Culmination or Collapse?
Oct. 2, 1978. Baseball fans readily cite it as the date one of the greatest games in history took place. True, it stands out amid the annals of one of sports’ greatest rivalries. It’s also true that a season hung in the balance. If only that was the end of it. Instead, Bill Reynolds writes, ramifications on the diamond were merely the beginning.
1. Reynolds composes the scene like a master artist.
Three years after their latest heartbreak in the ’75 World Series, everything was falling into place for the Red Sox. Fisk was set to receive the mantle from Yaz, but not before Yaz capped a fabled career. Dwight Evans and Freddie Lynn combined power and speed in the outfield. Nobody commanded more respect than Jim Rice, and for once the Red Sox boasted four top pitchers. Four, when they sometimes struggled to maintain one or two.
In mid-July, the Red Sox led New York by 14 games. The Yankees needed a manager to rein them in; one never knew when Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson or another Bomber’s mercury would rise. Billy Martin had had enough and the players had seen enough of Martin. Enter Bob Lemon. Suddenly the biggest beef was throwing helmets in the dugout.
New York swept Boston at Fenway at the beginning of September by outscoring the bowed Sox 42-9 to set up a tie atop the AL East. The Yankees could have buried Boston themselves on the final day of the season, but a New York loss to Cleveland, combined with a Boston win meant Boston and New York would meet for a one-game playoff “like it was just meant to be,” Yankees outfielder Lou Piniella said. (16, ’78)
2. Reynolds has all the details about how the players and personalities on both sides elevated this epoch in Yankees-Red Sox lore.
A year ago, Mike Torrez occupied the other bullpen. On this October Monday he opposed his former teammates wearing the home whites at Fenway. His offseason signing was meant as a Boston salvo. No longer would the Red Sox play second fiddle to the Yankees. Ron Guidry started for the Yankees. Guidry had a 25-3 record and a 1.72 ERA. That was the lowest earned run average in more than half a century by a lefty. Munson gave him latitude to throw his best pitch wherever he thought it should go and to fear not; his catcher would get a glove on it.
Yaz started his career next to Ted Williams. Talk about an awkward start. Who said he wanted to be captain anyway? He just knew he loved playing the game with his father and his uncles and that he happened to be good at it. Early on, before the Triple Crown, of course, rumblings of Yaz’s relocation circulated. Now 39, in 1978, he knew this was his last chance to get what eluded him.
Bucky Dent was a small-town kid from Florida. He lacked the Yankee swagger, and for a good part of the 1978 season, lacked good health. Dent was used to getting pinch-hit for, but on this day, the lifelong Yankees fan was the one who came through in the pinch.
3. One of the best games in one of the best rivalries. What more could you ask for? Brace yourself as the action unfolds.
The Sox trailed 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth. Goose Gossage headed out for his third inning. Pinch hitter Dwight Evans started the inning and Rick Burleson preceded Jerry Remy, the only Boston player from Massachusetts. Then it all came down to the MVP and the Franchise. Gossage had a premonition about the game on the line and a battle against Yaz the night before. Sure enough, here it was with the tying run on third.
Re-live all the drama in “’78: The Boston Red Sox, a Historic Game, and a Divided City.”
Sam Miller is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he worked with various teams in sports information and received the Freedom Forum – NCAA Sports Journalism Scholarship for his achievements. During the 2009 season, Miller served as communications intern for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate. Prior to that, he worked as a communications intern for USA Basketball and as an associate reporter for MLB.com.