Legendary Yankees vs. Red Sox playoff game featured five future Hall of Famers

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Craig Muder

The headlines went to Bucky Dent, whose three-run, seventh-inning homer gave the Yankees the lead for good in their 1978 one-game playoff against the Red Sox.

But for five players that day who went on to Cooperstown, each had a part to play in one of the most unforgettable games of all time.

On Oct. 2, 1978, the Yankees faced the Red Sox at Fenway Park in Game 163, which was needed to determine the American League East title. With the Wild Card more than 15 years away from creation, it was a winner-take-all showdown that wrapped up a heated pennant race.

Future Hall of Famers were all over the field that day. The Yankees featured Reggie Jackson in the cleanup spot as designated hitter, with Goose Gossage in the bullpen. The Red Sox’s lineup was loaded with Jim Rice, Carl Yastrzemski and Carlton Fisk in the 3-4-5 holes.

Yastrzemski led off the second inning with a home run off soon-to-be Cy Young Award winner Ron Guidry, giving Boston a 1-0 lead on a sunny-and-68-degree fall day. The Red Sox increased their lead to 2-0 in the sixth on an RBI single by Rice, who would be named the American League’s Most Valuable Player following the season.

The Dent home run gave the Yankees the lead in the seventh, and later that inning New York extended its lead to 4-2 on a Thurman Munson double, then pushed the advantage of 5-2 when Jackson homered to lead off the eighth.

“That’s for you,” said Jackson as he greeted Yankees owner George Steinbrenner at the edge of the stands after the home run.

But the Red Sox, who had won eight in a row entering the game to force the one-game playoff, stormed back in the eighth. Gossage had relieved Guidry in the seventh inning, and as was the custom of the day the Yankees’ relief ace was expected to finish the game. However, a Jerry Remy double, a Yastrzemski RBI single, a Fisk single and a Fred Lynn single cut the Yankees lead to 5-4 with men on first and second and one out.

Gossage, however, retired Butch Hobson and George Scott to end the threat.

In the ninth, Rick Burleson drew a one-out walk off Gossage and advanced to second on a single by Remy. But Gossage retired Rice on a deep fly ball – sending Burleson to third – and then coaxed Yastrzemski to pop out to third baseman Graig Nettles, ending the game.

“I made up my mind that if I was gonna get beat by Yastrzemski, I would get beat with my best pitch,” said Gossage, whose final fastball completed 2.2 innings of work for the day.

The Yankees, who trailed the Red Sox by 14 games on July 19 and replaced manager Billy Martin with Bob Lemon five days later, went on to defeat the Royals in the American League Championship Series and then the Dodgers in the World Series.

“The way we fought back just goes to show the inner core of pride this team has,” Fisk told United Press International. “It just seems a shame that after 163 games, the whole damn season is decided by one run.”

Yastrzemski was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989, followed by Jackson in 1993, Fisk in 2000, Gossage in 2008 and Rice in 2009.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series