On This Date in Sports May 9, 1973: Benchmark

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Johnny Bench of the Cincinnati Reds has one of the best games of his career, smacking three home runs and collecting seven RBI off Steve Carlton as the Reds beat the Philadelphia Phillies 9-7 at Veteran’s Stadium. Bench tormented Carlton throughout his career, batting .305 in 128 at-bats with 12 home runs. Both Hall of Fame players were among the best players in the decade of the 1970s.

Johnny Bench was born on December 7, 1947, in Oklahoma City. After making his debut in 1967, Bench became a star in his first full season in the majors, winning the National League Rookie of the Year while hitting .275 with 15 home runs and 82 RBI. Bench was a crucial cog in the Big Red Machine, winning the National League MVP in 1970 and 1972 as he led the league in home runs and RBI both seasons.

Steve Carlton was born on December 22, 1944, in Miami, Florida. After modest success in his first seven seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, Carlton had one of the greatest individual seasons in MLB history as he won the Cy Young Award in his first season with the Philadelphia Phillies, posting a record of 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA, despite playing on a team that won just 59 games.

In their head-to-head showdown at Veteran’s Stadium on a Wednesday night in Philadelphia, just under 12,000 fans were on hand to see Johnny Bench take ownership of Steve Carlton. Johnny Bench gave Cincinnati a 2-0 lead in the first inning, homering with Pete Rose on base. Bench walked in his next at-bat as the score remained 2-0 until the fourth inning when Don Gullett gave up a pair of two-run home runs to Willie Montanez and Bill Robinson to give the Phillies a 4-2 lead in the third inning. The Reds would regain the lead in the fifth when Bench hit a three-run bomb off Carlton after Pete Rose and Dave Concepcion singled ahead of him, starting a two-out rally. Philadelphia responded in the bottom of the fifth as Mike Anderson tied the game with a two-out double to score Montanez to tie the game 5-5. The Phillies regained the lead in the sixth as Larry Bowa scored Cesar Tovar on an RBI single. The seventh inning saw a familiar setup as Pete Rose singled and Johnny Bench homered to make it 7-6 in favor of the Reds, with the two-time MVP driving in all seven Cincinnati. The Phillies would rally to tie the game in the eighth inning as Del Unser hit a game-tying home run off Pedro Borbon. In the top of the ninth, with Barry Lersch on the mound, Pete Rose collected his fourth hit of the game. With Johnny Bench looming on deck, Dave Concepcion did the heavy lifting, hitting a two-run blast to make it 9-7. Bench seeking his fourth home run, grounded out one batter later as Tom Hall closed out the game in the ninth to earn the win.

Johnny Bench had another All-Star season in 1973, hitting .253 with 25 home runs and 104 RBI as the Reds won their third division title in four years. The Reds' quest to return to the World Series would be derailed as they were stunned by the New York Mets in the NLCS. Steve Carlton, meanwhile, had a disappointing season with a record of 13-20 with a 3.90 ERA for the last-place team in Philadelphia.