Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
Reggie Jackson cut the head off the Boston Red Sox pennant push Wednesday night and set it on a spike in Yankee Stadium.
Buck Tater Man, as the New York Yankee slugger calls himself, knew the magnificent night of baseball was over as soon as ball left bat in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Jackson stood at home plate pumping both fists in the air over his head in vindication and joy as he watched his titanic 440-foot blast soar toward the scoreboard in right-center field that read "O-O".
This was the night Jackson took center stage and would not give it up. It was, not to put too fine a point on it, "the best pressure game I ever played in the best game I was ever part of."
This 2-0 Yankee victory - Thurman Munson was on first base with none out when Jackson lit the final fuse - was as magnificant a pitching and fielding duel as any season has seen. And as bitter a pennant-race pill as any losing team has had to swallow.
Jackson, the man who has tasted bile all season as manager Billy Martin replaced him on defense in the late innings, made two most acrobatic plays of an incredibly well-defensed game.
In the fourth inning it was Jackson sprinting to the wall, leaping to the top and snagging George (Boomer) Scott's line drive an inch or two above the nine-foot fence to prevent a two-run homer.
Three innings later Jackson turned on the jets and dove on his nose to pluck off Bernie Carbo's bloop just before it struck grass to drive in a run.
"I'm not graceful. I'm 'em look so hard," laughed Jackson, who was the picture of raw locomotive power in action on his two masterpieces. "I'm not an all-around superstar player. I know I have superstrength and that's really where it ends for me."
For nearly three hours tonight it seemed that no amount of strength could snap the pitching duel between Boston's Reggie Cleveland and New York's Ed Figueroa.
Munson tried first, splitting the left-center gap in the third with a blistered liner that seemed certain to score two runs. But aging Red Sox captain Carl Yastyemski found the speed of his youth and dashed the ball down, making a flat-out full-extension dive to snag the ball and end the inning.
"We were talking on the bench about who was the greatest player we'd ever played against," said Jackson. "I just kept thinking that in big games I had never seen that man Yastrezmski make a mistake."
No one made a mistake this night. Three times center fielder Mickey Rivers tracked down towering Boston flies hit between 410 and 430 feet by Yaz, Fisk and Butch Hobson. He also took a double from Scott with a stumbling grab in right center.
When Yastrzemski lashed an apparent sure two-run hit up the middle in the fifth, Figueroa blocked the ball with his shin, picked it up and three him out to end an inning that had started as a bases-loaded, none-out firestorm.
On the Boston side it was young Hobson at the hot corner who flagged three bullets before his Yankee victims could leave the batter's box. Once Willie Randolph locked up at the sky after a Hobson sprawl to the left. Poor guy thought Brooks Robinson had retired from third basing.
The clutch pitching almost matched the defense. Figueroa may have given up more line drivers than any seven-hit-shutout pitcher in history, but he had burglar's guts in a jail.
He stranded Jime Rice at third after a one-out triple in the second by fanning Fisk and Hobson. He got Fred Lynn and Yastrzemski on weak tape with two men on in the third. With the bases loaded and none out in that nervous fifth, Figueroa started a 1-2-3 (pitcher-to-catcher-to-first) double play, just before he shinned down Yaz's darter to end the threat.
Cleveland, whose first pitch of the night carried a message - the fast ball hit Rivers in the pit of the back - hardly knew what trouble was. Only one Yankee got past first before Jackson's 10th home run sent the 54,365 home hoarse.
Cleveland, despite all those liners that endanged his fielders, retired 14 of 15 in one stretch.
Nevertheless, a certain sense of fatality followed Cleveland to the mound in the ninth. His mates had knocked the ball to every corner of the ball yard and in one instance virtually out of it. With no trouble at all they could have led, 5-0, and been on the way to a victory that would put them just 1 1/2 games out of first, instead of 3 1/2 and fading.
When Munson opened sudden-death time with a cue-ball single to center off the end of his bat, the ball dribbled out to Lynn as feebly as the Bosox' dying hopes.