On This Date in Sports October 28, 1981: Lasorda's Crowing Moment

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The Los Angeles Dodgers win the World Series, beating the New York Yankees in six games. The Dodgers win the finale 9-2 at Yankee Stadium, as the series is a reversal of the rivals' previous meeting in 1978, with the Yankees winning the first two games in the Bronx and losing the next four games. George Frazier loses three games in the series, as Dave Winfield gets one hit in 22 at-bats and is nicknamed "Mr. May" by George Steinbrenner. The World Series MVP is split three ways between Ron Cey, Pedro Guerrero, and Steve Yeager in an unprecedented move. 

The strike interrupted 1981 season was one of baseball's strangest years. The Los Angeles Dodgers led by Tommy Lasorda had a strong start thanks to the historic pitching of Fernando Valenzuela as everyone came under the spell of Fernando Mania. Valenzuela became the first pitcher to win the Rookie of the Year and the Cy Young in the same season, as the Dodgers won the first half. In the Division Series, played between the first and second-half winners, the Dodgers overcame a 2-0 deficit to beat the Houston Astros in five games. It was the first time a team won a five-game series after losing the first two games. The Dodgers also needed five games to beat the Montreal Expos in the NLCS, as Rick Monday's home run in the ninth inning at Olympic Stadium gave them a 2-1 win. 

The New Yor Yankees won 103 games in 1980 but were swept by the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS, leading to the firing of Dick Howser. Gene Michael managed the Yankees to a first-half title, but he was fired when the Yankees struggled after the strike, as Bob Lemon took over in the final month. It was a time of tumult for the Yankees, as George Steinbrenner was often reactionary and compulsive. Since the Yankees won the 1978 World Series, they had cycled through five managers, with Bob Lemon being replaced by Billy Martin in 1979, with Lemon returning for the 1981 postseason. The Yankees fought off the Milwaukee Brewers in the Division Series in five games but swept aside the Oakland Athletics managed by Billy Martin in three games. 

It was the third time in five years that the Yankees and Dodgers had met in the World Series. They had met ten previous times previously, with the Yankees winning eighth, including the 1977 and 1978 World Series. The series began in the Bronx with Ron Guidry facing Jerry Reuss. The Yankees showed early power, with Bob Watson hitting a three-run home run in the first inning. The Yankees extended the lead to 5-0 as Lou Piniella had an RBI single in the third, and Dave Winfield walked with the bases loaded in the fourth. The Dodgers got on the board with a home run by Steve Yeager in the fifth. They added two more runs in the eighth but could not get closer as Goose Gossage settled down and retired the final six batters as the Yankees won the opener 5-3. 

Tommy John, who pitched for the Dodgers in the 1977 and 1978 World Series, took the mound for the Yankees in Game 2, while Burt Hooten started for the Dodgers. Larry Milbourne broke a scoreless tie in the fifth inning with an RBI double down the line. The Yankees added two runs in the eighth as the Yankees won 3-0, with Tommy John allowing three runs in seven innings while Goose Gossage earned the save allowing one hit in two innings. 


It was a battle of the Rookie of the Year winners as Fernando Valenzuela faced Dave Righetti at Dodger Stadium in Game 3. Like Bob Watson gave the Yankees the edge in Game 1, Ron Cey gave Los Angeles a boost with a three-run bomb in the first inning.  The Yankees got two runs back in the second on a home run by Watson, while Larry Milborne drove in a second run. Rick Cerrone hit a two-run shot to give the Yankees a 4-3 lead in the third. Despite holding a 4-3 lead, Righetti struggled and was replaced by George Frazier in the third. Two innings later, the Dodgers regained the lead, with Pedro Guerrero hitting a double to tie the game, while Ron Cey scored on a double play. The 5-4 lead would stand as Valenzuela settled down and pitched a complete game to get the Dodgers back in the series. 

Rick Reuschel made the start for the Yankees in Game 4, while Bob Welch took the mound for the Dodgers. The Yankees looking to command the series, scored two runs in the first inning as Welsch left the game without recording an out. The Yankees added a run in the second on a home run by Wille Randolph, while Rick Cerrone drove in a run in the third to make it 4-0. The Dodgers began their comeback in the bottom of the fourth, scoring two runs after a lead-off double by Ken Landreaux. Ron Cey made 4-3 with an RBI single off Rudy May in the fifth. However, the Yankees scored two runs off Tom Niedenfuer in the sixth as Oscar Gamble, and Bob Watson had RBI singles. The Dodgers answered right away as Jay Johnstone hit a two-run pinch-hit home run off Ron Davis. After the game, Davis was chewed out by George Steinbrenner for giving up a home run to a former Yankee. The Dodgers would tie the game, taking advantage of a dropped fly ball from Reggie Jackson. With George Frazier on the mound, the Dodgers scored two runs in the seventh to take the lead, as Bobby Brown misplayed a sinking liner to center field. Reggie Jackson would hit a home run in the eight, but the Dodgers, with Steve Howe earning the win, won the game 8-7 to even the series. 

Jerry Reuss and Ron Guidry had a rematch in Game 5, and both pitchers were sharp. The Yankees got one run in the second on an RBI single by Lou Piniella, but their bats went silent after Rick Cerrone hit into a double play. Ron Guidry was in command for six innings. However, in the seventh, he gave up back-to-back home runs to Pedro Guerrero and Steve Yeager to give the Dodgers a 2-1 lead that would stand as the Dodgers took the lead in the series. 


Back in New York for Game 6, rained pushed the series to October 28th, the latest a game had ever been played in the fall classic, a record that would stand for 20 years until the 2001 World Series. Tommy John, who had a relief appearance in Game 4, made the start for the Yankees, while Burt Hooton started for the Dodgers. The Yankees got a run on a home run by Willie Randolph in the third, while the Dodgers quickly tied it with an RBI single by Steve Yeager in the fourth. The Yankees had two runners on base in the fourth when Bob Lemon decided to pinch-hit for Tommy John as there was no designated hitter in the 1981 World Series. Bobby Mercer flied out as George Frazier came in the game. Fraizer again struggled, giving up three runs, including a triple by Pedro Guerrero. Los Angeles blew the game open against Ron Davis and Rick Reuschel, allowing four runs with Guerrero driving in two more runs. He would finish the game with five RBI, hitting a home run in the eight, while the Yankees scratched across a run in the sixth. In the ninth, Steve Howe was on the mound as Bob Watson flied out to Ken Landreaux in center to end the game and the World Series, with the Dodgers victorious 9-2.