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On This Date in Sports September 7-10, 1978: The Boston Massacre

After trailing by 14 games on July 17th, the New York Yankees come to Fenway Park just four games behind the Boston Red Sox for first place in the American League East. Over the next four days, the Yankees would ravage the Red Sox, sweeping the series by a combined score of 42-9 in what would become known as “The Boston Massacre”.

As the dog days of summer were settling in, post-mortems were being written about the defending World Series Champion New York Yankees. After a frustrating first half filled with injuries, the Yankees were floundering in fourth place on July 17th, with a record of 47-42, trailing the first-place Boston Red Sox by 14 games. Making matters worse, manager Billy Martin was forced to resign a week later after making despairing remarks about Owner George Steinbrenner. After Bob Lemon took over, the Yankees further added to the dysfunction by announcing that Martin would return as manager when Lemon’s contract expired in 1980.

Despite being told he was a lame duck before even settling in his office, Bob Lemon was just what the doctor ordered for the Yankees, as his quiet calm demeanor helped the team relax and focus on baseball after the fiery rage that burned inside Billy Martin and often created a sense of chaos. Through the end of July until the first week of September, the Yankees found their groove and went on a 35-14 run and sat just four games in back of the Red Sox as they were set to begin a four-game series into Fenway Park.

September 7, 1978:

The Yankees had Jim “Catfish” Hunter on the mound for the opener, while Mike Torrez, who was on the mound when the Yankees won the World Series in 1977, got the start for Don Zimmer and the Red Sox. The Yankees struck first, scoring a pair of unearned runs thanks to a throwing error by Boston third baseman Butch Hobson, with RBI by Reggie Jackson and Chris Chambliss. The Yankees went on a singles parade in the second inning, scoring three runs with RBI by Bucky Dent, Mickey Rivers, and Thurman Munson and chasing Torrez from the game. The Yankees continued to add on in the third as they got Dent, and Willie Randolph drove home another two runs to make it 7-0. The Yankees bats continued to bludgeon Boston in the fourth inning as Roy White pushed across two runs, while Randolph had a bases-clearing double off new reliever Dick Drago. Down 12-0, the Red Sox made some noise in the bottom of the fourth as Carl Yastrzemski hit a triple off Hunter while Carlton Fisk homered off Ken Clay to make it 12-2 but was not able to get any closer as Willie Randolph delivered his fifth RBI in the sixth. After Boston scratched across a run in the seventh, the Yankees got run-scoring hits by Cliff Johnson and Jim Spencer to make the final score 15-3.

September 8, 1978:

After getting their lunch handed to them in the first game, the Red Sox had Jim Wright on the mound in the second game of the series, while the Yankees sent out their weakest starter Jim Beattie who entered the game at 3-7. The Red Sox again were their own worst enemy, allowing two unearned runs in the first, as Carlton Fish committed a throwing error trying to throw out Mickey Rivers while Willie Randolph reached and later scored on an error by shortstop Rick Burleson. The Red Sox continued to unravel in the second inning as the Yankees scored six runs, with Fisk again sailing his throw, this time trying to nap Roy White, while reliever Tom Burgmeier booted a comebacker by Craig Nettles. The big shots were delivered by Lou Piniella, who led off the inning with a triple and later doubled home Nettles, while Reggie Jackson hit a three-run home run. Adding insult to injury, Mickey Rivers had three hits before Butch Hobson, the Sox ninth hitter, came to bat, a day after Munson did the same. Bill Lee was able to temporarily stop the bleeding, holding the New York in check the next two innings, but in the fifth, Piniella added a home run, while the usually sure-handed Dwight Evans committed a throwing error leading to a tenth run. Evans committed a second error in the sixth, dropping an easy fly by Chris Chambliss. The Yankees would plate two more runs in the eighth inning on hits by Gary Thomasson and Bucky Dent. While George Scott booted a ball at first for the Red Sox seventh error of the game. The Red Sox finally got on the board in the ninth with runs-scoring hits by Fisk and Jack Brohamer, but the damage was done as they were embarrassed again 13-2.

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September 9, 1978:

Saturday Afternoon brought National Television exposure to the series, as the Yankees sent Ron Guidry, who is in the midst of one of the greatest seasons in Yankees history, holding a 20-2 record against Dennis Eckersley, who was 16-6. Neither team was able to score in the first three innings, but the Yankees bats came alive in the fourth with two outs as Chris Chambliss started the rally with a double. Following an intentional walk to Craig Nettles, Lou Piniella, who all series was punishing the Red Sox, struck again with a double to right. After Roy White was walked intentionally to load the bases, Bucky Dent made the Sox pay further with a two-run single and advanced to second on an error by Carl Yastrzemski. Dent and White would then come in to score on a single by Mickey Rivers.  Rivers then advanced to second on a wild pitch while Willie Randolph walked. Thurman Munson followed with a single to make it 6-0, driving Eck to an early shower. The Yankees would add a seventh run in the fourth on a passed ball by Carlton Fisk. The seven runs in the fourth inning were more than enough for Guidry, who, after allowing two hits in the first inning, tied the Red Sox up in knots, finishing with a complete game two-hitter, dropping his ERA on the season to 1.77 as the Yankees won 7-0.

September 10, 1978:

With the deficit in the American League East down to one game, the Yankees looked to move into a tie and complete the sweep with Ed Figueroa on the mound while Boston rolled the dice and started Bobby Sprowl. The move blew up in Don Zimmer’s face right away as Sprowl walked the first two batters. He managed to battle back by getting Thurman Munson hit into a double play. However, Reggie Jackson singled home Mickey Rivers to make it 1-0. After Sprowl walked the next two batters, a change was made with Bob Stanley hoping to limit the damage. Which he was not able to do as Craig Nettles singled home a pair. Jackson and Piniella drove home runs in the second to make it 5-0. Lou Piniella later added another run with a sac fly in the fourth to give the Yankees a 6-0 lead. After being curb-stomped three straight games, the Red Sox showed some fight on a Sunday Afternoon, scoring twice in the bottom of the inning on RBIs by Carlton Fisk and Garry Hanock, while Fred Lynn homered in the sixth. The Yankees though answered on an RBI single by Dent in the seventh and never looked back as they would win 7-4 to complete the Boston Massacre.

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The Yankees and Red Sox would battle the rest of the season, with a one-game playoff being needed to decide the winner of the American League East.