The Series Was Up For Grabs

Nov. 02, 1981
Nov. 02, 1981

Table of Contents
Nov. 2, 1981

World Series
New York Marathon
The 49ers
Sean O'Grady
Pro Football
College Football
Jack Russells
For The Record
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

The Series Was Up For Grabs

The home teams made all of the winning plays as L.A. came back to New York with a 3-2 World Series lead


This is an article from the Nov. 2, 1981 issue Original Layout

None of them got a hit or batted in a run, but the game was clearly theirs, substantiating Goose Gossage's proposition that it's not the Yankees' offense that wins games, but their defense. The diving catch, the whirling throw, the daring pursuit of a ball hit seemingly beyond reach—these give baseball its poetry. "You must caress the ball, be soft with your hands," said New York Second Baseman Willie Randolph, staring with unabashed admiration at his own after the game. "I am just gifted with these hands. You must be like a matador and accept the charge. It's one-on-one, you and the ball. You must psych yourself up so that you want the ball hit to you." Said Graig Nettles, the third baseman, "I expect every ball to be hit to me. When I do that I'm never surprised."

What Nettles did to the Dodgers this night at Yankee Stadium should have come as no surprise, because he had done it before—in the 1978 Series, which he dominated from the third game on with his masterly fielding. And when he took a hit away from Dodger leadoff man Davey Lopes on the fourth pitch of this game, sprawling in the dirt in pursuit of the rocketing grounder, scrambling to his feet with the ball and throwing perfectly to first a micro-second ahead of the speeding runner, the Dodgers might have been forgiven a collective slap to the forehead and a forlorn sigh: "Good Dodger in the sky, it's happening all over again."

But that wasn't the best or the last of Nettles. Nor would he be the only Yankee to thwart the Dodger attack and preserve a 5-3 opening-night win. After Bob Watson's homer—in his first Series at bat—had staked New York to a 3-0 lead in the Nth October meeting between these ancient, now transcontinental, rivals, it was simply a matter of manning the barricades anyway. And there, gifted hands at the ready, stood Nettles, Randolph and Dave Winfield.

It wasn't that the Dodgers didn't hit the ball—it's just that they hit it in the neighborhood of these sterling defenders. And that's a large neighborhood. Nettles led off with the Lopes larceny. Then, in the fifth, Randolph backhanded a scorching Rick Monday short-hopper near second and easily tossed out the muttering Dodger veteran. The next man up, Catcher Steve Yeager, homered, meaning Randolph's catch had—in theory, at least—saved a run. An inning later, Randolph took another hit away from poor Lopes, cruising behind second and making an accurate, off-balance throw. In the seventh, Ron Cey actually got a ball by the leaping Nettles, barely. The liner alighted near the leftfield line and struck the fence close to the foul pole—a certain double under normal circumstances, which these were not. "Sometimes the ball stays low and hugs the wall like a puck in a hockey rink," said Winfield, another articulate spokesman for the defense. "On this one I cut off the angle and the ball bounced right to me. I didn't know if I could get him at second." He did, with a perfect throw, described by Randolph, who made the tag on the belly-sliding Cey, as "a real smoker."

The best came last. Ron Guidry had started for the Yankees, and with his fastball admittedly about three mph slower than when he last faced the Dodgers, in the 1978 Series, he was far more dependent than before on his peerless defenders. Guidry left after the seventh, and Ron Davis, second best of the demon Yankee relievers, took over. But he walked the only two men he faced, and the best, Gossage, relieved him. The Dodgers promptly scored twice and had a runner, Jay Johnstone, the team's unrelenting practical joker, on first with one out and Steve Garvey, the ablest Dodger, at bat. Gossage fell behind him 3-1 and Garvey, in his own word, "drilled" the next pitch. It was headed roughly where Cey's liner had gone, but this time Nettles timed his leap perfectly, spearing the ball in full flight. L.A. was finished for the nonce, and when Nettles came to bat leading off the Yankee eighth, the crowd stood and gave him a prolonged ovation. It was a Reggie-ish reception on the night the real Reggie was out of the lineup with a strained left calf muscle. Nevertheless, the fans were cheering a defender, not an attacker.

After Randolph handled the last out of the game, Nettles held court for the media in the Yankee clubhouse. "It takes a little steam out of them when they hit the ball hard and get nothing," Nettles modestly suggested. Indeed, Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda said the play of the Yankee infielders had made him "sick to my stomach." Defense is one part of the game where the Dodgers don't measure up to their opponents. The already dyspeptic Lasorda would shortly find further cause for malaise. Pass the Bromo.


Gossage, the fabled Goose, was explaining the reason for his comparatively slipshod Game 1 performance in the clubhouse afterward. He had gotten the save—retiring six of seven men he faced—but he hadn't been at his overpowering best. Even caught line drives are an embarrassment, it seems, to one who aspires to invincibility. The Goose had had four days off between the end of the American League Championship Series and the World Series, and the holiday had proved debilitating. 'The more I pitch, the better I am," he said. "Two days ago I felt crappy, yesterday I felt better, today I felt good, tomorrow I should feel right on." This was tomorrow, and right on he was.

Actually, there seemed to be no need for him at all. Tommy John, who had won 87 games for the Dodgers between 1972 and 1978, when he had declared for free agency and joined the Yankees, shut out his former teammates for seven innings on three hits. He also combined with Watson, the first baseman, on the defensive play of the game when, with a runner at third in the fifth, he flagged down a Yeager liner hit back to the mound and fired it slightly off target to first base. Watson withstood the jarring Yeager charge, which separated Watson from his specs and, very nearly, his senses, to make the tag in front of the bag, ending the inning and preventing the Dodgers from taking a 1-0 lead. According to Yankee Manager Bob Lemon, by the seventh inning John was getting his sinker up, and besides, the Goose was ready to cook. The Dodgers were being made grimly aware that to beat the Yankees they must score early and enter the late innings with a lead. If not, they would hear the ominous cries from the vast reaches of the stadium, "Goo-oose! Goo-oose!"

This time they were down 1-0 when the call came. In came Goose and out went the Dodgers. Gossage finished the game by striking out Cey on, of all things, a breaking pitch and Pedro Guerrero on a sinking fastball that Yankee Catcher Rick Cerone called "nasty." Both were caught looking. The Yankees, meanwhile, added two unnecessary runs in the eighth to give them a 3-0 win. Gossage strode off the mound amid roars of approval as the house organist performed his 15th or 50th rendition of New York, New York, the tune that is succeeding The Sidewalks of New York as the Apple's anthem.

Gossage had completed an injury-and strike-interrupted season with 20 saves and an ERA of 0.77. Appearing in seven of the Yankees' 10 post-season games, including this one, he had allowed no runs, given up only six hits (all singles), struck out 15 in 13‚Öì innings and saved six of New York's eight wins. Goo-oose!

With his Fu Manchu mustache, Gossage looks far more terrifying on the mound than the old Sax Rohmer Oriental ever did lurking in some Limehouse passageway. But after the game he light-heartedly described his regular metamorphosis from all-around good guy to monster: "If my wife came out there, she'd say, 'This isn't the man I married.' It's a scary feeling, a violent feeling, and I'm not a violent person. There's not a soft spot in my heart for any hitter. I have this crazy delivery where I let everything go. I use my whole body. I'm all arms, legs and butt. When I'm backed into a corner, I love it. Facing a hitter is the greatest challenge in sports. It's like kicking a field goal with one second left or sinking a putt for $100,000. I wouldn't like to face myself. I hated facing that kid tonight." He was making reference to his first at bat since 1977. This is one of the years when the designated hitter isn't allowed in the Series, so Gossage had to hit for himself against Dave Stewart in the eighth inning. He struck out swinging.

The Dodgers' Terry Forster, a former Gossage teammate and still the Goose's good friend, thinks the young Gossage's fastball might even have been faster than his current 99-mph model, "but the fastball then was a little straighter. Now a ball that's up takes off and a pitch down stays down. He knows how to pitch. People talk about Sutter and Fingers, but he's the best.... Still, no pitcher is unbeatable, not Cy Young, not Walter Johnson, not Goose."

Maybe not, but the Dodgers in two games hadn't reached Gossage, and now they were headed home without a win, faced with the unsettling knowledge that 79% of the teams that had won the first two games of the Series had gone on to win the whole shebang. But they were undaunted. L.A. was trailing two games to none against the Astros in the mini-playoffs and 2-1 against the Expos in the maxi-playoffs. The Dodgers won both times. "Now we've got them where we want them," said Garvey.

Still, they wearied of questions on their mental state in these depressing circumstances. Lopes was in the midst of a crowd of reporters, doggedly fending off such inquiries, when a voice in the back called out, "Do you think you can come back after losing the first two games and win the Series the way the Yankees did in 78?" Lopes sighed irritably, but he started to give his stock answer. Then he looked up, smiled and asked, "Johnstone, is that you?" It was.


This game, in Dodger Stadium, had it all—a glamorous pitching matchup between two lefthanded rookies, home runs, a brilliant fielding play, stupid baserunning and a tenseness absent from the two previous, more one-sided encounters. And it was preceded by several earthquakes. With all of that, the day belonged to Lasorda, whose strategy, often daring, gave the Dodgers their first win, 5-4. How's that? Lasorda a strategist? Isn't he that emotional Italian who natters on about Dodger Blue and hangs out with the show biz crowd? Sure, but on this day he might have been Mugsy McGraw reincarnate so well did things work out for him.

The game began as an appealing confrontation between the Yankees' 22-year-old flash, Dave Righetti (8-4, 2.05 ERA in the regular season), and the Dodgers' Fernando Valenzuela (13-7, 2.48), a legend at age 20. However, Righetti survived only two-plus innings, in which time he gave up five hits, including a three-run homer to Cey. "My second bad start this year and it had to come in a World Series," he lamented. Valenzuela wasn't much better, blowing the three-zip lead Cey had given him by coughing up four runs in the first three innings. Valenzuela was almost out of the game in the second after he yielded a Watson homer, two other hits and a walk, but Lasorda stayed with him. Valenzuela was nearly gone again in the fifth for a pinch hitter, but again Lasorda stayed with him. And at the end, Valenzuela was still in there, having pitched, as Lasorda described it, "like a sharp poker player who had to bluff his way through."

Actually, the description better fit the manager. It was Lasorda, contended Lopes, who was playing poker with bad cards. "Tommy would have been open to a lot of criticism if Fernando hadn't come through," Lopes said. Lasorda helped Valenzuela in sundry ways. Wisely, he brought in Mike Scioscia to catch. Scioscia, a lefthanded batter, pinch-hit for Yeager, the starting catcher, after Lemon lifted Righetti for righty George Frazier in the third. Scioscia grounded out then, and in the fifth he hit into the double play that kept Valenzuela in the game in more ways than one. First, the winning run scored on the double play, and second, by both killing a rally and winning the game, Scioscia in effect saved his pitcher from being removed for a pinch hitter.

More significant, Valenzuela seemed to settle down after Scioscia entered the game. He was in trouble constantly, but he didn't allow a run after the third. Yeager had caught Valenzuela for a full game only twice before, and he sensed that the young pitcher was uncomfortable with him. Yeager had to sense it because, speaking no Spanish, he can't communicate with the monolingual Valenzuela. Scioscia speaks "broken Spanish" and has learned to say enough to get by. "They talk, so they must understand each other," says teammate Jerry Reuss. "Maybe they speak a third language—Catcherese." Whatever tongue was employed, Scioscia's visits to the mound had a calming effect.

Another bit of Lasorda strategy helped get the tying run across in the fifth. He ordered Guerrero to hit away with runners on first and second and no outs. In precisely the same situation two innings earlier, Guerrero had fouled off two bunt attempts and then struck out swinging. And the Yankees were looking for the bunt again. Nettles missed this game, as well as the next two, with a sprained thumb; Aurelio Rodriguez was his replacement at third. Rodriguez was practically on third, in fact, and moving toward the plate when Guerrero first faked squaring away, then pulled back and bounced a Baltimore chop barely over Rodriguez' flailing glove. There was endless speculation that "Nettles would've had it"—but no one will ever know. Lemon later concocted a strategem that might have worked. "I should've put Rodriguez in left and brought in Winfield," he said. Winfield is 6'6".

New York helped L.A.'s cause in the eighth when Bobby Murcer, bunting for a hit, fouled out to a diving Cey. The third baseman then doubled up Larry Milbourne, who had foolishly run toward second. Lasorda also took advantage of the DH-less Yankees by twice ordering Valenzuela to walk Milbourne, the eighth hitter, to get to the pitcher with runners on base. Both times, the pitcher struck out. "That's a good example of what kind of strategy is possible," said baseball's newest genius, an outspoken opponent of the DH.

The Dodgers were jubilant afterward, bubbling with new confidence and earthquake jokes. A series of relatively mild tremors had jostled Southern California that morning. They were not quakes at all, quipped Garvey, "just our bats falling out of the rack."


It was as if all the locked-in tensions suddenly burst through the barriers of traditional postseason restraint and both teams abandoned themselves to simply winging it. In the end—and the end was three hours and 32 minutes in coming—the Dodgers had won 8-7. They also had evened the Series, sent their fans home in a frenzy and assured themselves of another trip to hated Yankee Stadium. It's the fashion nowadays at moments of high anxiety in Dodger Stadium for fans to rip paper napkins into tiny bits and launch the fragments into the stadium's air currents, like confetti or ticker tape. During this game, the place looked like Broadway on V-J Day. What a game—ragged, even comical at times, flawed by egregious mental and physical errors, and yet easily the most exciting of the four played so far. "This game wasn't your basic Picasso," said the Dodgers' Monday. But as his teammate and fellow hero Bill Russell added, "In the 12 years I've been here, I've never had a more emotional afternoon."

A Picasso it certainly was not. The teams used 10 pitchers and 36 players. There wasn't a 1-2-3 half inning until the top of the fifth. There were 22 runners left on base and 27 hits. Bob Welch, the Dodgers' starting pitcher, set the tone. He threw to only four batters and in just 16 pitches gave up a triple, double, walk and single. Welch got nobody out but himself, the first Series starter in 17 years to depart after facing as few as four batters.

What began as a Yankee blowout soon evolved into a nail-biter, if only because neither team seemed able to get the hang of this funny game. Goats became heroes, and heroes became goats. Russell threw wildly to ignite a two-run Yankee rally in the sixth that threatened to put the game out of reach of the Dodgers, and then in Los Angeles' half of the inning knocked in the tying run. Reggie Jackson, playing in his first game of this Series, abetted the Dodger comeback by messing up a fly ball, prompting L.A. fans to derisively chant, "Reg-gie! Reg-gie!" He silenced them with a homer in the eighth—giving him three hits and two walks on the day and bringing the Yankees back within a run. Randolph, who hit a home run in the second, ran himself into an out between second and third in the fourth.

What was probably most astonishing about this messy thriller was the Yankees' abrupt descent into amateurishness after so much cool professionalism in New York. Once again, they ran the bases with gusto but no sense, most notably in the seventh when, with the score 6-6, Rodriguez was thrown out trying to stretch a single to center. And the mighty relief corps, supplemented by the surprise appearance of John, gave up six runs after starter Rick Reuschel was mercifully lifted—not literally, because he appears to be the size of a manatee.

Once again, the Yankees weren't playing with a full deck. Unaccountably joining Nettles on the bench was Jerry Mumphrey, the regular centerfielder for most of what there was of the season. "I'm an everyday player," Mumphrey protested. "I'm a switch hitter so there's no reason why I shouldn't be playing. I definitely wanted to play. I'm shocked."

Lemon explained that he merely wanted to "shake things up and get something going," but there were darker hints that the heavy hand of owner George Steinbrenner may have taken hold of the lineup card. Steinbrenner was predictably enraged after the Yankees' narrow loss of the previous evening, and when he's in that humor, the bodies fall. Mumphrey hadn't had a hit since the first game and had gone 0-for-5 in the third game. His absence may, however, have cost the Yankees the game, because in the decisive seventh inning, one of his replacements, Bobby Brown, failed to reach a sinking Monday liner that went for a double and put the eventual winning runs on second and third. "I can't say I would've caught that ball," said Mumphrey charitably. There were others who were less charitable.

Another absentee was Gossage. A no-outs, bases-loaded situation in the seventh seemed to cry out for him. Instead, John came in, and the two winning runs scored on a sacrifice fly by Pinch Hitter Yeager and Lopes' infield hit between John and Rodriguez. Here again Nettles' absence may have been a factor. To inquiries on his pitching strategy, Lemon testily responded, "The score was tied. Suppose we use him and nobody scores for five or six innings. Where are we then?" "It was just the way the game went," said Goose. Then he shrugged. "Hell, in a game like that I can't even remember what did happen out there."

In the press interview room after the game, Johnstone, the jester, raced down the aisle and tackled Garvey as he stood on the dais. "As you can see, I'm used to this," said Garvey, unruffled by the intrusion. "He'll be back in The Home in two hours." The comebacking Dodgers were driving more conventional sorts than Johnstone back to The Home these unpredictable days.


The Dodgers, as defined by Reuss, are battlers who "don't know when they've had enough." They have made a religion of their pertinacity, seeming to be at their strongest when the lights are about to go out. They came home down by two games to the Yankees; they would return to New York leading 3-2 in games after consecutive one-run, come-from-behind wins. No one said it would be easy.

It certainly wasn't in this game. After giving up two hits in the first two innings, Guidry began machine-gunning Dodger batsmen with his fastball and slider. He was staked to the only run he seemed to need in the second when Jackson led off with a whistling double down the left-field line. He took third when Lopes muffed Watson's grounder and scored when Lou Piniella singled to left. Thereafter, Guidry settled into a frightening groove. He struck out the side in the fourth, and when he fanned a frustrated Dusty Baker leading off the seventh, he had nine strikeouts for the game.

His lead was nearly lengthened in the fourth when Lopes first hobbled Piniella's grounder and then tossed the ball into the Yankee dugout for two errors on the same play. Reuss, pitching nearly as well as Guidry, was eventually confronted with a bases-loaded, one-out situation, which he deftly pitched himself out of, mainly by inducing Guidry to bunt into a force at home.

Had the Dodgers had enough? Surely, you jest. After Baker's whiff in the seventh, first Guerrero, then Yeager lined homers into the leftfield pavilion, leaving Guidry nonplussed and the paper-tossing Dodger fans giddy. Lasorda and his hitting coach, Manny Mota, had advised both batters to swing softer and stand farther back in the batter's box, the better to get a longer view of Guidry's pellets. Guerrero dutifully listened to these instructions. Yeager, who had barely missed hitting a homer in the second inning, hadn't the slightest idea what Lasorda was talking about. "I didn't hear him tell me anything," he said later. "I was too excited."

Now it was Reuss's turn. He retired 12 of the final 13 Yankees, firing fastballs at them in defiance of scouting reports that recommended breaking stuff. Reuss had tried that approach in Yankee Stadium in the first game of the Series and had given up five hits and four runs in 2‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings. "Oh, we went over the Yankees in detail," he said, smiling ironically. "But I finally decided to pitch my kind of ball game. I decided that if I was going to win, I was going to win with what's made me successful—and that's the fastball."

The only scare the Dodgers had in the final two innings of their 2-1 victory came in the eighth—and it had nothing to do with the outcome of the game. With two outs and a count of one strike, Gossage, who had entered the game in that inning, fired one of his dreaded fast-balls high and inside to Cey. It was too high and too far inside, striking Cey on the left side of his helmet. He dropped on the spot and rolled onto his back. He was helped off the field and taken to the Dodgers' training room, where his wife, Fran, was rushed in to see him. "I thought you were dead," she said. "I'm O.K.," said Cey. And he was. And so, at least for the moment, were the Dodgers, come-from-behind kids who were now ahead.

PHOTONettles flew through the air with the greatest of ease to rob Garvey of a hit in the important eighth inning of Game 1.PHOTOWatson jumped all over the L.A. pitchers, slamming a three-run homer in Game 1 and batting .412 overall for the first five games.PHOTOWhen Garvey attempted to bunt for a hit in Game 2, Nettles thwarted him once again.PHOTOGossage continued his postseason brilliance, saving Yankee wins in Games 1 and 2.PHOTOIn the fifth inning of Game 2, Garvey reached third on Milbourne's throwing error and sent his nemesis, Nettles, flying in the process.PHOTOWatson was able to bear up—and make a tag—in spite of Yeager's bullish charge.PHOTOWhen Russell smashed a hit past third in Game 2, the only thing that Nettles caught was a badly sprained thumb on his glove hand.FOUR PHOTOSCey, the batting star of Game 3 with a three-run first-inning homer, became the defensive hero in the eighth when he caught Murcer's pop bunt and threw to double up Milbourne.TWO PHOTOSJester Johnstone pulled a two-run pinch homer out of his helmet in the fourth game.PHOTORodriguez was an easy out when, foolhardily, he tried to stretch a single in Game 4.TWO PHOTOSBrown, in for his defense, misplayed Monday's liner into a double in the fourth game.PHOTOJackson lost Lopes' Game 4 fly in the sun.PHOTOReuss was choice in his fifth-game win.PHOTOA Game 5 high five to homer-hero Yeager.