The situation was bleak for the 1978 New York Yankees, as the Boston Red Sox were on an unbelievable 111-win pace while the Yankees dealt with injuries and endless controversy from alcoholic manager Billy Martin, outspoken slugger Reggie Jackson, and bombastic owner George Steinbrenner
Suddenly, the fortunes of both teams began to change. Martin resigned after publicly insulting both Jackson and Steinbrenner, replaced by Hall of Fame pitcher and former Chicago White Sox manager Bob Lemon. The Yankees became healthy and the Red Sox struggled.
The Yankees made up a 10 games in a little over a month, then came to Fenway Park for a four-game showdown from September 7-10. What followed would become known as the "Boston Massacre."
New York made a quick statement in the first game by bombarding former teammate Mike Torrez, Andy Hassler, and Dick Drago for 14 singles and 11 runs within the first four innings, leading to this classic photo of a disgruntled Carl Yastrzemski.
The beating foreshadowed what was still to come. The final score was 15-3, as second baseman Willie Randolph led the charge with two singles, a double, a walk, and five RBI. Team leaders Thurman Munson and Roy White also chimed in with three hits each; surprisingly, none of the Yankees' 21 hits were homers. Catfish Hunter had to leave the game due to a pulled groin after three innings, but reliever Ken Clay threw six good innings to preserve the win. Neither manager thought that the blowouts would continue. Lemon said, "You've got to enjoy it while you can. We'll probably have to scratch for runs in the next game." Veteran Yankee first baseman Chris Chambliss added, "The Red Sox will come back, but we were up for this game."
Don Zimmer, Boston's manager, felt his team was ready for the next game on September 8th, taking solace in the fact that the 15-3 beating "still only counts as one game." Two rookies named Jim started against each other, Beattie for the Yanks and Wright for Boston. Only Beattie emerged with a good game, as he shut out the powerful Red Sox lineup for eight innings on three hits. Meanwhile, the Yankees continued to thrash the opposing pitching staff--Wright, Tom Burgmeier, and "Spaceman" Bill Lee surrendered 13 runs and 17 hits. The game was basically over once the Yankees took an 8-0 lead in the second, powered by a three-run homer from Jackson, who battled through a virus to stay in the lineup. Lou Piniella finished a mere single shy of the cycle. A couple of unearned runs against Beattie in the ninth made the final score 13-2.
Lemon's expectations of the series rose once his team finished off its second consecutive blowout of its biggest rival: "The way we're playing, I won't be happy with a split in the next two games. I want 'em both. We're loose--a lot looser than when we came in here." Boston was not hitting, pitching, or even fielding well at all. After watching them commit nine errors in two games, Yankee scout Clyde King mused, "Boston's got the best record in baseball. I could understand if an expansion fell apart like this. It can't go on like this." King had a keen eye for talent, but he would be mistaken in this case.
The Yankees sought to secure the series victory in the third game of the series. The Red Sox appeared as hopeless as ever, and the fact that they had to deal with a pitcher in the middle of one of the greatest seasons in the history of baseball only made matters worse. Ron Guidry carried a sparkling 20-2 record and a 1.84 ERA into the game; he would somehow find a way to make his season look even better. Leadoff hitter Rick Burleson singled to center to begin the game, and after a sacrifice bunt moved him to second base, Jim Rice beat out a slow ground ball to shortstop Bucky Dent (Burleson was forced to stay at second though). That was it for the Red Sox on September 9th. Guidry no-hit them for the remaining 8.2 innings. On the Saturday afternoon broadcast, broadcaster Tony Kubek remarked "This is the first time I've seen a first-place team chasing a second-place team."
Boston countered Guidry with ace Dennis Eckersley, but even he was blasted out of the game by the sizzling Yankee offense, a seven-run fourth inning ensuring a quick exit. It was humiliating for the Red Sox, as backstop Carlton Fisk muttered to reporters, "How can a team get 30-something games over .500 in July and then in September see its pitching, hitting, and fielding all fall apart at the same time?" There was no answer.
In the series finale, the Yankees incredibly had an opportunity to tie for first place, an idea that seemed inconceivable only a few weeks ago. The pitching situation had become so dire for Boston that rookie southpaw Bobby Sprowl took the hill for only his second career start on September 10th. He did not make it out of the first inning, removed after a double play, four walks, and a single. Third baseman Graig Nettles singled home two more runs against reliever Bob Stanley. By the end of the top of the fourth, the Yankees held a 6-0 lead. Starter Ed Figueroa gave up a few runs, but won the game with six innings of three-hit ball. Hall of Fame reliever Goose Gossage saved it with three solid innings of his own. The final score was 7-3, and the Yankees were officially tied for first place. The Yankees outscored the Red Sox 42-9 and outhit them 67-21, averaging 10.5 runs and 16.75 hits per game, all in Boston's own park.
The "Boston Massacre" was completed 34 years ago today.
Appel, Marty. Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012.
Frommer, Harvey and Frederic J. Frommer. Red Sox vs. Yankees: The Great Rivalry. Champaign, IL: Sports Publishing LLC, 2004.