Thursday, October 17, 2013

One Final Gift From Thurman

Birthdays can be good, bad, or a little of both. It often depends on your age, if the important people in your life remember, and sometimes it's about the gifts, particular if you're a kid.

For my 17th birthday I got a great gift courtesy of the New York Yankees. It was 1978 and the Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers met in the Fall Classic for the second straight year. The Yankees had a year of comebacks; down 14 games to Boston in July, they charged to the end and finished in a tie with the Red Sox for first place in the AL East.

The Yankees won the one game playoff in Fenway Park and Bucky Dent earned a new "Bleepin'" nickname. After they dispatched the KC Royals with relative ease in the ALCS, the Yankees dropped the first two games of the World Series to the Dodgers. However, the Yankees captured the next three games and flew to Los Angeles to finish off the series.

They were many memorable moments from what turned out to be the final game of the series . The Yankees pounded LA starter Don Sutton, knocking him out of the game after he allowed five runs in five-plus innings.

Dodgers' rookie reliever Bob Welch had struck out Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, with two on and two out in the top of the 9th to preserve a 4-3 LA win in Game 2, but their meeting in Game 6 was quite different. Jackson hit a tape measure home run to right field that gave him a combined total of four home runs in the two Game 6's played in 1977-1978. (Reggie also homered in Game 1 of the '78 series.)

Catfish Hunter completed his 1978 renaissance with seven solid innings to win his 9th and final World Series game. A "money pitcher", Hunter had helped change the atmosphere of the Yankees clubhouse when he became the first big money free agent on New Year's Eve, 1974. People like to refer to Kansas City's James Shields as "Big Game James", but James "Catfish" Hunter truly lived up to the name.

Inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987, Catfish's throwing arm started to suffer in his third year in New York from the toll of all those starts and innings thrown in his career. He made just 20 starts in '78, but went 9-2 down the stretch to help the Yankees catch Boston.

When you win back to back titles, which is even harder to do today with the multiple levels of playoffs, you think your team is going to keep winning. Yankees fans felt that way during that 1996-2001 stretch. (Yes, I am including the year they lost.) 

The Yankees had won three straight American League pennants from 1976-1978, so why would that change? But oh how it did indeed change. The winning would stop in a few short years, but worse, the Yankees would lose their beloved captain, Thurman Munson. When Goose Gossage got Ron Cey to pop up behind home plate with two outs in the 9th, who could predict that it was going to be the last time we would see Thurman Munson in post-season play.

The captain grabbed the foul pop and raced to embrace Gossage and the rest of his teammates. It was a joyful celebration for the ages. Too bad it would be Thurman's last, but oh what a great birthday gift it was.

Game 6 in its entirety:

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