Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Yankees vs. Red Sox, The Defining Moments: Part III, 1967-1982

April 14, 1967, Yankee Stadium. The Yankees hold their home opener, and the Sox start a rookie, Billy Rohr. He comes within 1 strike of a no-hitter, partly thanks to an amazing 9th-inning catch of a Tom Tresh line drive by Carl Yastrzemski, the kind of play that makes you think, "If he wasn't going to lose the no-hitter on that play, he's not going to lose it."

But Elston Howard -- ironically, to join the Sox late in the season to help with their Pennant race -- singled to right to break it up. Rohr finishes it up, and the Red Sox win, 3-1. Five days later, at Fenway, Rohr beats the Yankees again. But he would win only 1 more game in his career, wash out, and become a lawyer. He got a huge hand at the Fenway Park Centennial celebration in 2012.

June 21, 1967, Yankee Stadium. Thad Tillotson beans Sox 3rd baseman Joe Foy, later to be a part of one of the biggest bonehead trades in history -- not surprisingly, by the Mets. When Tillotson comes up to bat (there will be no designated hitter until 1973), Jim Lonborg beans Tillotson. The benches empty, and all hell breaks loose. Red Sox 8, Yankees 1.

Despite the acrimony from this brawl, this was an anomaly in the team's relationship in the era. It was not the beginning of the modern Yanks-Sox rivalry. That was still to come.

October 1, 1967, Fenway Park. Lonborg, putting together a Cy Young season, goes the distance, Yastrzemski ties the game with a bases-loaded single to clinch the Triple Crown (MLB's last until 2012), and the Red Sox go on to beat the Minnesota Twins 5-3. When the Detroit Tigers only split a doubleheader against the California Angels, the Sox have won their 1st Pennant in 21 years, only their 2nd in 49 years.
Yaz '67

While the Sox were putting together their "Impossible Dream" season, the one that gets remembered as the one that began "Red Sox Nation," the Yankees finished 9th in the 10-team AL. The Sox took the World Series to 7 games, before losing to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Fenway Park, 1967

September 28, 1968, Fenway Park. Mickey Mantle pops up to shortstop Rico Petrocelli in the top of the 1st inning, and is replaced at 1st base by Andy Kosco. The Boston crowd gives him a standing ovation, suspecting, as they had with Babe Ruth in 1934, that this was the last time they would see him. Indeed, it was the last game of his career, as he did not enter the next day's game, the regular season finale.

Joe Pepitone hits a home run in the top of the 9th inning off Lonborg, who tailed off considerably this season due to an off-season injury, and the Yankees win, 5-4.

April 7, 1970, Yankee Stadium. This was Opening Day, and, at first glance, it might not have any more significance than that. But it was the 1st 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 a pinch-hit walkoff homer in this game, 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 send 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. You see, the reason that Cater hit so well at Fenway is that he was batting against Red Sox pitchers. Now, he wasn't doing that anymore. 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.
Sparky Lyle and Thurman Munson.
Along with Reggie Jackson, Chris Chambliss, Mickey Rivers,
Willie Randolph, Dick Tidrow,  and eventually Goose Gossage,
Yankee opponents in the late 1970s had to fear the 'stache.

April 6, 1973, Fenway Park. Opening Day. Ron Blomberg bats for the Yankees, and becomes the 1st official player to come to bat as a designated hitter. He draws a walk. It doesn't help: The Red Sox win, 15-5.

This was also the 1st game as Yankee owner for George Steinbrenner, a Cleveland-born, Tampa-based shipbuilding tycoon. He said, "I won't be active in the day-to-day operations of the club at all. I've got enough headaches with my shipbuilding company." It would soon be clear that he was lying. But he would also do whatever it took, including going with the new rules of free agency and big spending, to build the Yankees back into World Champions.

August 1, 1973, Fenway Park. In 1972, the Yanks and Sox were both still in the Pennant race as late as August for the 1st time since 1953. But it would not be the 1st 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 leads off with a double, and is sacrificed to 3rd. With Gene Michael at the plate, manager Ralph Houk orders 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 misses the pitch anyway, and Munson, a dead duck at home, tries the only thing that might save him, to dislodge Sox catcher Carlton Fisk from the ball, only to have Fisk flip Munson aside. The two catchers already don't like each other, and they go at it, clearing the benches. A rivalry is reborn, and the Sox win 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, losing an epic World Series to the Cincinnati Reds in 7 games. 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 3rd baseman Graig Nettles, claiming that Nettles had hurt his shoulder. Spewing obscenities like a typical drunken lout Sox fan, "the Spaceman" (may NYPD Detective Sam Tyler, wherever he is, forgive me) calls Nettles out.

Lee was a pretty good pitcher up until this point, but this incident may have been the effect of drugs on his brain. (He has occasionally expressed his liking of marijuana, which usually leaves one much mellower than this.) 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.
Lee later said, "The Yankees fought like hookers swinging their purses." First of all, How would he know? Second of all, what does it say about him that he still lost the fight?

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 9, 1976, Boston. Tom Yawkey dies of leukemia at the age of 73. His widow Jean inherits the team. From this point onward, the tenor of the Sox changes. Tom was always willing to spend big in the hope of winning. But the money was Jean's now, and she was going to keep as much of it as she could. Which helped the Sox' opponents.

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 in 1974, 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 2nd base. Manager 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 (well, anyone in the country who wanted to watch baseball) 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. He did some hitting in the postseason, too.
It's easy to find a photo of Billy Martin smiling.
Same with Reggie Jackson. But smiling together? Rare.

This was Reggie's 2nd walkoff homer for the Yankees. He would make it 4, but this was the only one against the Sox.
After leading the AL East for most of the season, the Sox ended up finishing 2 1/2 games behind the Yankees, tied with the Baltimore Orioles for 2nd place. But this blowing of a Division lead was just foreshadowing for the next year.
Yankee Stadium, after the 1973-76 renovation

November 23, 1977, Fenway Park. Mike Torrez signs as a free agent with the Sox. He had won 17 games in the regular season, including 14 after being traded from Oakland to New York. This did not include losing the game in June where Reggie and Billy set it off in the Fenway dugout. But then, nor did it include his wins in Games 3 and 6 in the World Series.
In spite of Sox fans' love of Luis Tiant and Bill Lee, it was actually Torrez, with 16 wins, who was 2nd on the '78 Sox in wins, behind the 20 of another off-season pickup, Dennis Eckersley, who had won 14, including a no-hitter, for the '77 Cleveland Indians. (Incidentally, Torrez wore Number 21 for the Sox, a number that had previously been worn by 1946 Pennant hero Tex Hughson, and would later be worn by Roger Clemens. He had worn 24 for most of his career, including with the Yankees, but Dwight Evans was wearing that number in Boston.)

Taking such a key pitcher off the Yankees, let alone bringing him in to themselves, should have been a big boost for the Sox and a big blow for the Yanks. And for a long time, it sure looked that way: As Billy Martin said, "Torrez is a hoss," and he was every bit the hoss for the '78 Sox that he was for the '77 Yanks -- and the '76 A's, for whom he won 16; and the '75 Orioles, for whom he won 20; and the '72 and '74 Montreal Expos, for whom he won 16 and 15, respectively.

And yet, there had to be a reason that Torrez kept changing teams. He won another 16 for the Sox in '79, but never won that many again.  In 1983, they let him get away to the Mets (wearing Number 30 for them, as did Nolan Ryan), where in 1984 he (accidentally, I think) beaned Houston Astro shortstop Dickie Thon, curtailing what was shaping up to be a very good career. His own ended that season, and although he won 185 games, he also lost 160, and has never been seriously considered for the Hall of Fame.

If he was a bad teammate, it's never been publicized, and he's always been invited back to Yankee Stadium for Old-Timers' Day -- which has often included him pitching to Bucky Dent. More on that in a moment.

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. Yankees 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 Fenway Faithful are cackling with glee, as it looks like the Sox will run away with the AL East title. 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...

July 17, 1978, Yankee Stadium. Billy gives Reggie a bunt sign in the bottom of the 9th. He hasn't bunted in 6 years. After strike 1, Billy takes the bunt sign off. Reggie decides he's been shown up, so he's going to show Billy up in return -- almost exactly what happened at Fenway the previous year. He bunts foul with 2 strikes, and thus strikes out. The Yankees lose 9-7 to the Kansas City Royals in 11 innings.

The Yankees are now in 4th place, 14 games behind the Red Sox. Overall, the Sox lead by 9 games over the Milwaukee Brewers. Billy suspends Reggie for 5 games -- and the Yankees win all 5, in Minnesota against the Twins and Chicago against the White Sox.

Reggie's suspension ends. While boarding the plane that will take the Yankees from Chicago to Kansas City, Billy is asked by a reporter how he'll handle Reggie. He mumbles something about Reggie, and something about George Steinbrenner, and then says, "You know, they're made for each other. One's a born liar, the other's convicted." Billy was referencing George's conviction for violating campaign finance laws as the director of Ohio Democrats for Nixon in 1972, for which he avoided jail time, and was later pardoned by a later Republican President, Ronald Reagan.

George flies out to Kansas City, and word of this gets to Billy. Like Nixon, Billy knows he'll be "impeached" if he doesn't resign. He does. George hires Bob Lemon, the Hall of Fame Cleveland Indians pitcher who'd recently been fired as manager of the White Sox. He calms the team down, tells them to just go out and play, and sees them get healthy.

August 3, 1978, Yankee Stadium. After playing 14 innings the night before, a rule that is no longer in place, that no inning may start in an American League game after 1:00 AM, is invoked. The game is restarted, and the Sox win 7-5 in 17 innings. The Sox are leading the regularly-scheduled game 8-1 after 7, when it starts raining, and it's called.

The Yankees were now 8 1/2 games back, with 55 to play. It looked like it was over. But the Yankees' injuries began clearing up. Jim "Catfish" Hunter recovered from shoulder woes and won 6 straight decisions. And the Sox developed injuries, and, unlike the Yankees, they did not have a bench equal to the task.

September 7, 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 10 games over Milwaukee on July 8, 9 on August 13, and 7 as late as August 31. So, while the Yankees gained 14 games, technically, the Sox "only" blew a 10-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 1st 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 3rd baseman and Number 9 hitter, even came to bat. Yankees 15, Red Sox 3.

September 8, 1978, Fenway Park. The 2nd game is 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.

September 9, 1978, Fenway Park. The 3rd game is an NBC Game of the Week, and it is 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 2 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."

September 10, 1978, Fenway Park. The Sox come close in the series finale, getting the tying run to the plate late, but... Yankees 7, Red Sox 4.

Tied for 1st. 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, as the Sox won 12 of their last 14, including their last 8, while the Yankees lost their Game 162.

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, including by myself? Probably nothing, so I'll simply say, "Bucky Blessed Dent."
"Destiny 5, Red Sox 4" -- that's what the headline in the next day's Boston Herald-American said. Well, of course: "DESTINY" ends with "NY." The Yanks went on to win the World Series again.
The difference between this Sox loss to the Yankees and the one 25 years later is stark. When Nettles caught Yaz's popup for the final out, the Sox, as can be seen on the videotape, sort of slink back into their dugout, looking as if they were thinking, "If we couldn't do it this time, we'll never be able to do it." And, sure enough, the next time they got close, in 1986, only 8 years later, only 3 players were left from '77 and '78: Rice, Evans and Bob Stanley. And only Rice and Evans were still there from the '75 World Series.
They had won 196 games in 2 seasons -- just as they had won 192 in 1948-49 -- and, as in that 1940s instance, they hadn't even made baseball's official postseason, partly because they'd lost a one-game playoff at home. (In '48, it was to the Indians.)
November 13, 1978, Yankee Stadium. A year after letting the Sox sign Torrez, the Yanks turn the tables, and sign free agent pitcher Luis Tiant.
Tiant was, and remains, one of the most popular players in Sox history -- he is their "barbecue stand guy," the way Boog Powell is in Baltimore and Greg Luzinski is in Philadelphia -- and, with a 229-172 career record, a 1.199 WHIP and 2,416 strikeouts, is one of the best pitchers not in the Hall of Fame.
Was he a good pickup for the Yankees, even at age (we think) 38? Well, in 1979, he went 13-8 for a team that didn't do too well. He pitched a 2-hit shutout against the A's that included a grounder that went up the middle, right to his foot, which he kicked up and caught, and threw to 1st for an out. But in 1980, age finally caught up with him, and he was just 8-9, and his ERA went up by a full run. The Yanks chose not to re-sign him after that. Still, he pitched 2 more seasons in the majors before hanging 'em up.
Although his Yankee teammates liked him, and he has occasionally returned to New York for Old-Timers' Day, and had some of his best years in Cleveland, it's easy to forget now that he played for anyone other than the Red Sox.
When the Yanks fell apart in 1979, the Sox were unable to take advantage: They won 91 games, but that was 11 behind the Orioles. In 1980, they were just 83-79, and, through a bureaucratic mixup, they let Carlton Fisk and Fred Lynn get away after the season.

Part IV follows.

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