Wednesday, October 2, 2013

35 Years Later, Bucky "Bleepin" Dent's Swing Still Resonates

Monday, October 2, 1978 was a sun splashed day in Boston, Mass. Fenway Park was filled to the brim for Game #163 between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Many schools were closed due to the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, so there was a large crowd seated at home in front of their television sets in the living rooms and dens of America.

Back in July no one thought a one game, winner-take-all contest would take place. The Red Sox had a comfortable 14 game lead over the Yankees on the 19th of the month. Yankees manager Billy Martin was fired after he blasted outfielder Reggie Jackson and owner George Steinbrenner- "One's a born liar, the other's convicted." Bob Lemon replaced Martin and steadied the ship, and the Yankees started to play better.  The Red Sox were led by manager Don Zimmer, who found his own place in Pinstripes nearly 20 years later.

The Yankees won 11 of 15 and Boson started to stumble a bit. The 14 game lead was reduced to 6.5 when the calendar turned to August. Hope was quickly dashed, however, when  the Red Sox swept a three game series at Yankee Stadium that put the Bronx Bombers back in the soup.

A team made up of battle worn veterans, the Yankees went on another tear against the A's, Angels, Orioles, Mariners, and Tigers (13-3) to move with four games of the slumping Red Sox. The calendar read September 7th as the Yankees entered Fenway Park for a four game series.
Four days later, after the Yankees had outscored the Red Sox 42-9, the two teams were tied for first place with identical 84-56 records. A three games series in the Bronx a week later saw the Yankees take the first two, 4-0 and 3-2 to build up a 3.5 game lead. The Red Sox won the finale and left town 2.5 games behind the Yankees.

The Yankees stayed hot, but despite nine wins in 13 games, they couldn’t shake the suddenly resurgent Red Sox. Boston won seven straight and 10 of 12 as the two teams entered the final Sunday of the regular season schedule. A Yankees win or a Red Sox loss would clinch the division for the Pinstripes.

The Yankees faced left-hander Rick Waits and the Cleveland Indians while Boston sent Luis Tiant out against the Toronto Blue Jays, who were in the midst of a seven game losing streak. The Indians jumped all over Catfish Hunter in the first two innings to build a 6-0 lead and coasted to a 9-2 win. Meanwhile, "El Tiante" dominated the neighbors to the North with a 2-hit complete game shutout. There would be a Game 163 in Boston on Monday.

Monday's game matched the about-to-be-crowned AL Cy Young winner Ron Guidry against his former teammate Mike Torrez. The 1977 World Series ended when Torrez snared Lee Lacy’s pop up to give the Yankees their 21st World Championship.

Guidry's '78 performance was one for the ages. He entered Monday's game 24-3, with all three losses coming against pitchers, ironically, named Mike. The Brewers Mike Caldwell, the Orioles Mike Flanagan and the Blue Jays Mike Willis provided the only blemishes on Guidry’s record.

The lefty’s ERA stood at 1.72 and he had thrown five complete games in his previous six starts, three of them shutouts. (Guidry led the league with nine shutouts.) He also had 243 strikeouts and a WHIP under 1.000. The only disadvantage he had was pitching Game 163 on three days rest.

Torrez was 16-12, 3.92 and had thrown a complete game shutout against the Detroit Tigers in his last start. He too was going on three days rest and was 1-3 against the Yankees during the regular season.

Torrez looked nervous when he walked the game’s lead off hitter Mickey Rivers on four pitches and “Mick the Quick” promptly stole second base. But after falling behind 2-1 to Thurman Munson, Torrez struck out the Yankees catcher and retired Lou Piniella and Reggie Jackson to escape the jam
Guidry, on the other hand, retired the side in order and struck out a pair of Sox, including the league's top hitter, Jim Rice. One inning later though, Carl Yastrzemski ripped a flyball to right that stayed just inside the Pesky Pole for a 1-0 Boston lead.

Torrez settled down and was barely tested by the Yankees lineup. He gave up a double to Rivers in the 3rd inning, a single to Piniella in the 4th and a leadoff walk to Roy White in the 5th. When Torrez retired the side in order in the 6th and Rice delivered an RBI single in the bottom of the inning, it appeared that two runs might be enough to decide the contest.

Then came the 7th inning and the team’s fortunes changed. Chris Chambliss reached on a one out single, the Yankees’ first hit since the 4th inning. White followed that with a single of his own to centerfield to put the tying runs on base. Torrez retired pinch-hitter Jim Spencer  for the second out, which left things in the hands of Bucky Dent.

The Yankees shortstop had a miserable season at the plate- he entered the game with a .243 average and .596 OPS and was already 0-2 on the day- but rather than go to another pinch-hitter, Lemon stuck with him.
Dent barely laid off a low breaking pitch on the first delivery from Torrez for a ball.  Torrez followed with a fastball on the inside of the plate that hobbled Dent when he fouled it off his left in-step.  Trainer Gene Monahan tended to Dent for several minutes before number 20 stepped back in the batter's box. Just as he did, a bat boy brought him some new lumber courtesy of Rivers.
Finally ready, Dent stepped in and sent one out on Torrez’s next pitch. The fastball took flight and landed into the net atop the "Green Monster" in left field. Yastrzemski watched, hoping for a richochet off the wall, but momentarily collapsed to one knee as he saw the ball clear the wall. In a matter of seconds Dent had turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead.

The Yankees weren't done in the inning either. Torrez walked Rivers for the second time in the game and was pulled in favor of Bob Stanley. Rivers stole second and scored on Munson's double to centerfield. Stanley finally retired Piniella to end the inning.

Guidry had gutted his way through six innings without his best or sharpest stuff, so when Gator gave up a one out single in the 7th to George Scott, Lemon sent for the Yankees closer, Goose Gossage.

A passed ball by Munson put a runner in scoring position, but Gossage struckout Bob Bailey and retired Rick Burleson on a grounder to Dent to keep the score 4-2. It quickly beame 5-2 in the 8th when Jackson led off the inning with a solo home run to dead centerfield, but the Red Sox weren't dead yet.

Boston had blown the big divisional lead, but had rallied to force the one game playoff.  They would rally in Game 163 as well. Jerry Remy led off the 8th with a double and scored on Yaz's RBI single. Carlton Fisk and Fed Lynn followed with a singles of their own to plate Yaz and it was suddenly a one run game again.

Gossage got Butch Hobson to fly out and struck out Scott to keep it 5-4. The Yankees got a hit from Paul Blair in the 9th, but went down pretty quickly. To win the game, Gossage would have to face the heart of the Red Sox lineup.

Goose retired Dwight Evans to start the frame, but then walked Burleson. Remy was down to his final strike when he turned on a Gossage fastball in his wheelhouse and dunked one into right field. With the sun directly in his face, Piniella didn't see the ball to the last minute and stood with his arms outstretched to the side. Intentional or not, it was enough to fool Burleson into thinking he might have a shot at the catch.

Not only did Piniella have no shot of recording the putout, he barely snared the ball after it droppped in.  (He was also playing further over towards the line than he normally would be for a non-power hitter against Gossage.) Burleson hit the brakes as he turned towards third and retreated back to second base. It would prove to be a crucial mistake when Rice hit a deep fly to right that would have easily scored the tying run had Burleson continued on to third. (To this day, Rice still talks about the play costing the Red Sox the game.) So it all came down to two future MLB Hall of Fame members.

The game came down to a one on one battle between  two future MLB Hall of Fame members. Gossage came out on top when Yaz lofted a high infield pop that Graig Nettles squeezed into his glove as he straddled the left field line. The rest as they say, was history.

The Yankees beat Kansas City in four games to reach the World Series and then came back from a 2-0 deficit in games to the LA Dodgers to capture their 22 and last title until the dynasty of the last 1990's.

In 2003, the Red Sox invited Dent back to Fenway Park for the 25th anniversary of the ’78 classic. The man whose name is never uttered in Boston without an unflattering nickname, sat in the new seats atop the Green Monster, not far from where a baseball landed and made him a Yankees legend.

No comments:

Post a Comment