Had 'em all the way.
With A-Rod's three dingers (now up to 97 RBI) and Hughes's 14th win, I'm starting to think of precisely thirty years ago pretty much this week and next, when I was fifteen instead of forty-five and my family spent its two weeks in Seal Beach California in a house without a TV. Too young for bars, too broke for restaurants with TVs, I spent many evenings wandering the inland suburban streets, swinging my portable radio as I waited for some word--any word--of the two-team race the AL East had become. Coming out of the 1979 death of Thurman Munson overshadowing the team's collapse, the Yankees, with George Steinbrenner's seemingly endless pot of money, had re-stocked and then re-re-stocked the team against any and all comers, paying big money for Ruppert Jones in centerfield and Oscar Gamble in left to go with Reggie in right, plus Piniella for corner outfield/DH, plus holdovers Bobby Murcer and Roy White off the bench. In the infield, Bob Watson would shore up first base. Eric Solderholm would spell Nettles at third and provide right-handed pop. Finally, Rick Cerone--whom the Yankees would probably have dickered for anyway, after 1979, to ease into Munson's spot as Munson eased toward retirement--would catch.
For a team that won 103 games, it was a wonder how much of a disaster the season nearly was. By the end, Jones and Gamble were long gone due to season-ending injuries, Solderholm was a wreck under the Boss's harangues (see: Ed Whitson, Steve Trout, Steve Kemp, et al), Murcer and White and Ed Figueroa and Luis Tiant were clearly near the end, and Nettles suffered the only extended injury of his career, from the middle of August nearly to the end of the season. What sustained the Yankees were Reggie (his best season as a Yankee, 41 homers, MVP runner-up); Cerone (7th place for MVP); the steady infield play of Willie Randolph, Bucky Dent and Watson; the pitching of Ron Guidry, Tommy John, Goose Gossage and the notoriously underrated Rudy May; and two afterthoughts in the outfield, Joe LaFevre and Bobby Brown, who filled in admirably for Gamble and Jones right up until the playoffs, when the peaking-at-the-right-moment Royals finally got to them, the fourth time the charm.
But what I remember tonight are the Baltimore Orioles, who entered a weekend-and-weekend home-and-home series with the Yankees thirty years ago 7 1/2 games back. I can't keep all the math straight in my head, but these things I know for sure. The Orioles played the Yankees eight games over two weekends and won six of them. Because of what went on with them and other teams right around this time, the long and the short of it was that, coming out of that series, New York stayed exactly one-half game in front of Baltimore.
For seven days in a row.
And there I was, prowling the streets of Seal Beach, California, listening to my radio, maybe hearing the Oriole score first and hoping to pull ahead or please, please, stay the same . . . or else hearing the Yankee score first and thinking, Please, Baltimore, fall behind or please, please, stay the same.
This is sports.
Two games up, and yes there is such thing as the Wild Card. Anyone here want to visit Dallas in October?