It's October -- misty, miserable and chilly in Yankee Stadium -- so Reggie Jackson must be back.
Tonight, Mr. October joined with two of the greatest late-season players in history, Ron Guidry and Goose Gossage, to clinch a tie for the American League East title for the New York Yankees with a 3-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers.
For the past six weeks, while his teammates have been at their most brilliant, Jackson's bat has been almost silent, going from Aug. 15 through the last day of September without more than one RBI in any game. But this evening, Jackson quieted any talk here of the Yanks having a case of last week pennant race nerves as he homered in his third consecutive game.
The Yankees were subdued, even though their magic number is now just one. Only in the unlikely eventuality that the Yanks lose their last three games here to the Tigers and Baltimore wins its final three games at home against Cleveland would there be a playoff game here on Monday. A sensible estimate of the arithmetic probability of such a six-way parlay is on the order of 64-1.
"We still have to win one more game, said Manager Dick Howser after seeing Guidry work 7 1/2 innings for his fourth straight starting victory and Gossage get the last five outs for his 32nd save. "I'm still a first-year preppie at this managing. I'm not good enough to predict what my team will do. I'll probably never get that smart."
Are you listening, Earl Weaver?
Asked if he had any thoughts on boats that owner George Steinbrenner might be building to ship the Yankees to sea if they blow their lead, Howser smiled mildly and said, "That kind of needling isn't me. That's between George and Earl. The only boat I'd ever built might be a sail boat to go bone fishing off the (Florida) Keys with (Coach) Charlie Lau."
The Yankees could not have won in more typical fashion in this game that was delayed 77 minutes in the second inning by heavy rain. Oscar Gamble and Jackson hit back-to-back homers off loser Jack Morris (16-15) in the fourth inning to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead.Like everything in the Yankees' 1001-win season, Jackson's 40th homer, which ties him for the league lead with Ben Oglivie of Milwaukee, was a near thing. Tiger center fielder Ricky Peters ticked the ball with his glove as he leaped above the wall near the 385-foot sign in right center.
Jackson and Gamble (who hit .388 for September and has nine homers in his last 83 at-bats) were back at work in the sixth as Gamble walked, then took third on Jackson's hard single to right Gamble then scored the eventual winning run on Bob Watson's sacrifice fly to right.
It will not help the digestion in Baltimore to hear that the Tigers felt Gambles' heel was clipped by Jackson's smash. Manager Sparky Anderson argued until ump Bill Haller ejected him that Gamble should have been out. One replay angle seemed to support Haller.
If that was one Yankee close call, then matters got tighter in the eighth when Guildry, who was hit fairly hard despite seven strikeouts, was knocked out by a one-out Steve Kemp double. Gossage, who had allowed six runs in his last two appearances, got a fly ball out but then gave up a opposite field RBI triple to rookie Tom Brookens, cutting the lead to 3-2.
Entering this game the Yankees had held 74 of 76 leads entering the seventh inning. Could such defiance of reasonable odds continue? With Gossage it could.
Detroit's Al Cowens never moved the bat from his frozen shoulder as he took three Gossage strikes to end the inning.
That final Gossage fast ball probably marked the third strike for any comeback hopes in Baltimore as well.
The Yankees' key autumn players are finding their form. Guidry, whose career record after All-Star breaks is 42-11, has four dogged, if unspectacular, victories since returning from bullpen exile. Gossage, after two mortal outings, proclaimed that he had "found the rhythm again."
But, most important, Jackson has rediscovered his sense of the strike zone as well as his enormous confidence.
"I can never remember taking extra batting practice on the last day of September before," he said. "I've been struggling for weeks to get my stroke back. I always want my name to be associated with winning. This time of year, it's not enough to be good: the job description says 'great.'
As always, the Yanks celebrated their tie clinching in style. Steinbrenner had the closed-circuit broadcast of the Ali-Holmes fight wired in to the Yankee locker room, courtesy of his old Cleveland friend, Don King. This game ended just in time for the Yanks to watch the last rounds of Ali's battering. It subdued them as though it had happened to a friend.
"I leaned some things from watching that," said Jackson. "In my lifetime, Ali has probably meant more to blacks than any man except Martin Luther King. He showed us how to be proud, to stand up for an idea. I'm grateful to him.
"But you saw tonight that when you reach a certain age, you can't go ($99 Text ommittee$99).