Before Reggie Jackson was Mr. October, he was Mr. September.
I’m referring to a classic game between the Yankees and Red Sox from September 14, 1977. The Yankees had a 2 1/2 game lead over Boston and a 3-game lead over Baltimore in the division race, with 17 left to play (the Red Sox had 18, the Orioles had 19).
It was the middle game of a three-game series, the Yankees having won the night before. The younger generation doesn’t remember this game, but for fans a little older than I am, I imagine it’s an instant classic.
For the first eight and a half innings, the game was dominated by great defensive plays, of which Jackson had two including one that might have been a home run robbery, and missed opportunities, of which the Red Sox had many. The Red Sox were 0-for-5 with a man on third base in this game against Ed Figueroa, with the outs coming from Carl Yastrzemski (twice), Butch Hobson, Carlton Fisk, and Fred Lynn. The most frustrating of those was Lynn’s bases-loaded no-outs double play in the fifth inning.
The score stayed even until the bottom of the ninth when Thurman Munson singled. The next at-bat was a second-guessers delight on a couple of fronts. On the Boston side, many wondered why Don Zimmer stuck with Reggie Cleveland instead of going to top reliever Bill Campbell to pitch to Reggie Jackson. On the Yankees side, Jackson being asked to bunt, not once but twice, was a puzzle. He hadn’t bunted in a regular season game since the 1972 season.
The bunt sign came off by the time the count was 3-2 and Jackson followed with a 430-foot walk-off home run. It was the kind of moment the Yankees paid big money for when they signed him.
“We’re going to win the pennant,” said Yankees manager Billy Martin to the media afterwards. “I never doubted that. This is the kind of team that rises to the big occasion.”
None was better at that than Jackson, from whom the postgame comments (recorded by Michael Farber of the Bergen Record) were priceless.
“It’s like a fairy tale,” Jackson said. “It’s exciting. You feel everybody loving you. Everyone appreciating you … The more talent someone has, the more someone gets involved and the more he needs to be appreciated … Steinbrenner gave me a lot of bread. I went for the money. I went to New York and tonight was a situation in which I almost had to do something. In the on-deck circle, I prayed to God to let me hit one out and that I would tell everyone you did it. I hit it right on the screws, right on the joy spot.”