Philadelphia had been referred as the Cradle of Liberty when the United States of America celebrated its bicentennial in 1976. The celebration lasted all summer in the City of Brotherly Love, including the All-Star Game. Well, the Philadelphia Phillies seized a 10-game lead on the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League East at the All-Star break.
By Aug. 24, Phillies ace left-hander Steve Carlton improves to 16-4 with a victory against the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia had been 15.5 games ahead in the division. Three-plus weeks later, however, the Phillies saw their lead cut down to three games over the Pirates. The Phillies appeared to repeat what they did in 1964 – blow a late lead in the standings and not advance to the postseason
In the end, the Phillies starting winning and the Pirates found themselves losing games. On Sept. 26, 1976, starter Jim Lonborg pitched the Phillies past the host Montreal Expos, 4-1, in game one of a doubleheader to clinch the NL East. The Phillies would celebrate their first postseason action since winning the NL pennant in 1950.
Philadelphia and Montreal didn’t post any runs during the first five innings. In the top of the sixth, left-fielder Greg “Bull” Luzinski deposited a baseball over the outfield wall at Olympic Stadium for a three-run home run off Dan Warthen to give the Phillies a 3-0 lead. Montreal countered with an RBI double by Baseball Hall of Fame outfielder Andre Dawson in the bottom of the sixth to cut the Expos’ deficit to two (3-1). Lonborg helped his cause with a single off Montreal reliever Joe Kerrigan to score center-fielder Garry Maddox in the top of the seventh for a 4-1 Philadelphia advantage.
Phillies manager Danny Ozark allowed Lonborg to attempt the complete game with Philadelphia ahead by three (4-1) in the bottom of the ninth. Out one had been recorded with Dawson looking at strike three on three pitches. The second out had taken place on a five-three groundout from Ellis Valentine. Earl Williams stepped to the dish with two outs and Lonborg caused him to swing and miss on a 1-2 pitch to end the game, propelling the Phillies to the division title.
Anyway, the Phillies won the NL East by nine games with a record of 101-61 (they would also win the division in 1977 with that same mark). As for the NL Championship Series, the Phillies lost three consecutive games to the Cincinnati Reds and had to prepare for the following season. The Phillies won eight of 12 regular season games against the Reds.
*Information about the 1976 Phillies can be found in “The Phillies Encyclopedia (Third Edition)” by Rich Westcott and Frank Bilovsky.