In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
It is a battle for the ages as the Boston Red Sox host the New York Yankees in a one-game playoff to decide the American League East at Fenway Park. The Red Sox held a 2-0 lead with two outs in the seventh when light-hitting Bucky Dent poked a three-run home run over the Green Monster. The Yankees would go on to win the game 5-4.
The 1978 season was a roller coaster of emotion for the New York Yankees, coming off their 1977 World Championship. Injuries plagued them early, as the tumultuous clubhouse infighting continued between, Manager Billy Martin, Owner George Steinbrenner, and their superstar slugger Reggie Jackson. Things came to a head in July, when the Yankees were in fourth place and 14 games out first as Martin resigned off making negative comments about Steinbrenner and Jackson. The Yankees would hire Bob Lemon, who despite being given lame-duck status with Martin being rehired for the 1980 season helped smooth the rough waters as the Yankees got healthy and made a comeback for the ages. The Yankees eventually caught the first place Boston Red Sox with a four-game sweep at Fenway Park in September is a series remembered as the Boston Massacre.
The Boston Red Sox managed by Don Zimmer were seeking their first World Championship in 60 years got off to a fast start and soared to the top of the American League East thanks to a 23-win May. By July, the Red Sox had built a ten-game lead and appeared to be cruising to another division championship. However, the Sox sputtered after the All-Star Break as the rest of the division began to close in on them, including the Yankees, whom the Sox at one point led by 14 games. By September, the Red Sox division lead was gone as they were outscored 42-9 while being swept by the Yankees at Fenway Park. A week later, the Yankees won the first two games of a series in the Bronx and led Boston by three and a half games. The Red Sox took the finale on September 17th and began to turn things around, as they finished the season with eight straight wins and finished tied with the Yankees after 162 games with a record of 99-63. It was the second one-game playoff in American League history, the other one was also at Fenway Park with Red Sox losing to the Cleveland Indians.
A coin toss in September would decide who would host the one-game playoff, despite the Yankees winning the season series 9-7. The game at Fenway Park began at 2:30, with Ron Guidry, holding a 24-3 record getting the start for New York, while Mike Torrez, who played a key role in the Yankees playoff drive in 1977, getting the start for the Red Sox. Torrez was in command early, while Boston took an early 1-0 on a home run by Carl Yastrzemski to lead off the second. Torrez was dominating his former team allowing just two hits over the first six innings, while Red Sox made it 2-0 in the sixth as Jim Rice singled home Rick Burleson who led off with a double.
In the seventh inning, the Yankees strung together a pair of hits with Chris Chambliss and Roy White reaching with one out. However, after Jim Spencer flew out the Yankees hopes rested on their ninth hitter Bucky Dent, and subpar his .243 average. With a 0-2 count, Dent fouled a ball off his ankle sending him down on the ground, writhing in pain. As trainers looked at Dent’s shin, Mickey Rivers the on-deck hitter gave him a new bat, saying there was a home run in it. Bucky Dent with his new bat got back in the batter’s box and made contact, the ball was hit in the air and carried just far enough to land on the Green Monster to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead. It was just Dent’s fifth home run on the season. Torrez, stunned by the homer walked Rivers and was relieved by Bob Stanley. Rivers would steal second and later scored on a double by Thurman Munson making the score 4-2 in favor of New York. Ron Guidry, who was making the start on three days’ rest also taken out with one out in the seventh after a single by George Scott. Goose Gossage the Yankees closer came in looking to seal the win and complete baseball’s greatest comeback. Gossage and the Yankees got another run to work with, in the eighth as Reggie Jackson hit a majestic homer to centerfield. After giving up the bomb to Reggie, Bob Stanley was removed in favor of Andy Hassler.
Like the regular season, where the Red Sox led early, only to see the Yankees overtake them in September, Boston began to come back and began clawing back themselves. Jerry Remy led off the eighth with a double and later scored on a one-out single by Yastrzemski. Carlton Fisk and Fred Lynn also singled to cut the Yankees lead to 5-4. However, Goose Gossage maintained his composure and escaped the jam by retiring Butch Hobson and George Scott. The Yankees were unable to add an insurance run in the ninth, setting up a dramatic finish. Dwight Evans flew out to start the inning. The next batter Rick Burleson worked out a walk to set up another dramatic moment. Jerry Remy hit a single to right, which Lou Piniella lost in the sun, just guessing where the ball land, Piniella reached out with his glove and prevented Burleson from advancing past second. That would turn out to be the key defensive play, as Jim Rice hit a sacrifice fly advancing the tying run to third with two outs. The last hope for Boston was Carl Yastrzemski, who was the hero of the 1967 pennant and already had two RBI in the game. However, there would be no joy in Boston, as Yaz popped out to Craig Nettles at third.
The Yankees would win the game 5-4 and go on to win a second straight World Series, as Bucky Dent received a new middle name courtesy of Red Sox nation. Dent’s unreal October continued into the Fall Classic as he was named World Series MVP as the Yankees beat the Dodgers again. Years later at a Yankees Old Timer’s Day, Mickey Rivers confessed to Mike Torrez that he gave Bucky Dent a corked bat, but later retracted it and said he was joking around.