So we are headed down the home stretch with this project, so today we will focus on the NL “Wild West”. For most of the season 3 teams battled for the flag. Defending divisional champs, the Cincinnati Reds, hung tight until the latter part of the summer then began to lose ground and eventually fade away. The real race came down to the upstart Houston Astros, who in their 19 year (to this point) history never visited the post season and the LA Dodgers, who were perennial contenders. During the season the divisional lead changed hands 7 times between these two team. With the Astros up by 3 games heading into a 3 game showdown with the Dodgers the schedule maker couldn’t have drawn things up much better. Houston needed to win 1 in 3 and the NL West Flag was theirs. On Friday October 2nd they did battle in Chavez Ravine with Ken Forsch and Don Sutton fighting to a 2-2 stalemate that went to extra innings. A dramatic walk off homer by Joe Ferguson gave the Dodgers the win and another day of life. Sutton, who left after 8 innings did not get the win. A chubby kid from Mexico that no one knew much about, named Fernando Valenzuela was the winner. The following night Jerry Reuss outduelled the great Nolan Ryan for a 2-1 victory to cut Houston’s lead to 1 game with 1 left. The ‘Stros needed to close out the Dodgers or we head to a 1 game playoff game on Monday. Houston jumped out to a 3-0 lead and chased Dodger starter Burt Hooton from the hill. Manager Tom Lasorda was forced to go deep into his pen. Luckily for him it was September and the roster was at 40. LA chipped away with runs in the 5th and the 7th to make it a 1 run game, but time was beginning to run out. In the bottom of the 8th Steve Garvey’s hot smash ate up Enos Cabell and the Dodger All-Star firstbaseman reached first on an error. Ron Cey followed with one of the biggest homers of his career to put LA up by 1. The normally reserved Dodger crowd, which more often than not left games by the 7th inning, sounded more like a Brooklyn crowd 3 decades earlier. Steve Howe and the Dodgers hung on for the win and so we head to a winner take all game 163 on Monday. After 3 consecutive 1 run wins the Dodgers battled back from 3 games down to force this one game playoff. The drama lines were set, but the script that was written was not up to par for Hollywood. The Astros scored early and often and chased Dodger starter Dave Goltz from the hill, after 3 innings, then beat up on a young Rick Sutcliffe for some insurance. All the while Joe Niekro and his knuckleball were keeping the Dodgers hitters tied up. After three hours and ten minutes of pain and suffering for the 51,000+ fans the Astros were finally crowned Divisional Champs. Niekro’s 20th win would be his biggest win ever. An exhausted Astros team had little time to celebrate before facing the NL East Champion Philadelphia Phillies.