Is it déjà vu all over again? Yankee fans can only hope. In taking two out of three at Fenway last weekend and sweeping four from Toronto, the Yankees raised hopes that they will make a miracle trip to the post-season as they did in 1978.
In 1978, the Yankees trailed the Red Sox by 14 games on July 19th. They caught fire, going 19-8 in August and cut Boston's lead to six games. The Red Sox felt the heat. It was the first time in history, some said, that a first-place team chased a second-place team.
The Yankees' hot streak culminated in the Boston Massacre in September, when they swept a four-game series in Fenway and tied Boston for first place. They continued their hot streak by taking two of three from Boston the next weekend and they went 22-8 in September. The season ended in a tie, the Yankees won the one-game playoff on Bucky Dent's home run and went on to beat Kansas City in the playoffs and the Dodgers in the World Series. It was the Bronx Zoo at its finest. and one of the greatest comebacks of all time.
While the last week has revived hopes for another 1978 comeback, the odds are against it.
First, the Yankees had already caught fire by this time in 1978. They went 19-8 in August. This year, they're 12-9. The saving grace is that the Red Sox are playing under .500 this month so the Yankees have picked up ground, but never forget that it gets late early around here.
Second, the 1978 team had greater talent than this year's team: Thurman Munson vs. Chris Stewart; Reggie Jackson vs. any current Yankee corner outfielder; Chris Chambliss vs. Lyle Overbay/Mark Reynolds; Bucky Dent vs. Eduardo Nunez; and Ron Guidry vs. any current Yankee starting pitcher. (A comparison of Mariano Rivera/David Robertson to Goose Gossage/Sparky Lyle is a discussion for another day).
Third, wild-card spots weren't available in 1978 and a wild card is the Yankees' best hope. The Yankees are currently 3½ games behind Oakland in the wild-card race. The five teams in front of them have slumped in August: Boston (10-11); Tampa (9-9); Oakland (8-11); Baltimore (10-9); and Cleveland (10-11). That's a reason for hope.
Finally, the schedule does not help the Yankees. They have seven games left with the Red Sox. That's not good news because they're 5-7 against the Red Sox this year. They also have seven games left with Baltimore (5-7 so far), five games against Tampa (6-8 so far) and three against the White Sox (0-3 so far). On the other hand, they have six games left with Toronto (12-1 so far).
While 1978 may not be a reasonable comparison for this year, it gives Yankee fans a reason to hope. Hope is why we watch, isn't it?