Bench’s homer helps push Reds into 1972 World Series

Written by: Craig Muder

The Cincinnati Reds were three outs away from the end of their season when Johnny Bench stepped to the plate in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 1972 National League Championship Series.

On the mound for the Pirates was Dave Giusti, the relief ace who had helped pitch Pittsburgh to the World Series title the year before. Pittsburgh led 3-2 in the series’ deciding game, and the Reds had only had two base runners since the fifth inning.

Bench, who would later be voted the National League’s Most Valuable Player for 1972, swung and missed at the first two offerings from Giusti.

“I was leavin’ the ballpark on every swing,” Bench told the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News after the game.

But on Giusti’s third pitch, Bench connected – blasting an opposite-field home run over the head of Pirates right fielder Roberto Clemente to tie the game at 3.

Five batters later, pinch-runner George Foster scored from third base on a wild pitch by Bob Moose – who had relieved Giusti – to give the Reds a 4-3 win and the National League pennant.

“I’m sapped,” said Reds third base coach Alex Grammas to the Dayton Daily News. “I’ve never felt so weak. I was right on Foster’s tail when that pitch went through. I scored as quick as he did.”

For Bench, the home run was his first of the NLCS and his second RBI. The back-and-forth series saw the Reds outscore the Pirates 19-15, but Pittsburgh never trailed in the victory column until Foster crossed the plate.

The game also marked the final MLB appearance for Clemente, who would die in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve in 1972.

For the Reds, however, the ninth-inning rally ignited a Postseason walk-off win that would take its place among the many memorable moments authored by the Big Red Machine.

And it all started with Bench, who began the rally by glancing at his mother – Katy – in the stands.

“I knew she was calling for a home run,” Bench said. “And I’ve always tried to mind my mom.”

Bench finished the 1972 regular season with MLB-leading totals of 40 home runs and 125 RBI.

Bench and the Reds fell to the Oakland Athletics 4-games-to-3 in the World Series but would go on to win the title in 1975 and 1976.

Bench was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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