1977 World Series: The Yankees & Dodgers Renew An Old Rivalry
The New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers were old sparring partners in the World Series. Their eight previous meetings in the Fall Classic were the most of any matchup combination and they had met six times in ten years (1947-56) when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn. They met again in 1963 after the Dodgers moved west. So perhaps it was appropriate that the Yankees’ first championship in sixteen years—and first under the ownership of George Steinbrenner—came over the Dodgers in the 1977 World Series.
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You can read more about the paths New York and Los Angeles took to their respective division titles, along with the key contributors at the links below. This article will focus on the games of the 1977 World Series itself.
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The Fall Classic began on a Tuesday night in the Big Apple, where the Yankees held homefield advantage by virtue of an AL-NL rotation system.
New York’s rotation was shot to pieces after a draining ALCS with the Kansas City Royals and they opened with Don Gullett, who had won 14 games and was a good arm, but not one of the Yankees’ best. Los Angeles wasted little time in getting after him.
Davey Lopes led off the Series with a walk and immediately scored on a triple by Bill Russell, who scored himself on a sacrifice fly. The inning might have been worse, with Gullett issuing two more walks, but Yankee catcher Thurman Munson gunned down Reggie Smith trying to steal and the score stayed 2-0.
Los Angeles sent veteran Don Sutton to the mound, who had been brilliant in a must-win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Philadelphia Phillies. Sutton got the first two batters out, but was quickly peppered by consecutive singles from Munson, Reggie Jackson and Chris Chambliss to cut the lead in half.
The pitchers settled in from there until New York second baseman Willie Randolph homered to tie the game in the sixth. A potential Yankee rally in the seventh was cut off when Smith, the Dodger rightfielder, turned the tables on the Yanks and threw out Lou Piniella trying to stretch a single into a double.
In eighth, Randolph drew a walk and came around on a Munson double. Jackson drew a walk, and both runners were bunted up. The Yankees had a chance to put the game away, but Elias Sosa came out of the bullpen. The Dodgers’ best reliever, outstanding in the regular season, but roughed up in the NLCS, returned to form. He struck out Piniella and got Bucky Dent to escape.
Sosa’s keeping it a 3-2 game proved vital, because LA got to New York’s Cy Young reliever Sparky Lyle in the ninth. Dusty Baker hit a leadoff single. Steve Yeager drew a walk, and Lee Lacy tied the game 3-3. We were going to extra innings.
Lyle stayed on the mound and redeemed himself with three scoreless innings. It bought enough time for Randolph to get something instigated one more time. He drilled a double to lead off the bottom of the 12th and then scored on a base hit by veteran outfielder Paul Blair. New York’s first victory in a World Series game since 1964 was a long time coming, but they had Game 1, 4-3.
New York’s Catfish Hunter, once one of the top pitchers in baseball, but now faltering, was the starter for Game 2, and once again the Dodgers jumped out of the gate fast. With two outs in the first, Smith doubled, Ron Cey hit a home run and it was 2-0.
This time, there was no immediate Yankee response. Burt Hooton was outstanding for Los Angeles, tossing a complete-game five-hitter. He got more offensive help when Yeager hit a two-out home run in the third, and Smith drilled a two-run shot in the third.
The Yanks picked up a run in the fourth, but it came off of Jackson grounding into a double play that brought the run in through the backdoor but killed a bigger rally. Los Angeles won 6-1 after Steve Garvey hit one more home run in the ninth.
The World Series was shifting west for three games over the weekend, and it seemed the Dodgers might have the edge. But pitching matters more than homefield, and the Yankees could finally throw two of their top starters, Mike Torrez for Game 3 and Ron Guidry for Game 4. These two pitchers decisively changed the course of the 1977 World Series.
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New York continued the trend of the road team pouncing in the top of the first when they scored three runs to open Game 3. Mickey Rivers doubled and scored on another double from Munson. Jackson knocked in Munson with a single, took second on a misplay in left by Baker, and then scored on a single from Piniella.
Torrez had a hiccup in the third inning. With two on and two out, Baker redeemed himself for the error that put Jackson in scoring position. The LA leftfielder ripped a three-run shot to tie the game.
But the Dodgers never threatened again. New York quickly got the lead back in the fourth, when Graig Nettles and Bucky Dent each singled, were sacrificed up by Torrez and Rivers drove in a run with a productive ground ball to the right side. In the fifth, Jackson drew a walk, Piniella beat out an infield hit and Chambliss drove in Jackson. Torrez made the 5-3 score stand up.
Guidry got the ball for Saturday afternoon. The 16-game winner was a year away from an amazing 25-win Cy Young season and he gave the Dodgers a foretaste of what was to come in Game 4, with a complete-game four-hitter.
New York staked Guidry to a 3-0 lead in the second. Jackson doubled and scored on a single from Piniella, and then Chambliss doubled. LA manager Tommy Lasorda wisely did not give starter Doug Rau any rope and he quickly went to Rick Rhoden, another starter, who was in the bullpen for the playoffs. But Nettles got an RBI grounder, and then the light-hitting Dent took a single the other way with two outs.
Guidry already had all he needed, though Los Angeles kept it interesting. They picked up two runs in the second on a Rhoden double and a Lopes home run. In the top of the sixth though, Jackson took a home run the other way for New York. It was Jackson’s first home run of this World Series and he was most definitely not done. This game was though, as Guidry rolled home to a 4-2 win.
It was tough to find reason for optimism if you were a Dodger fan tuning in on late Sunday afternoon for Game 5. Even if you won, there were still two games in the Bronx. But Los Angeles didn’t lay down. In fact, they came out swinging off of Gullett.
Lopes hit a leadoff triple and scored in the first running, at least allowing his team to play with a lead as they faced elimination. In the bottom of the fourth, Baker hit an RBI single and Yeager ripped a three-run homer.
Sutton was on the mound for Los Angeles and didn’t ever let New York off the mat. Before the Yankees could get on the board, the Dodgers had added three more in the fifth to make it 8-0, and then Smith hit a two-run homer in the sixth. New York got four runs off Sutton in the final three innings, including back-to-back homers by Munson and Jackson, but by that point, everyone was mentally flying back to New York already. The Dodgers’ 10-4 win had kept the Series alive.
Hooton again got the ball for Los Angeles, hoping to repeat his performance of Game 2. Martin turned to Torrez on three days’ rest, though that wasn’t nearly as dramatic an issue as it would be today. Los Angeles scored right away. After two were out, Dent booted a grounder, Cey walked and Garvey tripled both in for a 2-0 lead.
In the bottom of the second, Jackson walked on four pitches and Chambliss homered to tie the game. Smith answered right back for the Dodgers with a solo shot in the third. Then the sequence of events this World Series is most remembered for began to unfold. Reggie took it over.
In the bottom of the fourth, after Munson hit a leadoff single, Jackson took the first pitch from Hooton out and New York was ahead 4-3. Chambliss doubled and came around on productive outs by Nettles and Piniella before the inning was over.
In the bottom of the sixth, after a leadoff single from Rivers, two were out and the inning was set to die. Reggie came up, this time facing Sosa. Jackson took the first pitch deep. It was 7-3 and the Yankees could start to taste the champagne.
The score was still 7-3 in the bottom of the eighth. Charlie Hough was on for Los Angeles. Jackson came up. The first pitch was sent out of the yard. Keeping in mind that Jackson’s early walk was on four straight pitches, this means he took only three swings on the night—and every one was a home run.
Los Angeles got a run in the ninth and had a runner on first. Pinch-hitter Vic Davalillo beat out a bunt single. After a similar bunt hit had started an improbable rally that turned the NLCS around, one would be loath to dismiss its consequence or any paranoia Yankee fans might have felt, with the tying run now on-deck. Lacy tried to follow suit, but his bunt popped up, Torrez caught it and the World Series was over.
Jackson was named World Series MVP. Normally I’m suspicious in situations like this, where an electric one-game performance overshadows the Series as a whole. But in this case, it’s justified. Even if you throw out Game 6, Jackson was still 6-for-17 and had homered twice. Take that, and add one of the great individual performances in World Series history to it, and you have the makings of a Series MVP.
Munson had a strong Series, batting .320 and Torrez had a very strong case for MVP, with two complete game wins, one of them being the momentum-turner in Game 3 and the other being the clincher. I can see the case for Torrez. But Jackson was the right pick.
The New York Yankees had returned to the top of the baseball world. For all of Billy Martin’s success as a manager, here and elsewhere, this was his one time as a World Series champ. His boss, George Steinbrenner, also had his first ring, although in that case, the Boss would be back for more.