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This Day in Yankees History: Late Triple by Graig Nettles Keeps Hot Streak Alive- August 26, 1977

Source: FanGraphs

The 1977 New York Yankees entered the season with a ton of promise. The defending American League champions were already strong when they added slugging outfielder Reggie Jackson to the "Bronx Zoo" clubhouse managed by hothead Billy Martin. However, even though they were often at least 10 games over .500 and spent a few separate weeks in first place, the team seemed to be underachieving. The '75 AL champion Boston Red Sox and the rising Baltimore Orioles gave the Yankees fits all year long, and both rivals actually finished with a winning record against New York. At the end of play on August 6th, the Yankees sat in third place in the AL East at 59-49, five games behind Boston and 2.5 behind Baltimore. They had just officially lost a series to the expansion-roster Seattle Mariners, a pitiful team that would go on to lost 98 games in '77.

The Yankees managed to salvage the last game of the series at the Kingdome, then returned to the Bronx for an eight-game homestand. Suddenly, the Yankees got hot. They won seven of the eight games, then went on a seven-game road trip. The Yankees won both games in Detroit, then swept a three-game series against the Texas Rangers to leapfrog the Orioles for second place, just a half-game behind the Red Sox. A two-game split in Chicago vaulted the Yankees into first place as the Red Sox dropped a pair of games in Minnesota. The Yankees seized the AL East lead, and they would not relinquish it for the remainder of the season. They thanked the Twins for the help by subsequently taking both games of a two-game home series to move their terrific streak of hot baseball to 16 wins in 18 games. In just a few weeks, they had made up seven games. On August 26th, the Yankees sought to stay sizzling against the Rangers, who came to Yankee Stadium seeking revenge after being embarrassed at home a week before.

Lefty Roger Moret pitched for Texas against Puerto Rican fan favorite Ed Figueroa. The Yankees loaded the bases with two outs in the second inning on a Lou Piniella double and a pair of walks to Roy White and Willie Randolph, but shortstop Bucky Dent popped out to end the frame. Another opportunity was wasted with a runner on third and two out in the next inning. Figueroa then allowed singles to Bert Campaneris and Bump Wills, and Toby Harrah smashed his 19th homer of the season to give the Rangers a 3-0 lead.

The teams traded solo homers back and forth as Piniella connected in the bottom of the fourth and Mike Hargrove took Figueroa deep in the fifth. Figueroa was proving to be ineffective, so Martin replaced him with Ken Clay in the sixth. The righthander made things worse as Harrah victimized Yankee pitching again by lining a triple to right, scoring veteran Willie Horton to make the score 5-1. New York now faced a four-run deficit, but they were playing so well of late that it hardly seemed to matter. Jackson walked to begin the bottom of the frame, moved to second on a single to left by Piniella, and he eventually came around to score when Randolph singled.

The Yankees chipped away at the Ranger lead again in the seventh inning. Mickey Rivers lined a single down the right field line that Harrah later complained went foul. "The umpires gave them the edge... It's easier to go with the momentum, especially if the home team has it." Regardless of the call, the Rangers did themselves no favors when the second baseman Wills fumbled a grounder, moving "Mick the Quick" all the way to third base. Rivers scored on a fielder's choice by Munson, who also scored after moving from first to third on a Jackson single and coming home when Piniella lifted a sacrifice fly to make it 5-4. "Sweet Lou" had a great game, going 3-for-3 with a sac fly and only coming a triple short of the cycle. Of the deficit, he said, "There's very good morale on this club. There's not much emotion right now because we're veteran ballplayers. But if this was the last game of the season, you'd see some emotion. I can guarantee that." Moret got out of the inning, but he quickly headed back to the mound after Clay retired the side in order.

Rangers manager Billy Hunter's decision to let Moret come back for the eighth was probably a mistake. Moret was not much of a pitcher anyway, and he had already surrendered four runs. Randolph doubled to right for his third hit of the game, and scored the tying the run when Rivers slapped another two-out single. Third baseman Graig Nettles, hitless thus far in the game, had the chance to hit the decisive blow of the game, and he did by sending a long triple to center field, his first of the season. The triple of course scored Rivers with the go-ahead run and the comeback was complete. Hunter finally replaced Moret with Len Barker, who got out of the inning.

In the ninth, the Rangers got off to a good start with a leadoff walk by Juan Beniquez against Clay, and Martin called on his ace reliever, eventual AL Cy Young Award winner Sparky Lyle. Beniquez had great speed, so it did not surprise anyone when he bolted for second. However, Munson gunned him down at second, another call that Harrah disagreed with after the game. Lyle then got pinch-hitter Kurt Bevacqua to check-swing on a called strike three, and pinch-hitter Tom Grieve popped up to Dent at shortstop to end the game. Sparky's ERA lowered even further to 1.86 in 106.1 innings.

The win was the Yankees' 17th in 19 chances; they moved to 76-51 on the season. They would continue to play at a high level, and a couple weeks later, they won their 32nd game in 36 chance. The Yankees won the AL East by 2.5 games with an even 100 victories.

Game recap. Box score. Graph score.