"I got down to first base in the fifth game, and it flashed up on the Astrodome [scoreboard] that I had just set a new record and broke Pete Rose's record," Puhl said. "Pete was at first base, and he looked at me said, 'Atta boy, T.P. Records are made to be broken.'"
As terrific as Puhl swung the bat during the best-of-five series to determine which team would play the Royals in the 1980 World Series (10-for-19 in the series), it wasn't enough to rescue the Astros, who lost, 8-7, in extra innings in Game 5 in the Astrodome to cap one of the best playoff series played.
Four of the five games of the series were decided in extra innings, with the Astros losing Games 4 and 5 at home in extra innings with a chance to clinch the pennant. In Game 5, Houston had a 5-2 lead as the eighth inning began, with Nolan Ryan on the mound.
"We thought we were going to win the World Series," said Puhl, who's the baseball coach at the University of Houston-Victoria.
The 1980 Astros were the first playoff team in franchise history. They went 93-70 in the NL West, needing a one-game tiebreaker against the Dodgers to win the division. Houston went to Los Angeles with a three-game lead over the Dodgers on the final weekend of the season and got swept, setting up a tiebreaker game on Monday.
The Astros beat the Dodgers, 7-1, behind the pitching of Joe Niekro and the bat of Art Howe to win their first division title, and then had to fly across country that night to prepare to face the Phillies in Game 1 of the NLCS the following day. Houston lost Game 1, 3-1, in the only game of the series that didn't go extra innings.
"It's hard to watch it on TV on the channel when it comes up, because we always lose that fifth game," Puhl said. "It was a great memory, a great team. It was the first time the Astros have won anything as a team."
Puhl said he was just striking the ball really well during the series.
"You go through a period of time when the balls looks large and you get better pitches, and two weeks later it can go the other way," he said.
The 1980 Astros featured Hall of Famers Ryan and Joe Morgan, as well as top hitters Enos Cabell, Cesar Cedeno and Jose Cruz. The pitching staff entered the year as one of the most feared in the league, with Ryan in his first season in Houston, Niekro a 20-game winner and Ken Forsch and Vern Ruhle each winning 12 games.
J.R. Richard, who was perhaps the most intimidating pitcher in the game, missed the second half of the season and the playoffs after suffering a stroke. He went 10-4 with a 1.90 ERA in 17 starts. Also, Cedeno suffered an injury and didn't play against the Phils, helping Astros fans wonder what could have been.