Larry Parrish of the Montreal Expos narrowly avoids being hit by a batted ball on his way to second in a year replete with close calls in baseball. The season itself was saved in the 11th hour when both sides in the bitter seven-week strike came to an agreement. The World series was nearly played in chilly Canada for the first time, but Rick Monday's ninth-inning homer gave Los Angeles a 2-1 victory over the Expos in the fifth game of their NL championship series. New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner escaped from a Los Angeles elevator with his life and a story about hurting his hand defending New York's honor. He did better than his Yankees, who fell in six games to the Dodgers. The split season created a situation in which the Cincinnati Reds, who had the best regular-season record, didn't make the playoffs. Actually, Cincinnati came very close. Had the Reds won a May 26 game rained out in the third inning with them leading the Giants 6-0, they would have tied the Dodgers for the first half of the NL West pennant.
The Brewers had the Yankees up against the fence in the AL East playoffs, but Catcher Rick Cerone, shown at the right snaring a Brewer foul tip, responded to a tongue-lashing from Steinbrenner, first with an indelicate command and then with a home run in New York's fifth-game victory. The Yankees were nothing if not quarrelsome. At a victory party celebrating their subsequent sweep of the A's, Graig Nettles fought with Reggie Jackson. In the first two games of the World Series, Nettles put on a fielding extravaganza, with plays such as the one on the opposite page. The joke went that the only thing Nettles had dropped during the week was Reggie Jackson. Andre Dawson of the Expos (right bottom) didn't drop many in center.
Oakland A's Catcher Mike Heath jumps for joy after the Royals' John Wathan makes the last out of the AL divisional series. Below, Pitcher Jerry Reuss and Catcher Steve Yeager combine to force Bob Watson at home in the fourth inning of Game 5 of the Series. The two Dodgers were the heroes of their 2-1 victory, Reuss with his five-hitter, Yeager with the game-winning home run off Ron Guidry.
Fernando Valenzuela, the best thing to happen to baseball in 1981, looks to El Gran Dodger en el Cielo before delivering his screwball in the World Series.
Steve Garvey deep-sixed the Expos with his two-run homer in the eighth inning of the Dodgers' 7-1 victory in the fourth game of the NL championships. Heroics were performed all season by the two league MVPs: Rollie Fingers (below left) had 28 saves and a hairy 1.04 ERA to lead the Brewers into the postseason for the first time; Philadelphia's Mike Schmidt had 31 homers and 91 RBIs, statistics that would have been impressive even if it were a full season.
Two Johns pitched for the Yankees in their first home playoff game with the Brewers. Tommy John started, but his two-year-old son Travis, who had recovered from a near-tragic fall during the summer, threw out the first ball as his mother, Sally, and Reggie offered encouragement. Below, the three Steves—Howe, Yeager and Garvey—salute the Dodgers' victory in the Series.
The other rookie sensation in the National League was Tim Raines of the Expos, who forged new base paths in stealing. Dave Winfield turned corners, monetary and otherwise, playing his first season in The Big Apple.
ONE BALL, ONE STRIKE
Their infield was too old, their bullpen too young, and they were a bunch of crybabies who couldn't win the big one. Those discouraging words were heard after the Dodgers lost the first two games of the World Series, 5-3 and 3-0. But Los Angeles, it turned out, had miles and miles and miles of heart for the damn Yankees. L.A. had faced three must-win games against Houston in the NL West playoff and two against Montreal in the NL championships.
Back home, Valenzuela, the sensation of two nations, survived a shaky start to pitch the Dodgers to a 5-4 victory. The fourth game "wasn't your basic Picasso," according to Monday, but, painting by the numbers, Los Angeles won 8-7. In Game 5, Reuss dueled with Guidry until the seventh, when Pedro Guerrero and Yeager hit back-to-back homers for a 2-1 win and a 3-2 edge in games heading back to New York, where, of course, the Dodgers never win. But after a day of rain, they drenched the Yankees 9-2 to avenge Series defeats in 1977 and '78. Not even a graceless apology to New Yorkers by Steinbrenner after the game could spoil the Dodgers' victory party.
A preventable strike not only cost baseball 59 days and 714 games, but also soured the fans and gave birth to an ill-conceived split season. The Yankees, A's, Phillies and Dodgers won the first-half titles, and the Brewers, Royals, Expos and Astros won the second half. In the league championships, New York deflated Oakland's Billyball, while the Dodgers protected the Commissioner from Expo-sure.
Valenzuela gained the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young awards. Another rookie, Raines of the Expos, stole 50 bases in his first 55 games. Schmidt had an MVP year for the Phillies with a .316 average, 31 homers and 91 RBIs. Fingers of the Brewers became the first reliever to win both the Cy Young Award and the MVP. Len Barker pitched a perfect game for the Indians, and Houston's Nolan Ryan had a record fifth no-hitter. And Philadelphia's 40-year-old phenomenon, Pete Rose, passed Stan Musial and is headed for Ty Cobb on the all-time hit parade.