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NO PLACE LIKE HOME
RON FIMRITE
October 23, 1978
The Dodgers, opened the Series with a two-game sweep in L.A., but the Yankees barged to a 3-2 lead by being unbeatable in N.Y.
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October 23, 1978

No Place Like Home

The Dodgers, opened the Series with a two-game sweep in L.A., but the Yankees barged to a 3-2 lead by being unbeatable in N.Y.

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And now he was being asked to extricate the Dodgers from another dire circumstance. He required only two pitches to dispose of Thurman Munson. Jackson was another matter, because he is at his most luminous in the Series glare. Jackson is a fastball hitter, Welch a fastball pitcher. The 55,982 spectators stood and screamed through the six-minute faceoff. Jackson nearly fell forward on his bespectacled face as he swung and missed Welch's first hummer. He was sent reeling backward as the second scorched his whiskers. The next three pitches were fouled back, an indication that Jackson was not getting his bat around quickly enough to match the youngster's speed. The sixth pitch sailed high to run the count to 2 and 2. Jackson fouled off another. Welch missed on the outside for a full count. The crowd was in a frenzy. Jackson adjusted his glasses. Welch stood motionless on the mound. The runners moved with the pitch. Jackson cut at a high, inside fastball. He missed. Bedlam.

The denouement was nearly as interesting as the confrontation. Jackson stomped angrily toward the dugout, and as he neared the steps he flung his bat mightily, shattering it against the dugout wall. Lemon stepped forward to offer consolation and was nudged aside by Jackson. Reggie strode up the runway, his now-angry manager in pursuit. At first Jackson refused to explain his ugly rage, and Lemon would only comment that he should have exercised prudence in approaching a man in such high dudgeon. Later Jackson confessed to a mental lapse. So intent was he on connecting with Welch's last pitch, he said, that he momentarily lost track of the situation. With two outs and a full count, the runners would be moving. Jackson knows that. But he was so caught up in the moment that when Dent started off second, the movement distracted him and caused him to miss the pitch. Initially he was angry with Lemon for turning the runners loose; then, when he recovered his senses, he was angrier still at himself. "I strike out 120 times a year," he said. "Why should this one bother me? Because I didn't think, didn't touch all the bases, you might say."

Later Jackson lauded his conqueror. "I got beat, that's all. I was looking for a ball I could handle and I never got one. I wanted him to make a mistake, but he didn't."

Jackson's whiff need not have been so vital. As early as the first inning the Yankees ran themselves out of a run when Gary Thomasson, playing centerfield for the injured Mickey Rivers, slid past second base on what should have been a successful steal and was tagged out. Munson doubled to the leftfield fence immediately after this misplay.

But the game also provided a clue of better things to come for the New Yorkers. Graig Nettles, the balletic third baseman, made three astonishing stops of hard-hit ground balls, reducing two cinch down-the-line doubles to infield hits and converting another into an inning-ending double play. There would be more of that in New York.

GAME 3

It was the Dodger captain in his final at bat in the first game at Yankee Stadium who tendered the ultimate tribute. Standing at the plate, Lopes gestured for the Yankee third baseman to move away from third base, preferably as far away as the elevated train platform beyond rightfield. Only by repositioning Nettles outside the Stadium, Lopes wordlessly announced, could the Dodgers hope to hit a ball through the Yankee infield. Nettles acknowledged Lopes' gesture with a friendly nod. "I took it as a compliment," he said.

As well he might have. This game was supposed to belong to Ron Guidry. The Yankees' 25-game winner was to propel his faltering teammates back into the Series with one of his flawless performances, his pinpoint fastball and crackling slider baffling the now haughty Dodgers. Alas, the Dodgers jumped enthusiastically on those once prepotent deliveries. It was their misfortune, however, to hit them to Nettles' side of the diamond. Guidry did win, and by the seemingly easy margin of 5-1, but he walked seven, struck out only four and courted disaster all night. And while Guidry got the victory, Lemon remarked afterward, not entirely in jest, "Nettles should get the save. In 41 years I've seen a lot of great plays, but I don't think anyone has played third base any better than that." His counterpart, Tom Lasorda, concurred. "That was one of the greatest exhibitions of playing third base I've seen in all my career," he said.

In the second inning Nettles turned in a double play on Lee Lacy's grounder to stifle an incipient Dodger rally. In the third he speared a Lopes line drive, and after Bill Russell singled, robbed Smith of a run-scoring double with a tumbling catch and a scrambling throw of his hard shot down the line. In the fifth he took another double away from Smith by knocking down a tricky bouncer to his backhand side. Then, with the bases loaded, Steve Garvey hit a screamer to the same spot. This one bounced somewhat earlier than Smith's had, and Nettles snared it and forced Smith at second with a throw to Brian Doyle. In the sixth, with the bases again loaded, Lopes shot another bullet down the line. Nettles fielded it while pitched forward in the dirt. He regained his feet and once more made the force at second.

The Dodgers' inner defense, which is not their strong suit, proved as generous this night as Nettles, the one-man infield, was miserly. In a three-run Yankee seventh, Catcher Jerry Grote held on to Rivers' bunt too long, either because he wrongly thought he had a play at second or because Lopes was tardy covering first. In the same inning Lopes threw low to first on a double-play attempt, and Cey was unable to handle a run-producing ground ball—inexplicably scored as a hit—off Munson's bat. The three runs solidified a win that was actually earned in the first two innings. White curled a homer down the rightfield line in the first, and Nettles scored in the second on an infield out.

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