Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Curses and grudges

In the world of APBA baseball, sometimes it recreates more than just stats similar to real life.  Sometimes, it creates the same drama, tension and rivalries as real life - even curses.  Maybe.

In the American League Semi-Finals of the Richard Nixon Invitational (best team from each franchise between 1971-1975), the 1974 New York Yankees faced the 1975 Boston Red Sox.  This is the fourth such tournament played by my son and me.  He insists on managing only the New York Yankees in order to keep all of his good APBA fortune and luck saved up for the boys in pin stripes.

He has one championship to his credit, as he led the 1986 Yankees to a perfect 10-0 record in the first tournament.  He got close with the 1985 team, winning the American League Pennant but falling to the '85 St. Louis Cardinals in the Championship.  His best team by regular season record, so far, was the 1980 Yankees, but they failed to make it out of the Semi-finals.  With that, and knowing the Yankees of the late 60s and early 70s were not extremely successful, I took comfort knowing I was likely safe from another Yankee title at the hands of the Boy, at least until the 1961 M&M boys take the field.

His '74 team beat Frank Robinson and the 1975 Cleveland Indians in the first round, which was not really surprising.  His next match up was the #2 seed, 1971 Oakland A's and their 101 wins.  Yankee Boy and this light hitting bunch of Bronx Bombers (more accurately Bronx Bloopers) rolled over Charlie O's group, sweeping Oakland in 2 games.  Next up was the #3 seed, 1975 Boston Red Sox.  This would be the first Yankee - Red Sox series of any tournament so far.  With the '75 Reds working their way through the National League bracket, I just knew a rematch of the 1975 World Series would be waiting on me at the end of the tournament road.

The Red Sox were excited to have home field advantage and looked forward to making quick work of the Yankees.  But in Game 1, New York ace Pat Dobson continued to be masterful, pitching his second complete game in 3 starts.  The Snake gave up only 2 earned runs over 9 innings and saw his ERA climb all the way to 1.01 for the tournament, as he stayed undefeated at 3-0.  The Yanks never trailed in the game, getting out to a 6-0 lead in the 5th inning, and winning easily 8-2.

The Yankees got out early again in Game 2 leading 3-0 after 5 innings.  But The Sox pulled even in the 6th, as Dwight Evans singled, Cooper Tripled, Doyle singled and Lynn doubled, back to back to back to back.  Bill Lee and Doc Medich hurled scoreless 7th innings as the teams remained deadlocked.  Carl Yastrzemski (who did not have a particularly good card in 1975) slammed a solo home run in the 8th to put the Sox up 4-3.  Reggie Cleveland and Dick Drago gave Lee the relief he needed in the 8th and 9th innings, and Boston pulled even, setting up a Game 3 finale.

Boston fans outside Fenway
Boston fans lined up outside the stadium waiting on tickets to Game 3 and a chance to witness first hand the elimination of their rival Yankees.  Those fans greatly anticipated their pitching advantage, as the Sox 3rd pitcher was Rick Wise (B-YZ) against the Yanks Dick Tidrow (D-Z).  

Tournament rules dictate that the pitching rotation for all teams consist of the 3 pitchers with the most inning pitched in the regular season.  A starting pitcher must pitch 3 innings or allow 5 runs before he can be removed.  The Red Sox could feast on Tidrow's D grade for at least 9 outs, and, they took full advantage.

Jim Rice and Carlton Fisk started the 2nd inning off with back to back singles.  Yaz popped out to Jim Mason at short, but Sandy Alomar boooted a Rico Petrocelli ground ball, loading the bases.  Rick Burlson's fly ball to right field would have ended the inning if Alomar had successfully played the grounder, but with 1 out instead of 2, Rice was able to tag and trot home with the games first run.

Tidrow entered his last frame of work by striking out Cecil Cooper and getting Denny Doyle to ground out to Jim Mason.  With 2 out and no one on base, the Boy and Yankee fans everywhere breathed a collective sigh of relief - but too fast.  Lynn walked and Jim Rice's 66-1 over the Green Monster in left field gave the Sox a 3-0 lead.

With Tidrow's mandatory sentence served, the Boy went to the pen for lefty Larry Gura (C-Z).  The future Royal was not much better than Tidrow, but any improvement gave New York fans a little confidence.  The 4th inning was a simple 1-2-3 event with only routine plays.  Dwight Evans singled to lead off the 5th and Cecil Cooper was hit by a pitch to get the first two Red Sox on base.  Lynn followed one batter later with an infield hit to load the bases and bring the Fenway fans to their feet, as Jim Rice strolled to the box.  Sweat formed on the boy's upper lip.  The dice rolled and Rice's 44-7 scored 2 more and gave Boston their biggest lead of the series at 5-0.

My APBA buddy, Doug Schuyler, was getting text updates throughout the game.  In his 1983 Tournament, my terrible '83 Reds are playing well beyond their abilities and advancing through the competition.  With that kind of APBA luck rolling my way across hundreds of miles, I had this game and series in the bag.  But in the 6th, Thurman Munson doubled home Blomberg and scored on a Bobby Murcer base hit as New York entered the scoring column for the first time of the night.  Doug's advice to the Yankee Boy: "Think like a winner Matthew!" The Red Sox Nation and I would like to thank Doug for those encouraging words to the dice rolling, leader of the Evil Empire.

In the top of the 8th inning, Rick Wise remained in the game but was tiring.  In house rules require a 1 grade drop to any pitcher after his 32nd batter faced.  It's not an official APBA rule, but one I've observed for 30 years of play and one I find generates a little more realism into games with teams from the modern era.  Nettles (batter 31) grounded out to third base for the first out.  Munson's 55-8 turned into a fly out to center field against Wise's B-Grade.  But now with 32 batters faced Wise dropped to a C.  The Sox were 4 outs away from advancing.  

Roger Moret laughs at my goof of
burning the only graded long reliever
in the Red Sox bull pen.
The biggest weakness I see with the '75 Red Sox is their bull pen.  It's thin.  Drago is a B*-Y closer, but beyond that, there isn't much quality there.  Another in house rule is a 1 grade bump for a reliever against either of the first two batters they face where the pitcher maintains a platoon advantage, in the inning where they make their appearance.  With lefties Murcer and Chambliss up, I called on lefty Roger Moret (C-Y) to get the grade bump and get me out of the inning so I could hand the ball to my closer, Drago.  Moret walked Murcer.  No problem.  Chambliss is also a lefty and Moret maintains the grade bump against him in this inning.  Chambliss' 35-37 got Murcer thrown out at 2nd base and ended the inning.  The Red Sox fans erupted with joy.  

Boston failed to add to their lead in the 8th, but they needed only 3 Yankee outs.  Moret stayed in to face Chambliss, although the grade bump was gone since he was now working in his 2nd inning.  A walk to the New York first baseman resulted in a call to the pen for closer Dick Drago.  Sandy Alomar hustled out an infield hit to bring the tying run to the plate. After counting 1's on cards, Yankee Boy called upon Bill Sudakis to pinch hit for Jim Mason.  But a pop out to Fisk put Boston to within 2 outs of their goal.  Elliott Maddox flew out to Jim Rice in left field for the second out and Fenway Park swayed under the excitement of its fan base.

Lou ponders Yankee Boy's moves
Yankee Boy called Piniella back from the on deck circle - WAIT - WHAT???  Sweet Lou leads New York in hits in the tournament with 15 and RBIs with 11.  Why would the Boy want to pull him??  Apparently, there are old grudges existing between the two.  Piniella failed to produce in prior BBW projects for the Boy dating back 6-7 years ago.  Now that's a grudge.  But upon looking down the inept hitters populating the New York bench, Yankee Boy sent Piniella back out of the dug out to the batters box.  This form of open and public humiliation made the volatile and explosive Piniella go off.  Anger showed openly in his face as Drago delivered the pitch.  Piniella only has 2 first column "zeros" on his card, and 66 is one of them.  Many thoughts went through my head.  I'm up 3 with 2 on.  Lou has only 9 second column "ones".  I have a 3 in 4 chance of it being something other than a home run and can still hang on to win this.  55 is one of the ones.  Tie game.

In the 10th, the Boy and his band of pinstriped minions continued their attack on the good and decent Boston team.  Sandy Alomar's triple scored Murcer and Chambliss and Fenway Park fell silent.  Closer Dick Drago had given up 4 runs all earned in 2 innings of work.  

But the Bosox were not done.  With lefty Rudy May on the mound for New York, Juan Beniquez pinch hit for Denny Doyle and drew a walk.  Fred Lynn did the same, and the tying run was now on base.  Rice lumbered to the box.  A 66 would win it!!  But a strike out swinging produced only the first out instead.  But now Fisk was up.  Again, a 66 would win it!!  Carlton produced a ground out to third base that moved the runners into scoring position.  Yaz came through with a base hit that plated both and tied the game at 7-7!

Late inning replacement and
bearer of the Curse - Gene Michael
We move into the 11th and Drago, having pitched 2 innings in relief, was done.  The only remaining options for Boston had grades of D.  Reggie Cleveland (D-Z) was called upon to work and try to maintain the tie.  A 1-2-3 frame had the crowd back on its feet cheering again!  Suddenly, no one remembered the long wait for tickets earlier that day.  All the Sox needed was a run.  Burleson walked and the tension mounted.  But suddenly, as if the curse itself were present in the dice and cards, Evans grounded to Gene Michael, who started a 6-4-3 double play erasing the runner.  Cecil Cooper's 11-4 would have been a game ending triple with Burleson on first; but as it turned out, it was a double.  Beniquez (who stayed in for Doyle) lined out to Gene Michael (curse bearer) at short to end the threat.

With 1 away in the 12th, Munson and Mercer combined for back to back singles.  A Chambliss fly out put hope into the Boston faithful that they could dodge the bullet and take another shot at the win.  Alomar beat out his 2nd infield single of the night to load the bases for - you guessed it - curse bearer, Gene Michael.  The good news is, Michael is a very light hitting player.  No power.  A .260 hitter in real life.  But his 42-36 did produce a wild pitch that allowed Munson to cross the plate and moved the other runners into scoring position.  (Curse??  Nah)  Michael's 44-8 singled home Murcer and Alomar and New York led 10-7.  Back to back singles by Maddox and Yankee Boy's new favorite player, Lou Piniella, scored Michael and set the score at 11-7.

Lynn walked to lead off the 12th for Boston, but Rice and Fisk struck out and Yaz grounded out to 3rd to bring an end to this version of the Boston Massacre.  Was it the curse?  I'm not sure.  Does Yankee Boy hold an old grudge against Piniella and did that affect the outcome of the game?  I don't know.  Was it a fantastic way to spend an hour with my son playing a game and reliving great old baseball rivalries?  Absolutely!

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article! Glad you shared your APBA passion with your son.