For two amazing seasons, the Oakland A's have lived by Billy Martin's flamboyant and flawed baseball genius.
Today in Yankee Stadium, the A's died by it.
Martin's gambling decisions blew up twice in the second game of the American League championships, precipitating a seven-run New York fourth inning.
The A's immediately followed Martin's example, blowing sky-high in a 13-3 broad farce and defeat in which the Yankees amassed a playoff record number of runs and hits (19) in putting 25 men on base.
Oakland, its self-confidence almost certainly injured after a slapstick showing, returns home in the worst of all possible conditions.
The A's not only trail, two games to none, in the best-of-five series, but their original Game 3 pitcher, Rick Langford has been scratched because of a bruised foot and Matt Keough must start Thursday night. Also, Martin used four relief pitchers today, perhaps depleting his bullpen choices.
The Yankees have their Big Three primed for Oakland (if three are needed): Dave Righetti, Ron Guidry and Tommy John. Even worse, the Yankee bullpen yawned and rested today as almost unknown rookie right-hander George Frazier earned the victory by pitching the final 5 2/3 innings of five-hit shutout relief.
The Yankees, one victory from their 33rd World Series, had more heroes than owner George Steinbrenner could shake a checkbook at.
Frazier was perhaps most important; he escaped from a potentially huge Oakland fourth inning by getting Rickey Henderson to ground into an inning-ending, pitcher-to-home-to-first double play with the bases loaded. The Yankees trailed, 3-1, after the A's half of the inning, holding Oakland to only two runs.
"We almost blew this game open, but (Yankee Manager Bob) Lemon made a good move and called for Frazier," said Martin. "Or maybe Steinbrenner waved for him."
Next in honors was wealthy Dave Winfield, who had his first genuinely heroic playoff game. In the second inning he robbed Tony Armas of a solo homer with another of his step-ladder trips into the first row of the left field bleachers to turn a home run into an out.
In the decisive Yankee fourth with the bases loaded, one out and the score 3-3, Winfield got his first postseason RBI with a two-run, game-winning double. That crucial liner crashed off the same panel of the left-field wall that still bore the foot-long rip made by Winfield's spikes when he had climbed the fence.
The next batter, Lou Piniella, sent a three-run homer into the second row of the left-field bleachers in the corner for an 8-3 lead. That homer epitomized the Yankees' good fortune today: Piniella was in the game only because Reggie Jackson had strained his left lower calf or upper Achilles' heel and left the game in the third inning. To boot, Piniella had not hit a homer in two seasons in this ballyard, which is death to right-handed hitters.
Joining the Yankee parade were Graig Nettles and Jerry Mumphrey, both of whom had four hits.
Despite all this, it was still Martin's two crucial -- and dubious -- decisions in the Yankee fourth that helped transform this game from a 3-1 Oakland advantage to an 8-3 Yankee blowout.
In the top of that inning, the A's broke a 1-1 tie and knocked out Rudy May. Frazier entered with a 2-1 deficit and men on second and third; a major jam. One base hit, and this series seemed well on its way to being tied. After an intentional walk, the A's got a run as ex-Yankee Fred Stanley beat out an infield hit. With MVP candidate Henderson up, the A's were in the catbird's seat.
But Henderson chopped back to the mound, then compounded the felony by hot-dogging as he crossed first -- shortening his stride and looking over his shoulder at the bag to try to milk a call. He was out by inches.
The Yankees began their 12-batter filibuster with Nettles singling and Rick Cerone being hit by a pitch. "Give Cerone an Academy Award," fumed Martin. "It never hit him."
Randolph's single made it 3-2 and starter Steve McCatty, the AL earned run average champion, walked Mumphrey to load the bases with one out.
What do you do? Stay with your ace, McCatty, at least as long as he has a lead, even though his career record against the Yankees is 0-6 with a 7.11 ERA? Or do you wave to a mediocre-at-best bullpen so early in the game?
Martin called for rookie Dave Beard, no ball of fire at his best. The Yankees bearded him, greeting him with this attack: Milbourne's bloop single to tie the game, Winfield's ringing double and Piniella's homer.
Asked why he called for Beard, Martin put on his general manager's hat, jerked his thumb over his shoulder and said, "You'll have to ask my manager."
Even after Winfield's double, the A's were down, 5-3, with men at second and third and first base open.
What do you do? Walk Piniella, then bring in the warmed-up lefty Bob Owchinko to pitch to Oscar Gamble, then Nettles?
Martin does not like Piniella and bench-jockeys him constantly about being Steinbrenner's ears in the clubhouse. This is old '79 bad blood. "We'll throw at Piniella if we have to throw at him on the bench," said Martin before this series.
What Beard threw Piniella was two horrid, hanging breaking balls. The second ended up where it belonged -- in the bleachers.
In defeat, Martin was charming as ever. "The American League sends out these umpire grading forms. Well, they can take me the hell off their list. We're getting the worst umpires in the playoffs, not the best," said Martin. "They made a mockery out of this game, calling the same pitches strikes on us that they called balls on the Yankees.
"Apparently, George (Steinbrenner) got his message across. Give George credit. He's the best umpire intimidator I've ever seen," added Martin, sometimes thought to be a contender in that area.
After Tuesday's fiasco of Oakland stalling, today's home plate umpire, Russ Goetz, seemed in an aggressive, almost belligerent mood toward the A's, as though determined to show them where to head in.
After the game, Steinbrenner, who had raged at the umps himself the night before, visited Lemon's office, closed the door and called American League President Lee McPhail. "That's the most authoritative job I've ever seen done behind home plate," said Steinbrenner. "That's just how it should be done."
Fortunately for Billy Martin's blood pressure, it was a scene he was not privileged to see.