He has a droopy mustache and a suffering face crowned by a thicket of black hair. The body, not large, is all cables and wires, a humming, functional machine. Davey Lopes was elected captain of the Los Angeles Dodgers this year, the first player so favored since Willie Davis held office in 1973. Lopes takes that responsibility seriously. "I have the ability to motivate people," he says without embarrassment. Lopes takes most things seriously. He weighs his answers to the most trivial of journalistic inquiries, his responses often flashing with indignation. When some ethnologist among the 400 newsmen covering the 1978 World Series inquired into his "lineage," Lopes, who was born in Rhode Island of Cape Verdean-Portuguese descent, rejoined tartly, "That is not important. What is important is that I am a man."
The Series is serious stuff, and for Los Angeles it was more so than usual this year. Jim Gilliam, for 14 seasons in the '50s and '60s a Dodger infielder and the team's first-base coach until he suffered a brain hemorrhage on Sept. 15, died at age 49 of heart failure only two days before last Tuesday's Series opener. The Dodgers wore black patches on their sleeves on which was inscribed Gilliam's number, 19, and his spirit was invoked throughout a week of mourning. The ordinarily festive opening game had the air of a memorial service as a record Dodger Stadium crowd of 55,997—two fans more than the old record—stood for a minute of silence before the national anthem. Lopes, who seemed more touched by Gilliam's death than any of his teammates, was the perfect man for such a sad occasion, conveying as he did the proper note of gravity and high purpose. The leadoff hitter and base-stealer, the player who usually "turns the ignition," he turned on the power Tuesday in a crushing 11-5 Dodger victory.
The Dodgers got their first run when Dusty Baker led off the second inning with a homer. Rick Monday kept the rally going with a double and was on second when Lopes stepped up with two out. Ed Figueroa's first pitch to him was a hanging curveball. Lopes slugged it for a two-run homer just beyond the reach of Roy White in leftfield. The Dodgers were out front 3-0, and Figueroa, an accomplished regular-season performer who has yet to win either a playoff or a World Series game, was gone. In the fifth Lopes was even cruder to Figueroa's successor, Ken Clay, golfing his one-ball no-strike sinker deep into the leftfield pavilion with two runners on. The Dodgers were ahead 6-0, and Lopes had driven in five runs. Even the most skeptical Dodger fan was beginning to entertain thoughts of beating the traffic home.
October 22, 1978
Unsurprisingly, it was Reggie Jackson who created the only Yankee excitement. With his team trailing 7-0 in the seventh, Jackson led off the inning by getting all of a Tommy John fastball and smacking a towering blast to the base of the back wall of the Yankee bullpen in right, a distance of approximately 430 feet. It was Jackson's eighth World Series homer and his sixth in his last four Series games. John would surrender four more harmless runs before retiring in favor of Terry Forster in the eighth inning. The Dodgers, meanwhile, abused four Yankee pitchers in what New York Manager Bob Lemon dismissed as "just one game."
For the Dodgers and their solemn captain, it was a harbinger. "There is no doubt in my mind we're going to win this thing," Lopes said. "Jimmy's spirit is in each of our players. They will have to beat 50 of us, not just 25." Lopes' teammate Reggie Smith thought the Dodgers would win it with only 25. "I felt we were the better club last year," he said, "but they won it. We'll prove we're better this year."
Catfish Hunter, the Yankee starter for Game 2, offered a more thoughtful explanation for the humiliating Yankee defeat. "These last two days we've been thinking too much," he said of the period between the American League playoff finale and the Series opener. "And when you start thinking, that's when you get yourself in trouble."
No doubt about it, the kid was on the spot. His team, the Dodgers, was leading 4-3 with two out in the ninth, but the Yankees had Bucky Dent on second and Paul Blair on first. The hitter? Jackson, naturally, scourge of the Fall Classic. Reggie had driven in all three Yankee runs with a two-run double in the third and a run-scoring ground-out in the seventh to almost balance out the four Ron Cey had knocked home for the Dodgers with his three-run homer and single. The kid, Bob Welch, had come to relieve Forster after the latter had walked Blair. Welch was cheered wildly from the instant he stepped through the bullpen gate, because in only a half season he had become a Lotusland folk idol.
The 21-year-old Welch was called up from the Dodgers' Albuquerque farm in June. He beat Cincinnati in his first major league start, and he shut out the Giants on Aug. 5 in what was then Los Angeles' most important game of the season. The Giants were leading the National League West by 4½ games when Welch and his flaming fastball stopped them. L.A. was on its way after that.
And now he was being asked to extricate the Dodgers from another dire circumstance. He required only two pitches to dispose of Thurman Munson. Jackson was another matter, because he is at his most luminous in the Series glare. Jackson is a fastball hitter, Welch a fastball pitcher. The 55,982 spectators stood and screamed through the six-minute faceoff. Jackson nearly fell forward on his bespectacled face as he swung and missed Welch's first hummer. He was sent reeling backward as the second scorched his whiskers. The next three pitches were fouled back, an indication that Jackson was not getting his bat around quickly enough to match the youngster's speed. The sixth pitch sailed high to run the count to 2 and 2. Jackson fouled off another. Welch missed on the outside for a full count. The crowd was in a frenzy. Jackson adjusted his glasses. Welch stood motionless on the mound. The runners moved with the pitch. Jackson cut at a high, inside fastball. He missed. Bedlam.
The denouement was nearly as interesting as the confrontation. Jackson stomped angrily toward the dugout, and as he neared the steps he flung his bat mightily, shattering it against the dugout wall. Lemon stepped forward to offer consolation and was nudged aside by Jackson. Reggie strode up the runway, his now-angry manager in pursuit. At first Jackson refused to explain his ugly rage, and Lemon would only comment that he should have exercised prudence in approaching a man in such high dudgeon. Later Jackson confessed to a mental lapse. So intent was he on connecting with Welch's last pitch, he said, that he momentarily lost track of the situation. With two outs and a full count, the runners would be moving. Jackson knows that. But he was so caught up in the moment that when Dent started off second, the movement distracted him and caused him to miss the pitch. Initially he was angry with Lemon for turning the runners loose; then, when he recovered his senses, he was angrier still at himself. "I strike out 120 times a year," he said. "Why should this one bother me? Because I didn't think, didn't touch all the bases, you might say."
Later Jackson lauded his conqueror. "I got beat, that's all. I was looking for a ball I could handle and I never got one. I wanted him to make a mistake, but he didn't."
Jackson's whiff need not have been so vital. As early as the first inning the Yankees ran themselves out of a run when Gary Thomasson, playing centerfield for the injured Mickey Rivers, slid past second base on what should have been a successful steal and was tagged out. Munson doubled to the leftfield fence immediately after this misplay.
But the game also provided a clue of better things to come for the New Yorkers. Graig Nettles, the balletic third baseman, made three astonishing stops of hard-hit ground balls, reducing two cinch down-the-line doubles to infield hits and converting another into an inning-ending double play. There would be more of that in New York.
It was the Dodger captain in his final at bat in the first game at Yankee Stadium who tendered the ultimate tribute. Standing at the plate, Lopes gestured for the Yankee third baseman to move away from third base, preferably as far away as the elevated train platform beyond rightfield. Only by repositioning Nettles outside the Stadium, Lopes wordlessly announced, could the Dodgers hope to hit a ball through the Yankee infield. Nettles acknowledged Lopes' gesture with a friendly nod. "I took it as a compliment," he said.
As well he might have. This game was supposed to belong to Ron Guidry. The Yankees' 25-game winner was to propel his faltering teammates back into the Series with one of his flawless performances, his pinpoint fastball and crackling slider baffling the now haughty Dodgers. Alas, the Dodgers jumped enthusiastically on those once prepotent deliveries. It was their misfortune, however, to hit them to Nettles' side of the diamond. Guidry did win, and by the seemingly easy margin of 5-1, but he walked seven, struck out only four and courted disaster all night. And while Guidry got the victory, Lemon remarked afterward, not entirely in jest, "Nettles should get the save. In 41 years I've seen a lot of great plays, but I don't think anyone has played third base any better than that." His counterpart, Tom Lasorda, concurred. "That was one of the greatest exhibitions of playing third base I've seen in all my career," he said.
In the second inning Nettles turned in a double play on Lee Lacy's grounder to stifle an incipient Dodger rally. In the third he speared a Lopes line drive, and after Bill Russell singled, robbed Smith of a run-scoring double with a tumbling catch and a scrambling throw of his hard shot down the line. In the fifth he took another double away from Smith by knocking down a tricky bouncer to his backhand side. Then, with the bases loaded, Steve Garvey hit a screamer to the same spot. This one bounced somewhat earlier than Smith's had, and Nettles snared it and forced Smith at second with a throw to Brian Doyle. In the sixth, with the bases again loaded, Lopes shot another bullet down the line. Nettles fielded it while pitched forward in the dirt. He regained his feet and once more made the force at second.
The Dodgers' inner defense, which is not their strong suit, proved as generous this night as Nettles, the one-man infield, was miserly. In a three-run Yankee seventh, Catcher Jerry Grote held on to Rivers' bunt too long, either because he wrongly thought he had a play at second or because Lopes was tardy covering first. In the same inning Lopes threw low to first on a double-play attempt, and Cey was unable to handle a run-producing ground ball—inexplicably scored as a hit—off Munson's bat. The three runs solidified a win that was actually earned in the first two innings. White curled a homer down the rightfield line in the first, and Nettles scored in the second on an infield out.
Nettles might not have been so lavishly on display had Guidry been his regular-season self, but the slender lefthander admitted to having lost his "best stuff' in the bullpen, where he warmed up before the game. With the pop gone from his fastball, the righthanded Dodger lineup was able to pull his breaking pitches, a distinct advantage most days, sheer folly this night. Nettles' brilliant show invited comparisons with Brooks Robinson's performance in the Baltimore Orioles' Series win over the Reds in 1970. The Yankee third baseman, who has smarted in the past over his relative lack of recognition, seemed flattered by such talk. "Brooks and I," he said, "are not afraid to get our uniforms dirty. We dive for the ball." Then, apparently seeking a more precise evaluation of their relative merits, he added, "I have a little more hair than he does."
If Game 3 recalled Brooks Robinson, Game 4 brought back memories of Ed Armbrister, the previously obscure Cincinnati pinch hitter whose collision with Carlton Fisk in the third game of the '75 Series caused such turmoil. Armbrister's entanglement with Fisk after a bunt made the Boston catcher throw wildly and prolong a game-winning rally by the Reds, who went on to become world champions. Despite vehement Red Sox arguments, it was ruled that Armbrister was innocent of interference. The inimitable Jackson was similarly exonerated last Saturday at Yankee Stadium in a rain-interrupted game of nearly four hours' duration, which the Yankees finally won 4-3 on Lou Piniella's 10th-inning single off Welch. If anything, this game raised more unanswerable questions than its controversial predecessor did three Octobers ago.
The incident occurred in the sixth inning, with the Dodgers leading 3-0 as the result of Smith's three-run homer in the fifth. White singled up the middle with one out, Munson walked and Jackson scored White with a single to right. Piniella then lined sharply to Russell's left. The Dodger shortstop reached the ball but dropped it—unintentionally, he said; fortuitously, it seemed—then retrieved it and stepped on second to force Jackson. He then threw to first in an effort to nail Piniella and complete what seemed a cinch double play. But the ball struck Jackson, standing no more than 15 feet off first base, on the right thigh and bounced away from Garvey into foul territory. Munson scored from second, Russell was charged with a throwing error and Piniella was ruled safe at first by Umpire Frank Pulli. Screams of outrage from Lasorda and assorted Dodgers followed this decision. Jackson, they complained, made no effort to get out of the way of Russell's throw. On the contrary, they fumed, he went out of his way to get in the way.
Rule 7.09 (f) of the Official Baseball Rules applies to "any batter or runner who has just been put out" hindering or impeding "any following play being made on a runner. Such runner shall be declared out for the interference of his teammate." If Jackson had been found guilty of interference, Piniella would have been retired and the Dodgers would have been out of the inning unscathed. As it developed, the run allowed the Yankees to tie the game in the eighth on Munson's double and to win it in the extra inning. Pulli said he concluded that Reggie was innocent of interference because he had not intentionally blocked the throw. The rule book says nothing about "intent," but Pulli holds that that is how Rule 7.09 (f) should be interpreted.
Did Jackson intentionally interfere? At first Reggie explained that he had merely stood nonplussed in the base path because of the confusing nature of the play. "When Lou hit the ball, it looked like a hit," said Jackson. "My instinct was to break for second. Then when I saw Russell had a chance for it, my instinct was to go back to first. Then I saw Russell drop the ball. I had nowhere to go, so I just froze."
Garvey claimed Jackson thawed out soon enough to make a significant move. "There is no doubt in my mind it was intentional," Garvey said. "The throw was headed right at him. Instinct tells you to get out of the way of a ball coming right at you. He moved his leg just enough to deflect the ball. He knew what he was doing. It was quick thinking, but dirty pool." Pressed on the question of intent, Jackson later as much as admitted that his freezing near first was more a matter of convenience than confusion.
The controversy overshadowed brilliant play by Reggie Smith. In addition to his apparent game-winning homer. Smith threw Blair out at the plate from rightfield in the first inning. It also took attention away from superb relief work by Yankee Pitchers Dick Tidrow and Rich Gossage. Figueroa started again for New York, this time surviving five innings as well as the 40-minute rain delay, but he gave up all the Dodger runs. Tidrow went three and Gossage two scoreless innings. Welch, who entered the game in the eighth inning in relief of Forster—who, in turn, had relieved starter John—seemed invincible once again until, with one out in the 10th, White walked, Jackson singled, and Piniella tomahawked a high fastball into right center to score the winning run.
Inevitably, nonetheless, it was Jackson who once again stood at stage center. "Something odd always happens around him," said Lemon, clearly grasping the situation.
"The way I see it," said Los Angeles Outfielder Bill North, a formidable optimist, "we're about even. They're ahead, but we're going back home." Home could not look sweeter after what happened to the Dodgers on this, their gloomiest Sunday. The Yankees humiliated them 12-2, spraying 16 singles and two doubles to every patch of soggy ground in Yankee Stadium, acreage the Dodgers regard with much the same affection that Bonaparte felt for Elba. Grumbling in embarrassment after the debacle, the Dodgers snarled disapproval of the turf, the fans, the city, everything connected with the appalling Gotham weekend. They came to New York leading the Series two-zip; they left it trailing three-two.
The first two losses might at least be defined as baseball games; Sunday's beggared description. Yankee hits caromed off Dodger infielders, notably the much-abused shortstop, Russell, and found openings where none seemed to be. The Dodgers' contributions to the lost cause included three errors, one wild pitch and two passed balls. Russell, guilty of an outright error in the first inning on the first ball hit to him, spent much of the rest of the twilight-night game playing short hops off his shins. When he fielded White's grounder without incident in the sixth inning, the New York fans, all presumably escaped felons, cheered him sarcastically. That about cracked it for Russell, ordinarily the mildest-mannered Dodger. Approached after the game by the press, he exploded in rage and frustration. "Get out of here, you negative S.O.B.s," he yelled. When he regained his composure, after a brief diatribe on the shortcomings of Fun City, he said he found it difficult to concentrate when surrounded by such hostile fans. "I'm only human," he said, unnecessarily. "I'm by no means a Gold Glover."
Russell was not the only Dodger to complain about foul treatment from Yankee spectators. Smith said he was abused with "filthy language," and Monday claimed he was hit in centerfield with a tennis ball, various fruits and rolls of toilet paper. Lopes seemed astonished at the wild scene that followed the Yankee victory. "Other people win and their fans don't go crazy," he said in wonder.
In truth, a good deal of this was sour grapes, a case of the vanquished Angelenos taking their disappointment out on the spectators. After all, they were beaten by Jim Beattie, a Dartmouth graduate who was pitching his first complete major league game. By stroking all those singles, the Yankees established a World Series record for such hits. And two members of the lower depths of the Yankee batting order, Doyle and Dent, went 6 for 9. Doyle and Dent hit .192 and .243, respectively, during the regular season. Munson, a somewhat more reputable batting threat, made his three hits good for five runs batted in and joined Lopes as the second player in the Series to knock in that many in a game. The Yankees had four-run innings in the third and seventh and a three-run fourth.
Beattie, meanwhile, scattered nine hits and did not allow a run after the third inning. Worse yet, he may have learned how to beat the National League champions from conversations overheard in Dodger Stadium, of all places. During the first two games, his wife had heard fans there say that the Dodgers were vulnerable to hard-throwing righthanders, a description that fits Beattie perfectly. After the first Dodger win, said Beattie, his future opponents seemed "larger than life" to him. After his wife's eavesdropping, "I felt much more confident."
The Yankees, specialists all year in rising from the ruins, succeeded in changing the course of the Series in a single weekend in their own park. "The bright side of this," said North, "is that now they have to play us in our park. You can look at what happened here in one of two ways. Either it was a devastating blow, or we can come back and beat them at home. If they beat us on our turf, they deserve to win it."