Friday, October 2, 2009

The Ecstasy

This is the first of a two-part joint venture between myself and Jim "Suldog" Sullivan, honoring the start of baseball's postseason. Since Jim is a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan and I'm partial to the New York Yankees, we decided to give our opposing perspectives on the two most significant clashes between the teams. We're going to start with the one-game A.L. East playoff in 1978 . . .

On October 2, 1978, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox squared off in the greatest baseball game ever played. One game, the winners moved on to the American League Playoffs, the losers would be packing it in for a long winter's nap.

I was thirteen at the time, and a complete fanatic. To this day, the 1978 edition of the New York Yankees remains my all-time favorite team. Sure, the '77 season was incredible, and the Jeter-Torre Dynasty from 1996-2000 was a euphoric period in Bronx Bomber history, but '78 was simply magical.

It didn't start out that way, as the Yanks trailed Boston by 14 games in July and looked dead in the water. As July turned into August, though, they began a comeback. The fiery but lovable manager Billy Martin was replaced by the more laid-back Bob Lemon, and by September the Bombers were right on Boston's tail. Over one spectacular weekend at Fenway Park, the Yankees swept a four-game series by scores of 15-3, 13-2, 7-0, and 7-4. So complete was the domination that in one of the games, Yankee catcher Thurman Munson had gone 3-for-3 before the Sox's Butch Hobson had even batted. That series, forever known as "The Boston Massacre", put the two teams in a tie for first place. The Yanks took the division lead down the stretch, but the Sox got hot at the end, pulling even on the last day of the regular season.

I lived and died with every game. The one-game sudden death was sure to be a nail-biter.

I ran home from school that day, burst through the front door and flung my bookbag into the corner. I turned on WPIX channel 11 just in time for the first pitch.

Mike Torrez was on the mound for Boston. He'd been with the Yankees the year before, playing an important role in their 1977 World Series victory. But today he was the enemy, and I was hoping to see the Bombers light up Torrez like the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center.

Ron Guidry was chucking for New York, ready to put the finishing touches on one of the best seasons a pitcher has ever had. His record coming into the game was 24-3, with an earned run average of less than two. He was, for the most part, unhittable. Earlier in the year, Guidry struck out eighteen California Angels in a game, earning him the moniker "Louisiana Lightning".

You had to like the Yankees' chances.

New York went down quickly in the top of the first. My friend Paul came bounding up my front steps during the commercials, out of breath from the three-block sprint from his house.

"What'd I miss?"

"Nothin'. Yankees didn't do squat in the first. Boston's just coming up."

He flopped down on the couch, I went to the kitchen to grab us a couple of Cokes, and we took in the action.

The Red Sox drew first blood in the bottom of the second, on a home run by Carl Yastrzemski. Yaz was about 87 years old at the time, but he managed to hook one around the right field foul pole. We watched in disgust as a Boy Scout from Martha's Vineyard helped the elderly Sox legend around the bases.

"Yaz sucks," muttered Paul.

"Yeah, he's not as bad as Fisk, though. That guy's a douchebag."


We hated every one of those friggin' Red Sox. Rice. Lynn. Burleson. Every damn one of 'em.

We looked out through the screen door and saw the guy from the other side of the duplex, Mr. Ostertag, grinning. He was from Boston originally, and our neighborhood's only Red Sox fan."HOW 'BOUT THAT YAZ!" he taunted.

"Just go back inside, old man," I said, good-naturedly. He was actually a pretty nice guy, but there's just no accounting for taste.

"Da Sawx ah just gettin' stah-ted," he replied.

"Yeah, we'll see."

Torrez held the Yanks in check, inning after inning. In the sixth Boston scored again, making it 2-0.

"It's all ovah now, boys," came the voice from next door. "Don't lemme hear ya cryin'!"

"Yeah, sure, Mr. Ostertag. It's not over until your mother sings," Paul fired back.

After we heard Mr. O's screen door slam shut, Paul and I exchanged nervous glances.

"Man, 2-zip, we better start hittin'," I said.

"Torrez is looking great. I'm not liking this at all."

I feigned confidence. "Ah, we'll be okay. Reggie's gonna be the hero just like last year."

Someone was about to become a hero, all right, but it wasn't Jackson.

With one out in the top of the seventh inning, Chris Chambliss singled. Roy White followed with another base hit, putting runners on first and second. Jim Spencer stepped up to pinch hit for the second baseman Brian Doyle. Spencer was a power hitter, and manager Bob Lemon sent him to the plate hoping that he'd be able to hit one out. With the Yankees' number nine hitter on deck, Spencer represented the best chance to take the lead.

He unceremoniously flied out to left.

Bucky Dent was a light-hitting shortstop in his second year with the Yankees. Known mostly for his glove and pretty-boy looks that made him the heartthrob of our female junior high classmates, Dent had managed just four home runs during the entire season. Put another way, Bucky Dent hit home runs about as often as Dom DeLuise said "no thanks" to the dessert tray. Perhaps Dent would be able to draw a walk or something, but his .240 batting average led Paul and me to assume that the inning was as good as over.

"Well, this inning is as good as over," said Paul.

"Yeah, but we'll have the top of the order coming up in the eighth. There's still a chance."

With the count one ball and no strikes, Bucky fouled the ball off his shin and crumpled to the ground. Beautiful. The guy can't hit to begin with, and now he's on a bum leg. As Bucky writhed in agony, Yankees' center fielder Mickey Rivers noticed that there was a crack in the bat Dent was using. He handed a new one to the batboy, who ran it over to Dent as he was hobbling back to the batter's box. Friggin' hopeless.

"So, how'd you do on the math test in Cornell's class?" I asked Paul.

"Ninety-four. You?"

"Eighty-six. I screwed up the Pythagorean Theorem."

"Shouda studied."

"Yeah, no kidding."

Our conversation was interrupted by WPIX announcer Bill White . . .


We went nuts. The last guy on the team you'd expect to hit a home run just gave the Yankees the lead in the most important game of the year. Paul and I rushed out onto the front porch, yelling our heads off. We peeked in through Mr. Ostertag's screen door and saw him sitting in his recliner, staring at the TV. He looked sick.

When he finally decided to acknowledge our presence, he just looked at us and muttered two words: "Bucky. Dent?"

"BUCKY DENT!" we shouted back at him.

By the time we went back inside, Mickey Rivers had walked and stolen second, Torrez had gotten the hook, and Yankee captain Thurman Munson was coming to the plate. Munson had struck out in each of his first three at-bats, but this time he doubled to the gap in left-center, driving in Rivers for a 4-2 lead.

"Okay, man, just get the ball to Gossage and let's finish this thing," said Paul.

Sure enough, Lemon brought in Goose Gossage and his 100 mile-an-hour fastball with one out in the bottom of the seventh. He got out of the inning with the score still 4-2.

In the top of the eighth, Reggie hit a majestic home run to center, extending the lead to 5-2. Paul took the opportunity to needle Mr. Ostertag, who was still in his La-Z-Boy puffing on unfiltered Camels.

"Hey, Mr. O! I think I hear your mother singing!"

"It ain't ovah till it's ovah," he replied. Friggin' geezer had the nerve to quote Yogi Berra.

Turns out he was right, though. In the bottom of the eighth, Boston rallied for two runs, closing the gap to 5-4. The Yankees didn't do anything in their half of the ninth, so it all came down to the last three outs.

And damn it if the Sox didn't threaten again. With two outs, they had runners on first and third. A single would tie the game, a double to the gap could win it.

And who was up for Boston, with a chance to seal our fate?

Yastrzemski. Friggin' Yastrzemski was advancing to the plate.

"Well, we gotta bring in Lyle now, right?" Paul asked me.

"Probably. Lefty on lefty, and Sparky owns Yaz anyway."

Lemon stuck with Gossage.

Paul and I were on the edge of our seats.

"Just one more out, Goose. Come on . . . "

Somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
A band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light.
But we laugh at Mr. Ostertag, who chain smokes, swears and pouts;
There is no joy at his place, 'cause Yastrzemski just popped out.

Click here to read Suldog's perspective on this great moment in baseball history.

The second part of our tandem post, detailing the 2004 American League Championship Series, will be published on October 20th on both blogs.

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Candy's daily Dandy said...


I'm going ova to Suldogs, where everybody knows my name.

Gaston Studio said...

I love that you guys posted simultaneously so that "The Agony" and "The Ecstacy" came up one after the other on my blogroll!

moooooog35 said...

Bucky Fucking Dent.

Michelle H. said...

Hmm... the opposing joyous side. Not big with baseball anymore (hockey's my thing) but it's a great way to get differing perspectives and how emotions war when one ball could make a win for a team or go down in flames.

Hopefully, I'll get another chance to do a dual post with Jim "Suldog" again.

LegalMist said...

On a recommendation from Candy at Candy's daily Dandy, I dropped in, read through a good portion of your blog, and made you my "Friday Feature."

Awesome stuff you've got here!!

B.E. Earl said...

Awesome write-up!

I was one-year younger and just as much of a Yankee fan as you were/are. One thing I will never forget in that game...well two things...are the fielding plays that Lou Pineilla made in the sun in RF.


B.E. Earl said...

One more quick thing from that game.

Everyone knows that it was Mickey Rivers' bat that Bucky Dent used to hit his pop-fly homer over the Monster. Something that New England conspiracy theorists go crazy about, by the way.

But the bat originally belonged to Roy White. Roy was semi-famous for the number of bats he used during the year. The game was different then and you didn't have a Johnny Damon breaking 2 bats a night. Some guys played the entire season with 1 or 2 bats. But White had a bunch. And he used different bats all through the season as he lost weight.

In Spring Training he had ordered a bunch of new bats to a new specification. They were made and engraved with his name and he wound up not liking them. Rather than wasted the timber, he gave them to Mickey Rivers. And it was one of those bats that Bucky used to hit his famous dinger.

And the bat is in Cooperstown. A Roy White model, Mickey Rivers loaned, Bucky Dent used Louisville Slugger. How about that?

Knucklehead said...

@Candy: Don't worry, you'll enjoy the next one...Dave F-ing Roberts.

@Gaston: Yeah, we've been looking forward to it.

@Moog: Hey, he and Aaron Fucking Boone are my heroes.

@Michelle: The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry always makes for great theater. Both sides have their moments.

@Legal: Thanks! And thank you, Candy, for spreadin' the word!

@B.E. Earl: Piniella was really the unsung hero of that game. The catch he made on (I think) Lynn, and then the sun play saved the game.

Pollyanna said...

Ummmmm, GO CARDS!

otin said...

WOOOHOOOO! Bucky "Fuckin" Dent! I was in school when the game started and got home before the Dent homer! I loved those Yankees teams, Nettles was my favorite player!

Chrissy said...

I had SUCH a crush on Bucky Dent.

Jenn said...

Yaz was about 87 years old at the time, but he managed to hook one around the right field foul pole

Um, yeah. That'd be Pesky's Pole. Geez if ya gonna talk about Fenway Pahk's greatest since Ted Williams like that at least get tha name'a tha pole right.

Looking forward to October 20th.

Dave said...

Well told! You put the tension back into a sporting event that is over 30 years old.

Suldog said...

Thanks for having the idea for this joint posting, Knucklehead. I enjoyed it - as much as was possible, considering the subject matter. Of course, the upcoming post, on October 20th, will be much less painful - for ME.

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