Sparky Lyle, The Compleat Relief Pitcher, earned full membership in the New York Yankees' Shrine today with a noble and dogged 6-4 victory over Kansas City that sent the American League playoffs to a deciding fifth game.
Twenty-on years ago on this date Yankee history Don Larsen pitched his perfect game, and, long before that, Babe Ruth led his Murderers Row to its 1927 World Series sweep.
Lyle's performance today may prove's as significant - if not as memorable.
The Yankees were going down for the third time, make up mistake. Starter Ed Figueroa was staked to a rapid 4-0 lead, but the throwing marshmellows.
With each Royal rocket - four of the hits off Figueroa were off the outfield wall - the hosts crept closer to the victory which would have given them this series, three games to one, and put them in the World Series.
When Yankee manager Billy Martin finally made in the desperate lefthanded motion for Lyle, there were only two outs in the fourth inning and the Yanks were clinging to a 5-4 lead. Lyle, who toiled in 72 games this season and worked 2 2/3 innings just 18 hours before, seldom appears before the seventh.
But the Yankee pitching staff looks like the remnants of a death march, each hurler clutching a different part of his body. Figueroa threw as comfortably today as a man with a knife in his side.
So, with the Royal's charging runners at the corners and their best bat at the plate - George (Bad) Brett - Lyle was the only solution. The last resort.
Lyle looked like a stuff, tired and wild pitcher as he fell behind Brett. When the Royal third basemen blistered a third out liner to left field, it seemed only a matter of time until Lyle's number came up.
But it never did. Helped by a double play after a Brett infield hit in the Seventh. Lyle faced 17 Royals and got 16 outs. The Royals who had banged a pair of triples and two doubles in the two innings before Lyle's arrival, never made a murmur, hitting the ball more feebly with each passing inning.
"The tireder I am, the better I pitch," said Lyle, whose entire pitching life is string of contradictions.
"I was glad Billy left me in the night before, even though I was getting' shelled. I needed to wear myself out some."
Then, between spits of tobacco, Lyle grinned. "Probably the most I can go tommorow in the fifth game is five or six innings. After that I'll have to play it by car."
After the titters subsided, Lyle's expression changed. "Think maybe I'm kidding?" he said. "Wait and see. I know what I can do."
So does the entire American League. "He's been a savior for us the whole year," said Graig Nettles, who knocked in what proved to be the winning run.
"Amaze me?" asked catcher Thurman Munson. Hell, competitors don't amaze me with nothing they do."
And so from the fourth inning until the ninth. Lyle nursed his one-run lead as though it were 10.
"When I got the sacrifice fly in the ninth for an insurance run," said Munson, laughing. "I wondered if I'd done right.
"Shoot, Sparky don't know what to do with a two-run lead. He gets all flustered."
About as flustered as Wyatt Earp.
In the afterglow of his heroics, Lyle pulled on his hand-tooled cowboys boots and denim suit, and reflected on his perfection under pressure. "I knew damn well Billy wanted me to finish up when he called me. And I knew I'd throw better the longer I pitched. The tireder I get, the more my slider breaks."
Ah, yes, the slider - the only pitch, Lyle said earlier this year, that he has thrown for a strike in 10 years.
"They say you can't win with just one pitch," snorted Lyle. "They say Walter Johnson couldn't nowadays. Well, Walter Johnson didn't throw a slider.
"I taught myself that slider and I've never messed with another pitch, except the last ball. That's prob'ly why I don't know what a sore arm is," Lyle said.
The New Yorkers' five early runs were almost as much the fault of Royal manager Whitey Herzog as they were a credit to the victors. For the third time in two playoffs (including 1976) against the Yanks, Herzog started Larry Gura and for the third time this worthy failed. This time the onslaught was four runs on six hits in two innings.
Mickey Rivers, who had four hits, merely smashed the games first pitch off the right field wait for a double.
Willie Randolph's single, Bucky Dent's RBI double and a run-scoring Rivers grounder through the middle scored a pair in the second inning. When Munson doubled and Reggie jackson walked to start the third, Herzog finally came and claimed his error.
"I don't understand it," said Herzog, who still has not used his 18-game winner, Jim Colborn. "larry never threw a changeup or a curve. Just hard stuff. I really don't know why."
Reliever Marty Pattin did better, lasting until the ninth despite an RBI-single that he allowed to the first man he faced - Lou Piniella. Billy Martin helped Pattin out of that third inning by insisting on having slugger Chris Chambliss try a suicide squeeze bunt. Pop up . . . double play.
If this game had goats, they were the Royals' John Mayberry and umpire Nick Bremigan.
First basemen Maryberry had a pre-game toothache took a pain-killer on an empty stomach and played despite in Herzog's words, "being sick as a dog."
Unfortunately, Mayberry had fanned once in a crisis, dropped a pop for an error and failed to make a good stretch on a Patek throwing error, before he told his manager he had no business being in the game. Big John had the tooth pulled after the game, and will play Sunday.
All the Royals were nauseated by two Bremigan calls at first base.
Replays showed that his questionable calls probably cost K.C. a run and gave one to N.Y. He ruled that Cambliss' foot was on the base on a first-inning stretch, then said that John Mayberry's toe was off the bag on an identical play in the fourth.
Many a Royal fan left believing that it was not "stretching" a point to say Bremigan blew both calls.
Nettles, so dizzy and blurry-eyed from his own takeout-slide collision with Frank White in the first inning that he "couldn't make out people's faces across the infield" thereafter, plated Randolph with a two-out ground single to right.
Martin was asked who would face the Royals' designated Yankee killer, Paul Splittorff, the Game 1 victor in Sunday's 8-15 p.m. (EDt), sudden-death game.
"Ron Guidry," said Martin, his only choice being that skinny, redoubtable southpaw who has never before started a game on just two days rest.
"Who after that?" asked a wise guy.
"Guidry," repeated Martin sternly, then he turned and glanced at Lyle. They both smiled.
"We know we can beat 'em," gloated Piniella. "We did it in the fifth game last year. They don't know if they can. I saw 'em puttin' away these crates of Jacques Bonet champagne that they were all ready to pop today. I told the guy who was packin' 'em away. They're still going to be in your cellar tomorrow night."