The Yankee D boys did double duty

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October 30, 1978

The Yankee D boys did double duty

Bucky Dent and Brian Doyle were in the lineup for their gloves, but New York won the Series because of their bats

by Ron Fimrite


The express elevator transporting the losing players to their parking lot at Dodger Stadium inexplicably stopped at the third floor. No one had pushed the button for that level, but the door slid open, exposing a Stygian void. No lights shone, no creature stirred. For a moment the occupants of the elevator stared silently into the darkness, and then Steve Garvey, smiling thinly, announced, "I believe this is where I get off." There was laughter as he stepped into the gloom, but he jumped back inside before the door clanged shut, and the passengers resumed their melancholy ascent.

Garvey's gallows jest was more than a little symbolic, because he and his teammates did have their moment in hell last week. During a World Series notable for the absence of any intervention from the Big Dodger in the Sky, the Yankees bedeviled them with plucky pitching, a larcenous defense and a fire-and-brimstone offense. Los Angeles' infield deficiencies were magnified in the Series glare, and its normally balanced attack grew top-heavy. Garvey and the rest of the middle of the Dodger batting order might as well have gotten off on the third floor and stayed there. A renowned clutch hitter, Garvey drove in exactly zero runs in the six games. Reggie Smith batted only .200. Dusty Baker was more productive than Garvey—by one RBI. Only Ron Cey of the Dodger middlemen hit authoritatively, and he drove in only four runs, three fewer than Bucky Dent, ninth man in the Yankee batting order. The Dodger offense was concentrated in lead-off man Davey Lopes, who hit .308 with three homers and seven RBIs, and second hitter Billy Russell, whose .423 batting average partially atoned for his opéra-bouffe fielding.

 Tommy Lasorda

1978:
An angry Tommy Lasorda makes his point

photograph by
Manny Millan


The Yankees, meanwhile, played the sort of fundamental baseball that invariably triumphs in pressure situations. One of the main reasons they became the first team to win four straight Series games after losing two was Reggie Jackson, the real Mr. October. The Dodgers had been claiming that title for Garvey, but he proved himself to be no more than Mr. Late September. Jackson is really the Fall guy, slugger of two tape-measure homers, driver-in of eight runs, obstructor of a crucial double-play throw. And there were Thurman Munson and Roy White, forever in the middle of rallies. And Mickey Rivers, who hit .333 on a leg and a half. And Graig Nettles, who hit not a lick but took half a dozen or more bingles away from the Dodgers with his whirling-dervish play at third. And there were Jim Beattie, Ron Guidry and Catfish Hunter, who pitched gutsily, and Rich Gossage, who relieved sensationally. But the real difference between the two teams in this Series was, as New York Manager Bob Lemon says, "the last part of the batting order." That would be Bucky Dent and a frail Kentucky haberdasher named Brian Doyle.

Dent, a shortstop, and Doyle, a second baseman, were on the field because of their defensive talents, and their glovework was exemplary. But Dent also hit .417, drove in seven runs and was proclaimed the Series' Most Valuable Player. And Doyle, a lefthanded hitter who was platooned with Fred Stanley, had seven hits in 16 at bats for a .438 average. Dent and Doyle had three hits apiece in each of the last two games, won by the Yankees 12-2 and 7-2. The duo demolished L.A. in the final game. With the Yankees trailing 1-0 in the second inning, Doyle drove the tying run home with his first major league extra-base hit, a double. Then Dent singled in what became the winning two runs.

In the bottom of the third inning, with New York leading 3-2 and two Dodgers on base, Smith ripped a grounder up the middle that Doyle backhanded and flipped awkwardly—but accurately—to Dent to start an inning-ending double play. It was a sparkling bit of fielding, just the sort of play the Yankees made throughout the Series but the Dodgers rarely pulled off. Lopes had had a chance to make a grab of similar difficulty on Dent's two-run single in the second. He failed to come up with the ball, and the Yankees went ahead. Doyle made the most of his opportunity in the third, and he cut off the Dodgers' last good chance to get back into Game 6—and the Series.

Dent scampered far to his right in the bottom of the fourth to take a hit away from Baker. In the sixth, Doyle singled in his second run, and Dent eventually scored him with his third RBI of the game. Finally, in the eighth, Doyle saved a run with a stop of Vic Davalillo's bouncer up the middle. Said Jackson, "We couldn't have won it without them"—rare praise from one who regards the Series as his private stage.

Until Doyle arrived for keeps on Sept. 11, Dent was best known as the least known of the Yankee regulars. Actually, he has been a major league starter for five years, three with the White Sox, the last two with the world champions. Always a fine fielder, he has been a .255 hitter with little power. He was troubled most of this season with a blood clot in his leg and a pulled hamstring, and he hit only .243 in 123 games.

When Dent returned to New York after the Series, he was acclaimed a hero. He was a guest on the Good Morning America television show, was bombarded with offers of endorsements and was tailed all day by TV crews seeking to record his every movement. He was the happiest Yankee at last Thursday's gigantic victory parade and city-hall reception. A cheering mob estimated at 2 million attended the festivities in lower Manhattan, and while the masses proved amiable, it was almost impossible for police to control them. No arrests were made, but so fearful were the Yankees that they might be trampled by their fans, each of whom seemed intent on mounting the stage in front of city hall to congratulate the team, that the players were escorted from the ceremonies before they could be awarded their keys to the city.

Dent seemed to enjoy every minute of it. Although his wife was at his side, he was besieged by adoring young women. He is dark-haired, good-looking, bowlegged and 26. He convinced himself before the Series that it was his turn to be a pressure player. "I told myself I had better be a money ballplayer or I'd be embarrassed by what my teammates did," he said. He was not embarrassed.

While Dent was at least known to the Yankee faithful and to hard-core baseball addicts elsewhere, no one outside his family and airline ticket offices had ever heard of Doyle. His brother Denny achieved a measure of notoriety by throwing away a double-play ball for the Red Sox in the final game of the 1975 World Series, and his twin brother Blake is a second baseman in the International League. But Brian was just a guy who commuted between Gotham and Tacoma, Wash. He began the season as a utility infielder with the Yankees' farm in Tacoma, and then on April 23 he was called up to the big team. He played in one game, and was on his way back to Tacoma. He was summoned again on June 15 and returned to Washington Aug. 19. When Tacoma's season ended, he rejoined the Yankees.

His arrival was fortunate, because the regular second baseman, Willie Randolph, pulled a hamstring on Sept. 29 and was through for the year. All told, Doyle played in 39 games and had 10 hits, all of them singles, for a .192 average. But, at 24, he was at least in the bigs. Last year at Series time he was selling clothes at the Golden-Farley haberdashery in Bowling Green, Ky., near his home in Cave City.

"I feel like Cinderella," he said exultantly after the final victory. "I wanted to prove I could play this game. I'm a little guy—only 160 pounds—and I've had to scrape and try to outhustle everybody. I've always believed there is a spot in baseball for the little man."

That spot would seem to be the World Series, because as Stanley said in discussing the emergence of Dent and Doyle, "In the Series, pitchers tend to overlook the little guys. They're thinking about Munson and Jackson hitting home runs. They don't want to walk the little guys with the big ones coming up, so they give them good pitches." Dent and Doyle hit those good pitches, as so many other little guys have in World Series. In 1914 Brave Catcher Hank Gowdy, a .243 hitter during the season, hit .545 in the Series with a slugging percentage of 1.273. In 1927 Yankee Shortstop Mark Koenig, the least homicidal inmate of Murderers Row, hit .500 in the Series. Billy Martin, the once and perhaps future Yankee manager, batted .500 with 12 hits in '53. Yankee Bobby Richardson had a record 12 RBIs in 1960 and a record 13 hits in 1964. Chuck Hiller, a banjo hitter on a team of slugging Giants, hit the first Series grand slam by a National Leaguer in 1962. And Al Weis, a .215 batter during the season, was .455 for the Miracle Mets in 1969. Dent and Doyle join a distinguished company of Lilliputians.

Dent will certainly be back to plague Yankee foes next year. But whither Doyle? As his Dodger counterpart, Lopes, said, "I don't know that you'll see him next year." Certainly Randolph will play every day. Where does that leave a player of Doyle's modest attainments? Possibly the same place it leaves a number of Yankees—on the trading block.

Owner George Steinbrenner is obviously not one to stand pat. Adding Gossage to the bullpen this year strengthened the relief corps immensely. It also rendered old hero Sparky Lyle expendable. Centerfielders Rivers and Paul Blair also may well be playing elsewhere next spring. Blair can catch and throw but not hit. Rivers can hit and run but not throw. Texas' Juan Beniquez, the Yankees reportedly feel, can do all of those things; a deal for him is said to be already made. Is it also true that First Baseman Chris Chambliss, who was hurt in the Series, is trade bait? And does Munson still long to play in his native Ohio? Hunter has said he will pitch only one more year. Will this make Steinbrenner yearn for Dodger Pitcher Tommy John, who will be available in the free-agent draft? One Los Angeles newspaper even had Jackson going to the Angels.

Steinbrenner makes much of Yankee tradition, but he is a man of action, not sentiment. The Yankees, good as they are, will not stay intact. They are in a tough business in a tough town. As the thousands crushed in on city hall, Ron Swoboda, once a Series hero for the Mets but now a broadcaster, remarked on the differences between this Yankee celebration and the one that greeted the Mets of '69. "Our team appealed to the unreality in people," he said. "This team appealed to the reality. This is a city of scufflers. Everybody has had a kick in the butt somewhere along the way."

Even some heroes may get kicked.


 

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