The Yankees are pretty much dead now, having lost two games at home and facing Justin Verlander in Detroit in Game 3, right?
The Yankees lost two home games to the Atlanta Braves in 1996 and were facing Tom Glavine in Game 3. Glavine is a sure Hall of Famer who won the Cy Young Award two years later. Verlander is well on his way to Cooperstown and won the Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards last year. Glavine was 15-10 with a 2.98 ERA in 1996 and three wins already in that year’s post-season. Verlander was 17-8 with a 2.64 ERA and two wins in the first round of this year’s post-season. (All these stats come from Baseball-Reference.com.
The 1978 Yankees fell behind 2-0 (on the road, rather than at home) and were facing future Hall of Famer Don Sutton in Game 3. They again swept the next four games. And, of course, the 2004 Yankees won not just the first two games, but the first three. And, well, let’s not revisit that.
The Kansas City Royals fell behind 2-0 twice in the 1985 post-season. In the American League Championship Series, they lost the first two games in Toronto, and were facing Doyle Alexander, 17-10 with a 3.45 ERA, in Game 3. George Brett hit two homers to lead the Royals to victory in that game. They fell behind 3-1 but won the final three games to advance to the World Series.
By the way, Dick Howser‘s outmaneuvering of Bobby Cox in Games 6 and 7 is a great example of my argument (already the topic of a couple blog posts here) that the designated hitter is more strategically demanding of managers than National League rules. Howser pitched left-handed starters Danny Jackson and Buddy Black in relief of right-handers Mark Gubicza and Bret Saberhagen to prompt the by-the-book Cox to pinch-hit his right-handed DH, Cliff Johnson, for starting DH Al Oliver, who had tormented the Royals’ bullpen ace, Dan Quisenberry, with a walk-off RBI single in Game 2 and a game-winning 9th-inning two-run double in Game 4. Cox fared much better in the National League, where strategy is much easier.
The 1985 World Series started as this year’s American League Championship Series started: with the home team losing two games. The Royals went to St. Louis facing 21-game winner Joaquin Andujar (his second straight 20-win season). Saberhagen outpitched Andujar in Game 3. Again the Royals lost Game 4 but then swept the final three games to win their only world championship.
That 1985 World Series is instructive to the Yankees now in another important respect. The Royals benefited from one of the most infamous bad calls in World Series history, when Don Denkinger called Jorge Orta safe on a bang-bang play at first base, leading off the ninth inning of Game 6. Replays and photographs showed clearly that Orta was out by inches.
Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog and bullpen ace Todd Worrell, who was covering the bag, argued vigorously, as you should when a call goes against you. Umpires are human and I think everyone in baseball believes (whether they are right or not) that an argument increases your chance to get a break on the next close one.
But you have to refocus after the argument and play the game. It was a close game, 1-0 Cardinals, and Orta represented the tying run. But he was just at first base and the Cardinal pitchers were dominating the Royals that day. The closest the Royals had come to scoring was in the first inning when Lonnie Smith was stranded on third after a lead-off double and in the fourth when Frank White was caught stealing (on a call at least as bad as the Orta call at first). Pat Sheridan, who was batting at the time, singled to right field and surely would have scored the speedy White. But the Royals didn’t let the bad call fluster them. The Cardinals did.
Orta at first base was no more dangerous than the other nine Royals who had already reached base that game. Denkinger’s call didn’t cost the Cardinals their chance to close out the World Series. What killed the Cardinals was what came next:
- After Cardinals Jack Clark and Darrell Porter misplayed a catchable Steve Balboni foul ball, Bonesy singled to left field, moving Orta to 2nd. Onix Concepcion pinch-ran for Balboni.
- Jim Sundberg botched a sacrifice attempt, his bunt forcing Orta at third base.
- With Hal McRae pinch-hitting for Buddy Biancalana, catcher Darrell Porter allowed a passed ball. The runners advanced, in effect giving Sundberg his bunt. But instead of the swift Concepcion at second base, he was on third and a catcher who stole only 20 bases (and got caught 37 times) in his career represented the winning run.
- The Cardinals intentionally walked McRae, a dangerous DH, to set up the double play. Rather that pinch-running for Sundberg, Howser sent John Wathan in to run for McRae, hoping he could get down to second base quicker to break up a double play.
- Dane Iorg, who hit better than .500 for the Cardinals in the 1982 World Series, pinch-hit for Quisenberry. He singled to right, scoring Concepcion and Sundberg, a play Royals fans remember vividly, since they’ve had so little since then to remember.
- Even so, the Cardinals had another chance to win the next day. But they were still brooding over the bad call and played even worse in Game 7 than they did in the ninth inning of Game 6. John Tudor, Andujar and Herzog all lost their tempers in Game 7. Tudor was chased by the Royals and Andujar and Herzog were tossed by the umpires. Saberhagen pitched a shutout and the Royals won 11-0.
To this day, Cardinals fans, even after two world championships in recent years, continue to whine about Don Denkinger, as though his call caused the other two hits and the passed ball and the muffed foul ball and the complete Game 7 meltdown.
There’s a word for teams and fans that whine about bad calls: losers. Like the Cardinals with Don Denkinger and the Orioles with Jeffrey Maier (a much bigger call than the Denkinger call).
Robinson Canó has been hitless in this series (and most of the Orioles series) and was victimized in the worst blown calls in this series, beating out an infield single with the bases loaded in Game 1 and being called out, then tagging Omar Infante when his hand was on the ground a foot from the bag. He is one of the best hitters in baseball right now. If he starts hitting the way he did the last week of the season, the Yankees will win this series and those bad calls will be just part of what they overcame to win, along with the Jeter injury.
These Yankees need to be like the 1996 and 1978 Yankees and the 1985 Royals, not like the 1985 Cardinals.
Final note: Why does a Yankee fan remember the 1985 World Series in this sort of detail? I lived in Kansas City at the time and became an avid follower of the Royals as my second-favorite team. That was heresy to Royals’ fans, who regarded the Yankees as bitter rivals after fierce playoff battles in 1976, ’77, ’78 and ’80. But I don’t hate other teams (not even the Red Sox, for whom I’ve rooted every time they’re in the World Series) the way Yankee haters hate the Yankees. When the Royals play the Yankees, I wear my Yankee cap and cheer for New York, but I enjoyed 1985 as much as any Yankee championship, and not just because I had tickets for Game 2. That was a great experience for a baseball fan.
Sorry, I couldn’t find a YouTube video of the Denkinger call: