1972 Pittsburgh Pirates
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 1972 Pittsburgh Pirates / Franchise: Pittsburgh Pirates / BR Team Page
Managed by Bill Virdon
 History, Comments, Contributions
The 1972 Pittsburgh Pirates - not their 1971 or 1979 world champion counterparts - were the best Pirate team of the 1970's, and that's saying something. Not even the extended absence of Roberto Clemente (who missed 53 games) could slow down this team, which boasted five solid starters, five .300 hitters, and a tag-team bullpen of Dave Giusti and Ramon Hernandez, who combined for 36 saves and a 1.82 era. The 1972 Bucs ran away with the NL East, finishing 11 games ahead of Chicago, and won a major-league leading 96 games in a season slightly shortened by a players' strike.
Unfortunately, several of the Bucs regulars slumped badly in the NL playoffs against the Cincinnati Reds. First baseman Stargell had the worst playoff of his career, going 1 for 16 with no RBI. Shortstop Gene Alley went him one better (worse?) with an 0 for 16 performance. Good pitching kept the Bucs in the series, and they had a chance to win, entering the ninth inning of game 5 with a slender 3-2 lead. But the Reds' Johnny Bench tied the game with a leadoff home run off Giusti in the bottom of the ninth. Minutes later, with George Foster on third base, reliever Bob Moose threw an errant pitch that bounced over catcher Sanguillen's head, allowing Foster to score the winning run.
The gloom in the Pirates' clubhouse after the game foreshadowed what would transpire over the next year. First, Clemente died in a tragic New Year's Eve plane crash while trying to deliver humanitarian supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. Then, pitching star Blass lost his ability to throw strikes, leaving a gaping hole the Pirates' rotation (and ending Blass's career shortly thereafter). A clearly lost Pirates team would stumble to a third-place finish and sub-.500 record in 1973.