Lefthander Bill Lee of the Red Sox writes about the 'good' old days
I love the playoffs! I loved to pitch against the Yankees. I beat them like a redheaded stepchild. By the end of my American League career, someone told me that I was No. 3 in lifetime winning percentage against the Yankees. I asked who was No. 2, the man told me, "Babe Ruth." Go figure. No wonder Mr. Ruppert wanted the Babe in pinstripes.
When the Angels disposed of New York last year, some Red Sox fans were jumping for joy and celebration for the demise of the Yankees. I was ashamed. I take no satisfaction, unless I get to beat them myself.
I remember my first Opening Day appearance in Yankee Stadium in 1970. I came in out of the bullpen in the left-field corner a-whompin' and a-stompin', only to be greeted by an empty liquor bottle that careened off my chest. It was a glancing blow, but it was enough to "pump me up." I had come on in relief of Gary Peters in the sixth inning. Gary was my roommate. He taught me it was OK to drink beer in spring training, but when it comes to Opening Day in the Big Apple, go right for the VO. In the sixth there was one out, and the bases were drunk (no pun intended). I promptly got out of the jam. I pitched 3 2/3 innings for the save. It doesn't get any better than that.
CBS owned the Yankees in those days. I remember they tried to save money by washing the practice balls to keep them white. You knew they weren't going anywhere. Steinbrenner bought the team and the rivalry was rekindled. He went out and got himself a bunch of Samurai Warriors on the big-dollar market. Jackson, Nettles, Chambliss, and Hunter (the first million-dollar pitcher).
That brings us to the fateful evening of May 20, 1976. I had a 1-0 lead in the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium when Piniella singled and Nettles followed with another single. With a 2-and-0 count facing Otto Velez, I was tiring and my sinker was starting to rise.
Velez hit a sharp, one-hop single to Evans in right field. They sent the ambulatory-challenged Piniella home. Evans clearly had him out by 15 feet. In the ensuing rumble, I was trying to hold Velez out of the pile. Mickey Rivers sucker-punched me, forcing me to let go of Velez. Nettles then blindsided me and dumped me on my shoulder.
I had to leave the game (that was the demise of my fastball, such as it was). The Yankees tied it up in the next inning, but we came back and won it in the 10th. By that time I was riding in a yellow convertible with the Yankees' team doctor to the hospital. I ended up that day with no decision and no shoulder. We had won the game but lost the war of 1976.
I am an excitable boy, coming back too soon later that year. My brain kept telling me that I healed fast, but my brain healed faster than my body. I wanted back at them real bad. I got my chance at Fenway. Just before my start that day the clubhouse boy brought me a brown bag, a gift from Billy Martin. It contained two dead mackerels and a note saying, "Put these in your purse." It was an unsuccessful bid that day. I gave up three home runs, one to Nettles. All of my pitches had turned to mush.
I was asked to do this article, and to duel once more with that "Yankee," honorable Jim Bouton. I do not see Jim Bouton in pinstripes. I see him as "Adaptable Jim." He is pitching into his 50s, like me trying to defy Mother Nature and gravity. We had hooked up a while back for a game in Harlem. I had driven down from Vermont in a Saab convertible. My only concern that day was where to park my car safely, so that I would have transportation home. I decided on a spot down the first base line behind the chain-link fence that surrounded the park off FDR Drive. I don't even remember the outcome of that game, because every time I went into my stretch, I would check the runner and then I would check my car.
Jimmy has the best line ever about pitching. I think it goes like this: "All the time I thought I was holding the ball . . . when I realized it was holding me."
The last time I saw action in Fenway was Oct. 2, 1978. "Where's Bernie? Here comes Gossage. Where's Bernie? Bob Bailey!" The rest is history, as they say.
As I see the Red Sox-Yankees this year, I have to stare into the dugout at the New York bench coach, who sits like an agitated Buddah, scratching his butt. "Who's Stan Papi?" Bill Lee pitched for the Red Sox from 1969-78 and is the author of "The Little Red (Sox) Book: A Revisionist Red Sox History," which was published in April.
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