3. ONE-GAME AL EAST PLAYOFF, 1978, BOSTON AT NEW YORK
Probably the most ballyhooed, anticipated single game in Red Sox history, the culmination of a six-month stretch that played like a John Grisham book.
The setup: Boston squanders a 14-game lead to the Yankees in August and early September. The Yanks sweep the Sox at Fenway in early September, a four-game series affectionately known as the Boston Massacre. The Yanks hop into first. The Sox win their last eight games to force a one-game playoff. One game, winner take all. Fenway Park. Ron Guidry vs. Mike Torrez.
The drama: Yaz homers in the second. Rice gets an RBI single in the fourth. Bucky (Bleeping) Dent, the wimpy Yankees shortstop, knocks a pop fly over the Wall in the sixth, putting the Yanks up 3-2. Sox reliever Bob Stanley throws gasoline on the fire, giving up runs in the seventh and eighth to put New York up 5-2. The Sox rally for two runs in the eighth off Goose Gossage. On to the ninth.
The climax: ugh. Rick Burleson singles for Boston. Jerry Remy follows with a seed to right that Yankee Lou Piniella loses in the blinding sun as it ricochets off the ground toward him. He thrusts his glove out blindly to the left and, of course, the baseball lands in it. Burleson has to hold at second with one out. Then Jim Rice — he of the MVP, 46-home-run season, the most dangerous hitter alive — crushes a shot to center field, right at Mickey Rivers. Burleson advances to third. Two outs. And Yaz comes to the plate.
Carl Yastrzemski vs. Rich Gossage. Yaz vs. The Goose. The veteran vs. the fireballer. Red Sox Past vs. Yankee Present. The tying run stands 90 feet away.
Gossage fires a fastball. Yaz swings and tries to hold up. Pop-up. Graig Nettles catches it in foul ground. Yankees win. A slumping Yaz weaves back to the dugout, dazed, stunned. The Yankees jump on each other. Loathsome, disgusting Yankees fans everywhere exult.
POSTSCRIPT:Of course, if Grisham had written this, Yaz would have homered to win the game. Then he would have produced legal documents tying George Steinbrenner to the mob and been placed in an FBI witness-protection program.