Wednesday, September 21, 2011

WIW : What-if-Wednesday

What-if the 1978 Sox win the one game playoff with the Yankees?

Contrary to most Sox fans, I don't have nightmares about Bucky "Bleepn" Dent hitting the homer that broke the 1978 Sox collective backs on October 2nd, 1978 to propel the Yankees into the playoffs and the RedSox home as losers. My initial memories are of Yaz popping out to Nettles at third to end the game. I can vividly see the pitch, the swing and the jump for joy by Nettles after the catch as his teammates congregate around him.

The game was every bit as critical to the RedSox Yankee rivalry as the Pedro throw'n down of Don Zimmer and Aaron Boone's 12th inning bomb. 1978 was the first Sox team in my world of following baseball that could hit with anybody. The team was "built" to play in Fenway and it showed in the lineup and the stats.

Burleson, Remy, Rice, Yaz, Fisk, Lynn, Hobson, Scott and Evans (except Dewey didn't start this day but was used as a pinch hitter). Four guys over 20 homers (pre steroids) with a couple more in the high teens. This lineup had power, grit, experience, youth, it had all you would want.

To go with that lineup the Sox had decent pitching, led by 23 year old Dennis Eckersley who emerged as an ace, going 20-8 with a 2.99 ERA and 16 complete games. Luis Tiant was now 37 and contributed a 13-8 season with a 3.31 ERA. Free agent signee Mike Torrez was 16-13 with a 3.96. Unfortunately Tiant and Eckersley had pitched the prior two days and the rotation down the stretch didn't go much further than those three. Bob Stanley made a rare (at that point) start a few days prior but they were working off a three and a half man rotation down the stretch. Torrez was that only one able to go that fateful day against Cy Young winner (soon to be) Ron Guidry.

The game was rather quiet early, with the Sox capturing the lead on a first pitch homer to lead off the second inning by Yaz. The Sox added a second run in the 6th inning when Jim Rice singled in Burleson who had doubled to lead off the inning and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Remy. With a 2-0 lead through 6 the Sox looked great. The Yankees had only managed two hits against Torrez, a double by Rivers in the third and a single by Piniella in the 4th.

The top of the 7th changed history for Mike Torrez and Bucky Dent. A one out single by Chris Chambliss followed by a single by Roy White put the Yankees in their first real threat inning. Jim Spencer flew out to left for the second out and it appeared the Sox would get out of the inning with the weak hitting shortstop Bucky Dent coming to the plate. Dent hit .247 with 40 homers in his career. None more important than the one he hit in the 7th inning that day. His shot, a true Fenway wall shot, gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead. The bleeding wouldn't stop there. Torrez followed that with a walk to Mickey Rivers ending the pitcher's day. Mike Stanley came on in relief. Rivers promptly stole 2nd base and scored on a double by Yankee captain Thurman Munson. The Yankees led 4-2.

In the top of the 8th, the Yankees added to their lead with a solo homerun by Reggie Jackson off of Bob Stanley. Going to the bottom half of the 8th, the Yankees held a 5-2 lead and coming in to pitch the last two innings, closer Goose Gossage. Jerry Remy welcomed Gossage with a double to right before getting Jim Rice to fly out for the first out. Yaz came up and singled up the middle scoring Remy to make it 5-3. Back to back singles by Fisk and Lynn produced another run making it 5-4 through 8.

With one out in the bottom of the 9th, Rick Burleson drew a walk from Gossage. Remy followed with a single advancing Burleson to second. Rice flew out to right, Burleson took third on the out. Runners at the corners with Carl Yastrzemski coming up to bat with two outs. Flash back to my memories. Yikes, still painful.

But what if Yaz hadn't popped out, what if he delivered a game winning double driving in both Burleson and Remy? What if it wasn't necessary? What if Bucky Dent never gained the notoriety with that homer? What if Bucky had remained an anonymous and unimpressive shortstop with no great claim to fame over his career?

However it could have been different, imagine that it had been...the Sox advance to play the Royals in the ALCS. Their 100 wins is the first time they achieved that total since 1946. The Royals were the winners of the AL West with 92 wins for the year and not a single regular player hitting over .300 and led by pitchers Paul Splittorff, Dennis Leonard, Larry Gura and Rich Gale. The Mad Hungarian, Al Hrabosky was their off-center closer.

I envision, in this alternate world, the Sox beating the Royal much like the Yankees did. After disposing of the Yankees, they would have had Eckersley and Tiant ready to pitch the first two games and come back later in the series if necessary. The Sox would have gone into the World Series to face the Dodgers just three years removed from their epic loss to the Big Red Machine in '75.

It would have been great to have the Dodgers in Fenway for the Series. The Dodgers opened with Tommy John (yes, there is an ex-player named Tommy John, imagine that), Burt Hooten, Don Sutton and Bob Welch. The Dodgers were known for their starters as well as a lineup consisting of Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Reggie Smith, Dusty Baker, Lee Lacy, Rick Monday and Steve Yeager. They were a well balanced team and would have provided a good matchup for the RedSox. I believe it would have gone 7 (didn't all Sox series in the 1900's go 7?) with the Sox finally breaking the curse of 60 years (not yet named the curse of the bambino).

The excitement, accolades and revenue brought about with the championship would have spurred team management to do whatever it takes to keep the nucleus together.

They would have signed Fisk and Lynn instead of letting them go as free agents. There could have been more winning seasons and chases for the championship into the early 1980's. That's my what-if and I'm sticking to it.


  1. emailed comment from Peter @

    Sox win 78 World Series, Shaughnessy doesn't get to write his book, in fact nobody hears of a curse.

    Yanks fire Lemon and give Martin the gig to start 1979. Munson gets traded because George is furious and he is currently living in Ohio, a happy retired person

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