The Astros, who felt they needed to take all three games in this final matchup with the Reds, had won the first. Less than 24 hours later, they had won the second, and what had seemed an unpromising quest now had possibilities. It remained for Sambito, the ebullient reliever, to explain his team's polished performance in the face of dwindling time and a fierce opponent. "Maybe we're so relaxed because we don't know what's at the end of the rainbow," he said.
But the final game of the series on Sunday left the Astros with the unpleasant sensation that their pot might not be filled with gold after all. A new pitching hero emerged in this game, and he wasn't on the Houston staff. Frank Pastore, a 22-year-old rookie righthander with the face of a cherub, was asked by Red Manager John McNamara to succeed where Cincy aces Seaver and Mike LaCoss, who lost Saturday's game, had failed before him. "I'm ready," Pastore told McNamara Sunday morning.
And so he was. Pastore held the pesty, if powerless, Astros to one run and nine hits in a complete game victory, striking out five and walking only one—Landestoy—intentionally. As Sambito had before him, Pastore sought valiantly to contain his emotions while pitching—"There is enough pressure without putting more on yourself," he said—but afterward he exulted in the knowledge that he had pitched the game of his life. "That was the apex of what I can do," he said. " Seaver got beat, LaCoss got beat, and the so-called nobody got the win."
The Reds took their usual early lead on a typically prodigious homer to dead centerfield by George Foster, his first in 12 days. Houston tied it up, but the Reds put the game out of reach in a bizarre five-run fourth. They got the only run they needed when, with Bench on third and Knight on first, Heity Cruz singled, Knight stopping at second. Then Pastore hit a short-range blooper to right that Leonard fielded and fired home to Catcher Luis Pujols. The ball arrived well ahead of Knight, and Pujols spun to tag him. He did, but Knight jostled Pujols' mitt with his elbow and the ball popped out of the pocket—but not all the way out of the mitt—for an instant, or just long enough in the view of Umpire Joe West to declare Knight safe. The argument that followed was academic, because, as it would turn out, the Reds already had enough runs to win and regain a 1�-game lead, but had Knight been the third out, it would have saved the Astros the embarrassment of an ensuing two-run triple by Dave Collins and another run Collins scored when Landestoy's relay to the plate went awry.
The Reds headed home to Cincinnati feeling reprieved. "We knew they had to sweep," said Knight. "It's ours to win now," said McNamara. "If we had left here a half game behind, we'd have to be looking for help from other people. I'm happy to be going home ahead."