Wednesday, January 21, 2015

American League - Semi Finals

All political tyrants of obsessive power and brutality eventually meet their demise.  Ivan the Terrible, Adolph Hitler, Benito Mussolini and others' reigns of terror all came to an end.  In our APBA tournament, my son, affectionately nicknamed Yankee Boy by me, has kicked my butt across the table since we started.  He plays only the Yankees and manages them harder than Billy Martin ever did.  I manage whoever is playing against him, and use every APBA ploy I know to try to win.

His 1986 team (a #10 seed) ran the tables sweeping 5 straight series with a perfect 10-0 record.  In those 10 games, the Bronx Bombers blasted 22 home runs, while their pitching staff combined for a 2.71 ERA.  That feat will likely never be duplicated.  Casey Stengel with a crystal baseball, could not have predicted such total domination.  

In the next tournament, his 1985 team won 4 series to take the AL Championship, but not in the same dominating fashion.  All 4 of those series took 3 games to clinch.  With a second straight AL title, the Yankees and their fans were in love with the Boy.  But then the '85 team took their 8-4 tournament record into the Championship against the '85 Cardinals, where the birds swept New York in 2 straight games.  They finished the 2nd tournament, 8-6.  As Bob Dylan sang, The times, they are a changin'.

The 1980 New York Yankees were
a lively bunch of characters
History rolls backwards in our tournament world, and our latest venture finds us between 1976 and 1980.  A time of disco on the dance floors, bell bottoms on teenagers, H.R. Puffenstuff on television and Jimmy Carter in the White House.  It was also a time of some good baseball and baseball players.  With 103 wins, the 1980 club had the highest seed (#2) of any Yankee team in the tournaments.  They dominated a young but talented '78 Tiger team with pitching.  Guidry and John allowed only 1 run over 2 games, as New York swept Detroit.  It marked the 3rd time in as many tournaments the Yankees have eliminated the Tigers.

The 1977 Kansas City Royals had lost to the 1977 Yankees in the ALCS just as the '76 and '78 teams did.  But in 1980, they turned things around, sweeping this New York team in 3 straight games.  In real life, the ALCS between 1976 and 1978 were always great baseball to watch.  They were hard fought games between teams that honestly hated each other.  The Yankees won all 3 series, but it took 4 or 5 games each time.  However, in 1980, when Kansas City finally won, they swept New York in 3.  

The question remained if this 1977 Royals team could handle the 1980 Yankees in the same way.  In theory, we have the best teams from each franchise for this time frame based upon their records, yet both particular versions had lost to the other in post season play.  Someone was about to reverse that fate.

NEW YORK - Tommy John went for New York in Game 1 and would face Royals ace, Dennis Leonard, in a classic.  Big John Mayberry got KC on the board first with a solo homer in the 2nd.  Graig Nettles provided one in the bottom half of the inning to tie it back up.  In the 3rd, Frank White and Freddie Patek combined with a triple and double to push the Royals back on top. But the Yankees, spurred on by the Boy, answered with singles from Bobby Brown and Willie Randolph.  Bucky Dent walked to load the bases for Reggie.  I expected, or feared, many scenarios, but not two back to back PRN 14s needed for Jackson to coax a walk off of the Z graded Leonard.  Game tied 2-2.  A short fly ball off the bat of Watson was not deep enough to bring home the third run, for out number 2.  A struggling Jim Spencer struck out to leave the bases full.  That wasted opportunity would come back to haunt New York.

A Joe Zdeb double and Darrell Porter single, netted two more Royal runs in the 4th, as the two teams slugged it out run for run.  But this time, New York could not answer the call.  Leonard held the Yankees to only 1 walk over the next two frames, as the 5th inning ended with KC up 4-2.  Bob Watson walked to lead off the Yankee 6th, but two fly outs made it look as if nothing would come of it.  Then, Rick Cerone smashed a double in the gap scoring Watson and bringing New York to within a run.  Steve Mingori pitched a scoreless 8th and Larry Gura matched the effort in the 9th, and Kansas City hung on to take Game 1 by a score of 4-3.


KANSAS CITY, MO - Ron Guidry and the Boy have a shaky relationship.  The Guidry's were required to hide their small pets for several weeks after multiple bad outings in the last tournament made the Boy furious with Lousiana Lightening.  His performance in the Quarter Finals soothed their torn relationship, but back to back gems would certainly get the longtime Yankee starter back into the young manager's good graces.  It was not to be, and the Guidrys have again moved their pets inside for protection.

Rick "Sponge Head" Cerone
The Yankees got on the board first as Bobby Brown and Rick Cerone both drove in runs in the 2nd inning.  Things got exciting in the top of the 4th.  Bob Watson led off the inning with a 66-1 to put New York ahead 3-0.  Bobby Brown singled and stole second base.  With a rally in the making, Jim Colborn worked from the stretch.  Rick Cerone lined a ball off Colborn's knee putting runners on the corners.  More importantly, Colburn was injured and would be unable to finish the game.  This created a problem for the Royals.  The '77 team is not deep in the bull pen.  Further, if a pitcher faces more than 5 batters or pitches more than 1 inning, he has to have one game of rest.  Any Royal reliever used beyond those numbers would not be available for Game 3, if necessary.  Manager dad had to think.  My team was already down 3-0, with runners on the corners and no outs.  I hated to give up on the game, but I also hated to burn any of a somewhat short bullpen for the finale.  With the lefty Murcer up, lefty Steve Mingori was brought in to face him.  Murcer flied to centerfield deep enough to bring home the speedy Brown, but the damage was contained on ground balls from Randolph and Dent.  Kansas City had dodged a bullet, but it would take a miracle to turn this around.

The Royals answered quickly as Al Cowens gapped a 1 out double in the bottom of the 4th and was moved to third on a ground ball by Amos Otis.  Guidry walked Mayberry and Zdeb to load the bases for Darrell Porter.  The Royal catcher blooped a base hit over Randolph's head, scoring two.  Frank White knocked in one more to shave down the New York lead to 4-3.

One by one, new Royal pitchers were marched out to the mound.  Each time, they faced no more than 5 batters and each would pitch only one full inning.

In the 6th inning, little Freddie Patek, cranked out 66-0, 33-1 to tie the game.  It's not easy hitting home runs with a mop handle.  The event reminded us of the prior tournament when Ozzie Smith, of all people, went yard with a Guidry pitch in the championship game for the Cardinals.  Hal McRae followed with a base hit, and George Brett's monster home run over the right field wall put the Royals ahead for the first time in the game, 6-4.

Andy Hassler (D) made for some drama, facing 5 batters, but holding New York scoreless in the 7th.  Likewise, in the 8th.  Doug Bird made it interesting.  Nettles singled, but Watson and Brown both struck out swinging.  Rick Cerone doubled home Nettles to cut the lead to 6-5.  Bobby Murcer could tie the game with a hit, but he grounded out to Frank White to end the inning for another missed New York opportunity.  

The Royals' used a platoon of 3 different closers in 1977.  Bird, Gura and Littell, all shared the responsibilities in real life.  In this game, Larry Gura took the mound in the 9th.  There were no additional pitchers in the Royal bullpen.  If Gura went beyond the pitch limits and New York won, KC would go without him in Game 3.  With the top of the order due up for New York in the 9th, Royal fans held their breath.  Randolph, Dent and Jackson all flied out to Amos Otis in center field as the Royals won the game, the series, and the Bronx Bombers were eliminated.  The 1977 Royals had swept the 1980 Yankees just as the 1980 Kansas City team did in real life.  

After the game, Shortstop Freddie Patek was given a brand new Datsun by a local car dealership.  The car was awarded to Patek partially because of his game tying home run in the 6th inning (to correspond with Datsun's 'Go a Long Way' ad campaign), and partially because he was the only Royal who could fit in it.  Originally, the car was awarded to John Mayberry for being the first Royal to homer against the Yankees in the series.  His only comment was, "You gotta be kiddin' me", when he saw the compact little gas saver.

If the rabbits were coming,
Jimmy was going
PLAINS, GA - As a joke, prior to boarding his private airplane, Peanut One, someone in the crowd yelled, "The rabbits are coming!!  The rabbits are coming!!"  After his recent encounter with the viscious 'swamp bunny', Carter reacted in an unanticipated manner and bolted from the loading area, jumped a fence and ran for the protection of nearby secret service agents.  Once the commotion settled, and it was determined that the whole thing was just a cruel prank, the tournament director vowed to go back into the woods and capture the heinous creature that he had fought off so valiantly. 

Carter met with officials at the Pentagon, and it was determined that a special team of Navy SEALs would accompany Carter on this brave mission to protect him from accidentally hurting himself, if not the bunny.  The team was instructed to help find the rabbit, and if possible, to capture it alive. 

Armed with special forces riot gear and an (unloaded) fully automatic Ak5 assault rifle, Carter and his SEAL team entered the secluded wooded area near where the rabbit was last seen.  Carter was camouflaged and placed in a safe place to observe. Feeling the need to give Commander in Chief type of orders, Carter addressed the troops in a hushed voice.  "Shhhh.  Be vewy, vewy quiet.  I'm hunting wabbit."  Hours passed as the combatants waited for the furry little mammal to make its move.

The killer bunny was captured
by a local bird watcher
Members of the team were radioed that an unarmed citizen in the community had located and captured the beast. This information was passed onto to our tournament director who was obviously disappointed that he was not given the opportunity to shoot something.  He was unaware that the team had removed all ammunition from his weapon in an attempt to protect him as well as themselves.

BOSTON - The Red Sox and A's faced off in a rematch of the 1975 ALCS.  In the actual series, Boston swept the A's in 3 games before advancing to beat the Reds in the 1975 World Series, 3 games to 4.  The 1976 A's team marks the last remnants of the powerful franchise from the early 70s.  

Oakland struck first in the top of the 3rd, when Joe Rudi gapped a double scoring Bill North and Don Baylor.  The 9 hitter for the Sox, Butch Hobson, hit a solo home run to cut the lead to 1 in Boston's half of the inning.  Phil Garner tripled to lead off the 7th and scored on a North double.  With runners on the corners, Sal Bando singled home North putting the A's ahead 4-1.  In the bottom of the 7th, Boston answered when Burleson tripled home Dwight Evans and Hobson, cutting the lead to 4-3.  Vida Blue held the Sox scoreless in the 8th, and Rollie Fingers pitched a 1-2-3 inning in the 9th, and Oakand took the first game.

OAKLAND, CA - The teams moved to Oakland where the A's threw their second A Grade starter in Mike Torrez at the Sox.  In a bizarre twist, Boston's #2 starter was also named Mike Torrez and shared a striking facial resemblance to the Oakland starter.  The Boston version's C Grade made him not quite as handsome as the one from Oakland.  When playing time warp baseball with teams from different seasons, it is not unusual to have the same player on opposing teams.  However, this marked the first time the same pitcher had pitched against himself in any of the tournaments.  With the DH rule in effect, at least he would not have to bat against himself.  When the teams met in 1975, Torrez was on neither team.  I suppose he wanted to make up for the lost opportunity.

The A's Torrez allowed the Red Sox only 1 base runner (Remy single to lead off the game) through the first 3 frames.  The Boston version was not as sharp, giving up 1 walk and 2 singles to the A's, but also held the opposing team scoreless through 3.

Carlton Fisk knows how
to get down and dirty
In the 4th, Carlton Fisk doubled home Burleson, and Boston took a 1-0 lead.  Oakland came right back.  Don Baylor singled, stole second, moved to 3rd on ground ball to second base and scored on a Sal Bando sac fly.  Now that's economy.  Boston kept on the gas as Hobson doubled and scored on a Remy triple in the 5th, to put the Sox back out front 2-1.  In the 7th, Gene Tenace walked to lead things off for Oakland.  Just as in real life baseball, it's amazing how many times a lead off walk results in a run in APBA.  Claudell Washington popped out to third and Billy Williams flew out to left field, making it appear that the Boston Torrez might dodge a bullet.  Not so.  Phil Garner singled Tenace to third, then stole second.  Bill North singled to drive in both runners and give the A's their first lead of the game at 3-2.

Fingers searches through the media
guide during the game to determine
if he pitched for Boston or Oakland
The Oakland Torrez gave up a single to Yaz in the 8th, but left him stranded there.  In the 9th, Rollie Fingers, who also appeared confused in the bullpen about which team he was pitching for, entered the game and set down Lynn, Scott and Evans 1-2-3 to collect his second save in as many games.  Torrez took the loss and Torrez was awarded the win.

The A's advance to the AL Championship of the Jimmy Carter Invitational as a #9 seed, while the 1977 Royals make their appearance as a #3.  KC's advancement ties the 83 White Sox as the highest AL seed to make it to the championship game.

In 11 seasons, between 1971 and 1981, only one team other than the Oakland A's or Kansas City Royals (1979 Angels) won the American League Western Division title.  It seems fitting that these two franchises, who were so dominant during this period, would fight it out for a spot in the tournament World Series. 

After sweeping the Yankees, George Brett asked Carter if he thought he could serve as tournament director for the final bracket.  Carter, laughed and assured the Hall of Famer that his services would be needed more on the field by the 1975 Royals than in an administrative role as tournament director.  "Besides", said Carter, "the field is pretty full already.  These two are arguing all of the time about who is going to get the last one."

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