurmountable.

Just as suddenly, the New York Yankees seemed to be pulling away in the American League. On September 21, they led Baltimore by only game and Chicago by two.

However, on both of the following two day, they won doubleheaders over Cleveland. Meanwhile, Baltimore lost two games to Detroit while Chicago split two with the Los Angeles Angels.

As a result, the Yankees now led the Orioles and the White Sox by four games.

It had been three days of twists and turns, with several more to come.

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