This feature isn't always about the most incredible games, or even historic feats. Sometimes, all a game needs to be memorable is just incredible competition and a thrilling end. The Yankee teams don't even have to be amazing--it's all about the game. This focus on pure baseball brings us to a game 28 years ago today.
The Yankees, managed by Yogi Berra, were not having a great season, but few American League East teams were, behind the incredible '84 Tigers. The Detroit team started the season off by going 35-5, virtually ending the division title race in May. The '84 season was not without its highlights for the Yankees though. First baseman Don Mattingly was having a breakout campaign, hitting .336 at the time, and his teammate Dave Winfield then led the league in hitting at .353. Don Baylor was in the middle of a typical Don Baylor season--the DH would end the year with 29 doubles, 27 homers, and, of course, 23 hit by pitches. Like Mattingly, reliever Jay Howell was also having a breakout season. The 28-year-old came out of nowhere with a shutdown relief year, ending with a 2.69 ERA and a 142 ERA+ in a career-high 103.2 innings.
The Twins, managed by Billy Gardner, hovered around the .500 mark all season long and ended at exactly 81-81. They were a few years from their great World Series champion teams of '87 and '91, but they had some good, young players. First baseman Kent Hrbek and right fielder Tom Brunansky combined for 59 homers, and centerfielder Kirby Puckett finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. This game was a good matchup of fairly average teams, and they turned in a terrific ballgame, as evinced by the many twists and turns in the WPA graph.
The Yankees' Dennis Rasmussen faced off against Ken Schrom of the Twins. Neither pitcher was especially good in '84 (83 and 94 ERA+, respectively), but they each turned in respectable performances on this night at Yankee Stadium. Rasmussen began the game inauspiciously by surrendering a double to Puckett and then putting runners on first and third with one out, but some luck bailed him out. Hrbek scalded a ball to third base, but right at Mike Pagliarulo, who snared the liner and stepped on third base for the double play. Schrom put a pair of baserunners on as well in the bottom of the first, but the Yankees were unable to bring them home. Catcher Butch Wynegar bounced into a double play to erase the leadoff man, Willie Randolph, who had walked, and after a Mattingly single, Baylor flew out to center. Rasmussen did Schrom one better in the second by walking the first two men, and he also defied the baseball code to not walk the leadoff man by retiring Gary Gaetti, Dave Meier, and Houston Jimenez in order to escape the threat.
The Twins finally broke through against Rasmussen with no one on base, because this clash of logic is exactly what makes baseball so ridiculous. Both Hrbek and Brunansky blasted solo homers against him in the fourth inning to give the Twins a 2-0 lead. The score stayed that way until the fifth inning, when Schrom walked left fielder Steve Kemp to begin the frame. Pagliarulo doubled him to third base, and Kemp scored on a slow grounder to first base by centerfielder Omar Moreno. The Yankees tied the game in the next inning on a two-out RBI single by Kemp, scoring Mattingly, who had singled. Joe Cowley, normally a starter, relieved Rasmussen in the sixth inning, and he threw two scoreless innings to keep the game tied until the Yankees brought Howell, their second-best bullpen weapon, into the game for the eighth inning. The Twins surprisingly jumped on Howell for back-to-back hits to start the inning: a double to right field by DH Mickey Hatcher, and a single by Hrbek. Howell had not allowed a run in his last 14 innings, but a wild pitch too far inside to Brunansky brought Hatcher home with the go-ahead run. Howell induced a groundout from Brunansky and and a flyball from Gaetti to end the inning, but the Twins had the lead.
Schrom was still pitching for the Twins as they took a 3-2 advantage to the bottom of the eighth. Schrom got Wynegar and Mattingly to pop up a pair of easy fly balls, but he gave up a two-out double to Baylor that knocked him out of the game after 7.2 innings of two-run ball. Twins closer Ron Davis (father of current Mets first baseman Ike Davis) entered the game and got Winfield to fly out to escape the threat. Davis had shut down a potential Yankees rally the previous night, and he appeared to be doing so again as he returned for the ninth against the bottom of the Yankees' batting order. Kemp struck out, and the Yankees were two outs from defeat. Pagliarulo walked to bring the go-ahead run to the plate in pinch-hitter Ken Griffey, Sr. The former cog of the Big Red Machine blooped a single to left field, sending Pags to third base. Moreno came to the plate hitting just under .240, and appeared to be an easy out for Davis. Nonetheless, he lined a base hit to right field to bring Pags home with the tying run, sending Griffey to second with the winning run. Randolph, the longtime Yankee second baseman, stepped to the plate and despite going hitless in his previous eight at-bats, lined a double to left-center field to end the game in a 4-3 Yankees victory.
Howell summed up the game perfectly: "I had a headache; that went away. You go from feeling you did a poor job to where, all of a sudden, you're tiptoeing to your car with a win."
Game recap source: Chass, Murray. "Yankees Rally for 2 in Ninth and Win." New York Times, July 21, 1984.