Friday, July 27, 2012

Yankees-Red Sox: The Defining Moments, Part II: 1968-1991

April 7, 1970, Yankee Stadium, Bronx. This was Opening Day, and, at first glance, it might not have any more significance than that. But it was the first Yankee game of my lifetime. It didn't end so well for the Good Guys, as only 21,379 came out to the big ballyard to see Mel Stottlemyre give up an RBI double to opposing pitcher Gary Peters. Red Sox 4, Yankees 3.

The Yanks did finish 2nd with 93 wins, far ahead of the Sox, but the Baltimore Orioles ran away with the Division and won the World Series.

September 15, 1970, Yankee Stadium.  Curt Blefary's time with the Yankees wasn't as good as his preceding time with the Orioles, but he did hit this pinch-hit walkoff homer against the Sox, against Mike Nagy. Yankees 3, Red Sox 2.

March 22, 1972, Fort Lauderdale Stadium, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  The Yankees and Red Sox complete what remains the biggest trade between the teams since Harry Frazee's selloff in the late 1910s and early 1920s.  The Sox sent wacky relief pitcher Albert "Sparky" Lyle to the Yankees, in exchange for Danny Cater and a player to be named later, who turns out to be Mario Guerrero.  The Sox didn't know how to handle Lyle, and their reasoning for obtaining Cater was that he hit well at Fenway Park, so why not let him play there 81 times a year?

It didn't work, as Cater's batting average dropped from .276 in 1971 to .237.  Guerrero was never more than the stereotypical "good-field-no-hit" middle infielder.  Sparky, in 1972, set an American League record (though it was broken a year later) with 35 saves, and set the standard for Yankee relievers that was followed by Goose Gossage, Dave Righetti, John Wetteland and Mariano Rivera.

April 6, 1973, Fenway Park, Boston.  Opening Day.  Ron Blomberg bats for the Yankees, and becomes the first official player to come to bat as a designated hitter.  He drew a walk.  It didn't help: The Red Sox won, 15-5.

August 1, 1973, Fenway Park. In 1972, the Yanks and Sox were both still in the Pennant race as late as August for the first time since 1953.  But it would not be the first time since 1951 that both were still in it as late as September. That would have to wait until 1974.

On this day, with the game tied 2-2 in the top of the 9th, Yankee catcher Thurman Munson led off with a double and was sacrificed to third. With Gene Michael at the plate, manager Ralph Houk ordered a suicide squeeze. (You see, Houk was a smart man, and he knew "Stick" Michael couldn't hit a beach ball with a telephone pole.) Michael missed the pitch anyway, and Munson, a dead duck at home, tried the only thing that might have saved him, to dislodge Sox catcher Carlton Fisk from the ball, only to have Fisk flip Munson aside. The two catchers already didn't like each other, and they went at it, clearing the benches. A rivalry was reborn, and the Sox won this battle. Red Sox 3, Yankees 2.

Neither team won the Division (the Orioles did). In 1974, the Yanks and Sox would chase each other into September as the top 2 teams. Then the Orioles got into the act again, and smacked the Sox, who collapsed to 3rd place. The O's then swept a doubleheader at Shea Stadium (the Yanks had to play '74 and '75 at the Flushing Toilet while The Stadium was being renovated) in late September to take the Division. The Sox did win the Pennant in '75, and then...

May 20, 1976, Yankee Stadium. Bottom of the 6th. Lou Piniella comes around to score, but Fisk gets the ball.  Sweet Lou barrels into Pudge, but it's no use, he's out. Fisk shoves Piniella, and here we go again. This one was even nastier than the brawls of '67 at The Stadium and '73 at Fenway.

The combatants are separated, but Sox reliever Bill Lee -- who may have hated the Yankees more than any Red Sock ever, at least until the Roid Sox of 2003-present -- starts yelling at Yank 3rd baseman Graig Nettles, claiming that Nettles had hurt his shoulder. Spewing obscenities like a typical drunken lout Sox fan, "the Spaceman" (may Sam Tyler, wherever he is, forgive me) calls Nettles out. Lee was a pretty good pitcher up until this point, but this may have been the effect of drugs on his brain.  (Lee has frequently expressed his liking of marijuana.) If you call Graig Nettles out, he's going to clobber you. He did. Yeah, it was a sucker punch, but then, Lee was a sucker.

The Sox won the game, 8-2, but lost the fight, only split that 4-game series, and were well back of the Yankees, who went on to win the Pennant. 

Sox fans like to say that Nettles ruined Lee, a great pitcher until then, but who never recovered. Actually, Lee was only a pretty good pitcher until then, and Lee did recover -- after yet another brilliant Sox trade, sending Lee to the Montreal Expos for Stan Papi.

July 25, 1976, Yankee Stadium.  Chris Chambliss turns a 5-3 Sox lead in the bottom of the 9th into a 6-5 Yankee win with a home run off Tom House -- known today as a pitching coach and as the man who, standing in the Atlanta Braves' bullpen, caught the ball Hank Aaron hit for his 715th career home run.  This was foreshadowing of the Pennant-winning walkoff Chambliss would hit against the Kansas City Royals less than 3 months later. 

June 18, 1977, Fenway Park. Jim Rice was a great power hitter, but was also slow as molasses. Yet Reggie Jackson misplays his looper, and Rice ends up on second base. Billy Martin pulls Reggie out of the game in mid-inning, and they end up shouting at each other in the dugout. Billy says something that ticks Reggie off, and Reggie tells Billy that all the alcohol he's has been ingesting has been getting into his brain.

How many Yankee catching legends turned coaches does it take to restrain Billy Martin? Two, apparently: Yogi Berra and Elston Howard. And the whole country sees this on the NBC Game of the Week. Red Sox 10, Yankees 4.

The Sox finish a series sweep the next day, and it takes several players, including Captain Thurman Munson and even Reggie himself -- who knows that Billy getting fired would be the worst thing for him, public-relations-wise -- to talk Yankee owner George Steinbrenner out of firing Billy.

June 24, 1977, Yankee Stadium. The Yanks need a win over these bastards. Bad. They trail in the bottom of the 9th. But Roy White, the senior Yankee at this point, knocks one out to send it to extra innings. In the bottom of the 11th, Reggie gets his first real chance to prove his clutch bona fides in New York, and singles home Nettles with the winning run. Yankees 6, Red Sox 5. This begins a Yank sweep, and the race is back on.

September 14, 1977, Yankee Stadium. The Yanks already won last night, and the Sox need this one badly if they want to win the Division.  This was the only way to make the Playoffs from 1969 to 1993 -- no Wild Cards.

Going into the bottom of the 9th, Ed Figueroa and Reggie Cleveland are both pitching shutouts. (Yes, kids, they both went the whole way.) Munson opens the inning with a single up the middle, and Reggie cranks one. Yankees 2, Red Sox 0. The Sox win the next night, but as soon as the ball left Reggie's bat on this night, the American League Eastern Division race was effectively over. After a very nasty year, Reggie had won over his teammates and the New York fans. I understand he did some hitting in the postseason, too.

This was Reggie's 2nd walkoff homer for the Yankees.  He wuold make it 4, but this was the only one against the Sox.

June 27, 1978, Yankee Stadium.  The Sox are flying. The Yanks are reeling and hurting.  The Yanks need a win, very badly.  Graig Nettles gives it to them, hitting a 2-run shot off Dick Drago to win it in the bottom of the 9th.  Ynakees 6, Red Sox 4.

July 4, 1978, Fenway Park. The Sox are still flying. The Yanks are still reeling and hurting. The Sox won last night.  The Yanks are desperate. And the game is rained out. This turns out to be tremendously important, as the game is rescheduled for September 7, the beginning of what will now be a 4-game series, instead of a 3-gamer.

This was also the day after NewsChannel 4's Dr. Frank Field predicted beautiful weather for the 4th of July, claiming it would be perfect for the beach, the boardwalk, and fireworks, and the rain that soaked New England also soaked the New York Tri-State Area. The only fireworks that day were on the NBC switchboard, from furious viewers, and Field shows up for the 6:00 news with a noose around his neck. It was meant as a joke. I think.

I was 8 years old, and so upset over the postponement of the fireworks at Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey. Little did I know how much this would end up benefiting the Yankees...

September 7, 8, 9 and 10, 1978, Fenway Park. The Yanks got healthy and got hot, and had turned a 14-game deficit on July 20 into a 4-game deficit. (Little-known fact: The Sox actually led the AL East by 9 1/2 games at the time, ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers. The Orioles were 11 games back, and the Yanks were in 4th. So, while the Yankees gained 14 games, technically, the Sox "only" blew a 9 1/2-game lead.) Now it was the Sox were hurting and slumping, and their bench was to be tested. As the kids are saying these days, "Epic fail."

The first game was played on the night that Who drummer Keith Moon died from a drug overdose. Some Sox fans began to wish they could join him. Willie Randolph got 3 hits before Butch Hobson, the Sox' badly injured third baseman and Number 9 hitter, even came to bat. Yankees 15, Red Sox 3. The second game was a near-repeat performance, as Mickey Rivers got 3 hits before Hobson, elbow chips and all, could reach the plate. Yankees 13, Red Sox 2.

The 3rd game was another NBC Game of the Week, and it was each team's ace, Ron Guidry (having the greatest season any Yankee pitcher had ever had) against Dennis Eckersley (having the greatest season any Sox pitcher had between Jim Lonborg in '67 and Roger Clemens in '86). Sox fans were confident that all they had to do was take these last two games, and the Yanks would have wasted all those runs and hits for nothing. But the Yanks smacked the Eck around. Yankees 7, Red Sox 0. Someone wrote, "This is the first time a first-place team has been eliminated from the race." The next day, the Sox came close, getting the tying run to the plate late, but... Yankees 7, Red Sox 4.

Tied for first.  The defining image of the series is of Sox Captain and legend Carl Yastrzemski leaning against the scoreboard at the base of the Green Monster, head bowed, as if to say, "Please... I'll do anything you say... Just don't hurt us anymore... " (Sadly, I can't find a copy of that photo to put here.) An urban legend said that someone got on top of a bar somewhere in New England, and said, "The sons of bitches killed our grandfathers, they killed our fathers, and now they've come for us."

Except it wasn't over. In 1904 and 1949, it took 154 games to decide a Yanks-Sox race.  In 1977, it took 161 out of the 162 games.  This time, it would require a Game 163...

October 2, 1978, Fenway Park. I like to call it the Boston Tie Party. Red Sox fans like to call it something else. This game had so many twists and turns, and, with the possible exception of the 1951 Dodger-Giant Playoff (the Bobby Thomson Game), it has probably had more books written about it than any single game in the history of baseball. What can I say about this game that hasn't already been said? Nothing, so I'll simply say, "Bucky Blessed Dent." Destiny 5, Red Sox 4 -- that's what the headline in the Boston Herald-American said. Well, of course: "DESTINY" ends with "NY." The Yanks went on to win the World Series again.

July 4, 1983, Yankee Stadium. Both teams have changed tremendously in 5 years. The rivalry has fallen a bit. Despite the opponent and the 4th of July holiday, only 40,000 fans come out to The Stadium. Why? Well, it is the 4th of July, and it's really hot, so it's a beach day, not a baseball day. And neither team is really in the race. This game would be totally forgotten by anyone who wasn't there, if it wasn't for Dave Righetti pitching a no-hitter.  He even managed to strike out the tough-to-fan Wade Boggs for the final out.  Yankees 4, Red Sox 0.

September 28, 1987, Yankee Stadium.  Mike Easler -- not traded from Boston to New York for Don Baylor in the 1985-86 off-season, although it did sort of work out that way -- treats Calvin Schiraldi even more harshly than the Mets did in the previous year's World Series.  He hits a pinch-hit home run to win the game, 9-7.

May 27, 1991, Yankee Stadium. The Sox are defending AL East Champions (and would barely be nipped by the Toronto Blue Jays at the end this time), while the Yankees had finished last the year before. Only 32,369 come out for this Memorial Day matinee between the two old rivals, and the Yanks trail 5-3 in the bottom of the 9th. But Mel Hall -- who would later leave the Yankees in ignominious fashion -- takes Jeff "the Terminator" Reardon deep. Yankees 6, Red Sox 5. (Maybe Sox fans can blame the first base umpire, Larry Barnett, the same ump who they, in their delusions, think screwed them in Game 3 of the '75 World Series.)

A lot of Yankee Fans point to this game as the beginning of the rise from the abyss. It wasn't: 1991 and '92 were both bad years, though not as bad as '89 and '90. But the building blocks were in place: George Steinbrenner had been suspended for 2 years, former good-field-no-hit infielder Gene Michael was running the show as general manager, and the Yankees were making good trades and draft choices, including, the following June, a shortstop from Kalamazoo Central High School in Michigan, a former New Jerseyan named Derek Jeter.

This Mel Hall homer is also cited by some as the beginning of Yankee broadcaster John Sterling's closing call of, "Ballgame over! Yankees win! Theeeeeeee Yankees win!" I'm not so sure. Granted, I was watching this one on WPIX-Channel 11 with Phil Rizzuto, Bobby Murcer and Tom Seaver, rather than listening to Sterling and Joe Angel on 77 WABC.  But even as late as Jim Leyritz's 1995 Playoff walkoff against Seattle, his "Theeeeeeee... " was still just a "The... " without much elongation.

September 14, 1991, Yankee Stadium. My first live Yanks-Sox game. This was a 4-game series, and the Sox won 3 of them. Not this one: Yankees 3, Red Sox 1. And, yes, Sox fans were every bit as obnoxious as you might expect, especially since they were still in the race (they'd be caught at the death by those pesky Blue Jays) and the Yanks were awful, having just begun their climb back from the abyss of last place the season before.

Part III to come.

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