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#3 Greatest HR in Yankee History

November 4, 2012
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Chambliss and White greet Dent at home after his legendary home run (The Lowell Sun)

Bucky Dent1-Game Playoff | vs. Boston Red Sox | 10/2/1978

On Wednesday, July 19th the Yankees beat Minnesota 2-0 behind 9 shutout innings from Ed Figueroa.  The win helped the Yanks keep pace with the Red Sox who were a distant 14 games ahead of them in the AL East race.  With 72 games left in the regular season, the Yanks sat in 4th place, mired in the drama and instability of the “Bronx Zoo.”  4 days later Martin would coach his last game of the season and give way to Bob Lemon, the first of 5 firings by George Steinbrenner.

July 19th was the high-water mark for the Red Sox in 1978.  From there the Yanks began the unlikeliest of comebacks.  They started by winning 8 of their next 9 games to slash their deficit to 8 games.  As summer waned they won 12 of 14, cutting Boston’s lead to 4 games in time for a 4-game weekend set at Fenway.  In what could only be called the “Boston Massacre,” the Yanks swept the Sox with wins of 15-3, 13-2, 7-0, and 7-4 to leave Boston with a miraculous tie atop the division.  The Yanks took the lead 2 days later with a win over Detroit, an edge that mushroomed to 3.5 games after a 3-2 win over the Sox on September 16th, but Boston won its last 8 games to finish the season deadlocked with the Bombers.  99-63.

A 1-game playoff at Fenway was needed to determine who would earn a trip to the pennant.  The Yanks felt confident with Ron Guidry, the eventual Cy Young Award winner, and his 25-3 record on the mound, but a Carl Yastrzemski home run and a Jim Rice single had given the Sox a 2-0 lead entering the 7th.  Mike Torrez induced a fly out from leadoff batter Graig Nettles before Chris Chambliss and Roy White followed with singles, but a fly out from Jim Spencer moved Torrez within an out of escaping.  With 2 outs Bucky Dent strode to the plate as the very picture of an unlikely hero.

The 5’9″ shortstop, hitting in the 9 spot, had mustered 4 home runs and 37 RBIs during the regular season.  His batting average was a meager .243 and just .140 over the last 20 games.  Had there been anyone, anyone left on the Yankee bench, Lemon would not have put a bat in Dent’s hand, but Willie Randolph was injured and Fred Stanley had pinch hit for Brian Doyle earlier in the inning, leaving Dent in the game.  “I wanted to pinch hit for him but didn’t have anybody to play,” Lemon would later recall.  Dent dug in, choked up on his bat, and stared in at the 6’5″ Torrez, two greasy strips of shoe polish beneath his eyes, with the Yankees season on the brink.

Dent took the first pitch for a ball, then fouled the second off of his bad ankle, crumpling to the ground in pain.  While a trainer checked on him, Mickey Rivers, standing in the on-deck circle, noticed the bat had been cracked.  Pick me out a winner, Mickey.  Rivers let Dent borrow his bat.  On the very next pitch the diminutive infielder entered Yankee lore and the lexicon of Boston expletives when he took Torrez’ hanging breaking ball over the 37’2″ Green Monster to vault the Bombers into a 3-2 lead.

Deep to left!  Yastrzemski will not get it!  It’s a home run!  A three-run homer by Bucky Dent!  And the Yankees now lead by a score of 3-2!

| Bill White, Yankees announcer |

The Yanks tacked on a 4th run in the inning when Thurman Munson doubled in Rivers, who had walked and stolen 2nd.  They pushed the lead to 5-2 on a Reggie Jackson home run in the 8th, but Boston scored 2 off of Goose Gossage in their half of the 8th to trail 5-4 entering the 9th.  Gossage induced a fly out, then Rick Burleson followed with a walk, moving to 2nd on a single by Jerry Remy.  A Jim Rice fly ball moved Burleson to 3rd with 2 outs and Yastrzemski at the plate, the 1967 Triple Crown winner.  Gossage was at his best in the most pressure-packed moments, and stayed true to form as Yaz popped out to Nettles at 3rd to give the Yankees their 100th win of the season and a return trip to the ALCS.

I had a dream as a kid.  I dreamed someday I would hit a home run to win something.

| Bucky Dent |

See the story of Dent’s shot here.

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