The Yankees finally ended their 14-year championship drought by beating the Dodgers in the 1977 World Series. It was by far the longest the club had gone without a title since Babe Ruth joined the team in 1920. With virtually all of their biggest stars returning, the Bombers appeared well-positioned to repeat.
The ‘78 campaign did not start well, however. New York lost four of its first five games, and stood at only 10-9 at the end of April. The Yankees resided in third place in the AL East race, 3.5 games off the pace.
They surged in May, closing the deficit to only half a game, and held a 29-15 record on Memorial Day. It was the second best mark in baseball behind Boston.
A slump ensued, and New York hit rock bottom on July 17th, falling 14 games out of first place after being swept by the Royals at Yankee Stadium. Two days later, the Yankees were briefly 14.5 games behind Boston, when the Red Sox won their earlier game while New York was still playing in Minnesota.
The Bombers inched their way back into contention, highlighted by a pair of long winning streaks in August, a month which saw them go 22-8. They arrived in Boston for a critical four-game series on September 7th, trailing the Red Sox by only four games in the standings. Excitement and anticipation mounted, as a series win would cut the deficit in half, while an unthinkable sweep would put the two rivals in a dead heat with only 20 games to play in the season.
Game One: September 7, 1978
The Red Sox sent Mike Torrez — one of the heroes of the ‘77 Fall Classic — to the hill to face his former team. The Yankees immediately took a 2-0 led in the top of the first inning, then drove Torrez from the game in the second when he allowed four batters to reach base without recording an out.
New York scored three in the second, two in the third, and five in the fourth to take a commanding 12-0 lead. The Yankees ended up scoring 15 runs, all without the benefit of a home run. The Bombers pounded out 21 hits off Torrez and a trio of Boston relievers.
Yankees starter Catfish Hunter and reliever Ken Clay combined to shut down a powerful Red Six lineup. The pair allowed only three runs on eight hits during the blowout win.
Game Two: September 8, 1978
For the second straight day, the Bombers knocked Boston’s starter out of the game in the second inning. The Yankees plated a pair in the first, followed by six in the second as they batted around.
New York took a 13-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth, and starter Jim Beattie came within one out of hurling a complete game shutout. With two on and two out, backup catcher Mike Heath dropped a foul pop, which would have been the third out. The Red Sox then plated two, spoiling Beattie’s shutout bid.
Reggie Jackson belted a three-run homer, while “Sweet” Lou Piniella fell a single shy of hitting for the cycle, as the Yankees won 13-2 and closed the gap in the East to just two games.
Game Three: September 9, 1978
In a battle of staff aces, Ron Guidry (20-2, 1.84 ERA) faced off against Dennis Eckersley (16-6, 3.19 ERA). Guidry won the battle — and the war — amidst a season which turned out to be one of the greatest campaigns by a starting pitcher during the Live Ball Era.
Guidry tossed a two-hit complete game shutout, as the Yankees clinched the series win with a 7-0 victory. Incredibly, the Bombers scored all of their runs in the seventh inning - all with two outs and no one on.
Chris Chambliss doubled, Graig Nettles drew an intentional walk, and Piniella doubled them both home. Roy White drew an intentional walk, Bucky Dent singled to plate two, as did Mickey Rivers. Willie Randolph walked and scored on a passed ball with Reggie Jackson batting, and Thurman Munson also hit an RBI single.
For the second time in three days, the Yankees blew out the Red Sox without the benefit of a long ball. They clinched the series win by dramatically putting their hits and walks together, along with lights-out pitching by Gator.
Game Four: September 10, 1978
Ed Figueroa faced off against Bobby Sprowl, and for the third time in the series, the Yankees got to Boston pitching early and often. Sprowl allowed four walks, a stolen base, and an RBI single before getting a quick hook with the bases loaded and two outs in the first inning.
New York scored three in the first, two in the second, and one in the fourth, jumping out to a 6-0 lead. The Yankees pounded out 18 hits — all singles — and drew eight walks en route to a 7-4 victory.
“Goose” Gossage hurled three innings in relief of Figueroa to earn his 23rd save. The pair limited the Red Sox to three earned runs on just five hits, as the Yankees completed the improbable sweep and moved into a first-place tie with Boston.
Composite box for Yankees starters
|Mickey Rivers CF||15||5||4||3||2||2||17||0||0||0||0||0||2|
|Willie Randolph 2B||16||5||8||0||6||2||22||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|Thurman Munson C||16||2||8||2||2||2||20||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Reggie Jackson DH||16||2||4||6||1||6||17||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Chris Chambliss 1B||18||5||4||2||1||2||20||1||0||0||1||1||0|
|Graig Nettles 3B||18||2||6||2||2||1||20||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Lou Piniella RF||16||8||10||5||2||2||20||3||1||1||1||0||0|
|Roy White LF||15||6||8||1||2||0||17||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|Bucky Dent SS||20||4||7||7||0||1||21||0||1||0||1||0||1|
In a series which featured seven future Hall of Famers, the Yankees dominated on both sides of the ball. Yankees pitching limited Jim Rice, Carl Yastrzemski, and Carlton Fisk to just eight hits in 40 at-bats, and the Cooperstown-bound trio combined for only four RBI and four runs scored.
The Yankees, meanwhile, got contributions from throughout their circular lineup. Although they managed just eight extra-base hits — including five from Piniella — Yankees starters drew 18 walks, were 5-for-6 in stolen-base attempts, and hit three sacrifice flies. They also got contributions from the bench. Overall, the Yankees outscored their rivals 42-9, and out-hit them 67-20. The Red Sox did not lead once during any game of the series.
Boston and New York played to a stalemate for the remainder of the regular season. The Yankees lost the coin flip, which resulted in Game 163 being held at Fenway Park. The Bucky Dent game catapulted the Yankees to their third straight meeting with the Royals in the ALCS, and onward to their second consecutive victory over the Dodgers in the Fall Classic.