So it's the Dodgers against the Yankees, the first time in 14 years, and it God is on the L.A.side, as Tommy Lasorda insists, then who is guiding Billy Martin? With everything at stake in the last playoff game the other night . Martin did absolutely everything perfectly. Had he lost, he would be out of a job, so outrageous his decisions earned precious victory and Martin today is more genius than fool.
Would any other manager have thought to sit his $2.9 million candy bar on the bench? With the American League championship for the taking, would any other manager have had the requisite nerve to follow through on the thought? Reggie Jackson on the bench? The owner's pet, wjo hit 32 home runs, replaced by a guy who hit four?
Martin's reasoning made sense. In this playoff, Jackson was helpless at bat. Against Kansas City's last-game pitcher, lefthander Paul Splittorff, Jackson might get a hit in 20 tries. So Martin set him own in favor of Paul Blair a righthander batter and superior fielder.
And what happened? Who started the Yankees' winning rally in the ninth inning? Once struck in the head by a pitch, Blair is said to be frightened of hard-throwing righthanders. And wha singled off the hardest-throwing righthanders K.C. has?
And who did Martin choose to pinch hit in the eighth inning with the Yankees trailing, 3-1, and a man in scoring position? Who went up to hit for Cliff Johnson, the Yankees' most dependable hitter in the playoff? And who struck a single that made the score 3 - 2?
We could go on. Martin wasted little time in getting starter Ron Guildry out, replacing him with Mike Torrez, who was sensational, giving the Royals only three hits in 5 1/3 innings. Then Martin brought on lefthander Sparky Lyle, a move that forced Kansas City manager Whitey Herzog - poor Whitey - to leave the decrepit Cookie Rojas at bat when he'd rather have sent John Mayberry up. But Mayberry is a lefthanded hitter and Martin knew that Herzog is a slave to the percentages. Lyle struck out Rojas.
And there's more. In 14 previous games matching the Royals and Yankees, Martin only once used second baseman Willie Randolp in the second spot in the batting order. In the playoff, Graig Nettles had been hitting second. But on the last night, with the pennant for the taking, Martin made a change. He moved Randolph from the No. 8 spot to No. 2.
And who, with a man on third in the ninth inning, delivered a long fly ball to drive in the run that would be enough to win the pennant?
Meanwhile, Herzog failed as often as Martin succeeded. The Royals' demise seemed inevitable when Herzog sent Splittorff to the showers after walking the leadoff man in the eighth inning. Splittorff had been masterful. Herzog's devotion to the lefty - righty percentages soon reduced him to a pathetic pupperteer, pulling soon reduced him to air. Nothing worked, and Splittorff's five successors on the mound gave up four runs in two innings.
If managers are good for maybe five victories a season, as Leo Durocher once estimated his worth, the playoff championship game was one of Martin's five contributions and now the question becomes: Can Billy the Kid figure a way to beat the Dodgers?
A quick answer is: No.
The Yankees' pitching staff is a shambles while the Dodgers' is beautiful. Martin took Don Gullett out after two innings of the first playoff game and said his ace was done for the year. A score shoulder, Martin said. Gullett was in the bullpen two nights ago, throwing, but his effectiveness must be suspect.
Catfish Hunter threw a bit in the bullpen four days ago and Martin says the $3.75 million righthander is ready to go. The manager hasn't used him yet, and one has to think Hunter's problem is not much a urinary tract inflection as a bad case of gospher - ballitis.
Once past Ron Guidry, Mike Torrez and Sparky Lyle, the Yankees have no one clearly able to get your sister out, let alone Steve Garvey.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers have Don Sutton, Tommy John, Doug Rau, Rick Rhoden, Lance Rautzhan and Elias Sosa - a staff good enough to win three out of four games against the Phillies, the best hitting team in the National League.
Unless the Yankees' big lefthanded hitters suddenly find their strokes - Nettles was 3-for-20 in the playoff, Jackson 2-for-16, Chris Chambliss 1-for-17, a conbined average of 113 with two RBI - the New Yorkers will not have the power hitting necessary to cover, the series is close, we need remember this about Billy Martin: He finds a way. A lifetime .257 hitter, Martin hit .333 in28 World Series games. He tied five all-time series records at bat. His biggest home run season was 15, but he hit five homers in the Series. Playing second base, he made only one error.
Save for one pinch - running appearence against the Giants in 1951, all of Martin's work inthe Series was done against the Dodgers in 1952-53-55-56. The Yankees won three times, losing in '55. For Martin, then, the Dodgers are old enemies who bring out the best in him. The Yankees will need it.