The Yankees and Dodgers took off for Los Angeles this morning in separate planes. But the Yankees are flying higher, with lift from the happenings in Games 1 and 2. Because it would be boastful and unprofessional at this stage, the Yankees hush all talk about a four-game sweep, but it has to be strong in their minds after what they've seen of the Dodgers.
The Dodgers look exactly like the imposters they are -- a team without proper credentials that sneaked into the Series because of the split-season gimmick. Everybody knows that the Cincinnati Reds, in the Dodgers' own division, were the National League's best team over the full season.
The Yankees aren't in the Series with clean hands, either, and are also a split-season creation after finishing behind Baltimore and Milwaukee in the American League East in the full haul. But at least the Yankees look and act like a World Series team, and to get there they did knock off the Oakland A's, who had the AL's best overall record, in three straight.
In this Series the Dodgers are a team composed of decent starting pitching and first baseman-hitter Steve Garvey, who has one third of their hits in two games. To describe their infield play as "uncertain" is to flatter it, again excepting Garvey. Outs that should be made weren't. Dodger infielders have looked even more appalling in their proximity to the Yankees' Graig Nettles and Willie Randolph.
Dodger pitchers have a valid case of abandonment by their teammates who, in addition to some imprecise fielding, have revealed themselves in the first two games as a collection of .145 hitters. Just before going into the playoffs, it is remembered, the Dodgers were shut out in two games by rookie San Diego pitchers.
The Dodgers' lack of depth is shocking, even for an ersatz World Series team. In his starting lineup, Manager Tom Lasorda has been going with a .206-hitting second baseman (Davey Lopes) and a .209-hitting catcher (Steve Yeager). His right-handed pinch hitters hardly scare the wits out of the Yankee pitching. Switch-hitter Reggie Smith batted .200 this season, Derrel Thomas .248, Ron Roenicke .238 and Steve Sax .277.
In the opening game, the Dodger management wasn't particularly astute, either. To cool off the Yankee rally in the third, Lasorda brought in right-hander Bob Castillo, a doubtful choice. Castillo brought into the game a 5.29 ERA and the worst base-on-balls record on the staff. An inning later, he walked four Yankees, forcing in a vital run. Score one against Lasorda.
One had to think of the contrast with the Yankee bullpen, where Ron Davis and Rich Gossage are always ready. Davis had a bit of trouble in Game 1, but Gossage rescued him quickly, and in Game 2 it was Gossage who held a lead safe. For opposing teams, Gossage doesn't merely lurk in the bullpen, he fills the doorway. The Yankees, with a lead in the middle or late innings, are almost unbeatable.
The Yankees are two up without benefit of Reggie Jackson. Their depth is personified by Lou Piniella, three for five against Dodger pitching, and the new Mr. October, which may be a problem for Manager Bob Lemon if Jackson declares himself ready to play. And otherwise, Yankee hitters without impressive season averages are waking up in this Series. Bob Watson (.212) is hitting .571, with a game-turning homer.
The Yankees are in front without batting help yet from hitless Dave Winfield. Haven't seemed to need him, what with Nettles and Randolph choking off Dodger threats with their fielding splendor. Nobody, including the Dodgers, is shocked anymore by Nettles' incredible grabs. He is now accepted as a fact of life.
Typical of this Series was the fifth inning of Game 2. The Dodgers had a runner on third with one out, thanks to a Yankee throwing error, and came up empty. The Yankees got their leadoff man on base on Lopes' fumble and scored him for the game's first run. Some teams exploit their breaks, others don't.
And in Game 1, what was Ron Cey doing, trying to go for two on a hit to left as a leadoff man in the seventh, with his club four runs behind? Winfield cut him down with a super throw, the umpire ruled, but even if the umpire was wrong on that close play, as it seemed he was, Cey was the more wrong in trying for two under the circumstances.
Burt Hooton, their starting pitcher in the second game, is called "Happy Hooton" by his Dodger teammates because he never smiles, they say. They gave him little reason to. He went six swell innings, allowed only two singles, but was victimized by an error that gave the Yankees an unearned run, the only run of the game until he retired. His Dodger pals had backed him with a two-hit offense against Tommy John.
On Friday night the Dodgers will look to their glamor boy, Fernando Valenzuela, to bring the Yankees to terms and get Los Angeles a foothold in the Series. And rightly so. If anybody can stop the Yankees, Valenzuela can, with that assortment of stuff he has and a pitching maturity beyond his 20 years. The manner in which he can juke a batter around with his screwballs and other pitches is a study in pitching.
For the Dodgers, the trouble may be that Valenzuela, for all his skills, may not be the best pitcher in the game that night. The Yankees have a great left-hander of their own, Dave Righetti, groomed for this one.
He hasn't pitched as much as Valenzuela, but he's 8-4, and as for Valenzuela's elegant 2.48 ERA, cast a glance at Righetti's 2.05. On Friday night, it says here that the Dodgers may need both Valenzuela and luck.