The New York Yankees are in a full, wide-eyed panic.
From owner to manager to players, the same expression was written on every face after their gloriously goofy 8-7 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers today: "Oh, Lord, what's going to happen to us next?"
The Dodgers now lead this World Series, two games to two.
That's right, they lead.
If the word momentum means anything in sports, then the Dodgers have it now. When they send Jerry Reuss against Ron Guidry in Game 5 at 4:45 p.m. (EST) on Sunday, who knows how much burdensome weight the memory of this marvelously complex and exciting game will carry?
The Dodgers won it with two runs in the seventh inning, breaking a 6-6 tie. The Yankees got their final run in the eighth on a home run by Reggie Jackson, who tied a Series record by getting on base five times. It was his first appearance since a calf injury sidelined him in the second game of the American League championship series.
"I thought this was one of the best baseball games I ever saw . . . thrilling, exciting, full of tension," bubbled Dodger Manager Tommy Lasorda after seeing his Dodgers come back from deficits of 4-0 and 6-3. "I don't know how anyone could ask for anything more."
"I thought the whole thing was pretty lousy," said Yankee Manager Bob Lemon, who had another abysmal game full of second-guessable moves.
If Lemon thought this game a lemon, then Yankee owner George Steinbrenner had eyes full of bile. "There's no excuse for Ron Davis to blow a three-run lead," said Steinbrenner, recalling how Los Angeles had shelled the Gander for three runs in the bottom of the sixth to create the 6-6 tie.
"We had to shake up our lineup today because we'd been getting no production," said Steinbrenner, trying to account for why center fielder Jerry Mumphrey spent the entire day on the Yankee bench.
"And we got seven runs. If our pitchers can't hold that lead, we may not win another game. I'm not lambasting anybody. It was there for 70 million people to see. Our pitching was lousy. Reuschel was lousy. Davis was lousy."
What Steinbrenner didn't want to remember was that the man he had benched, Mumphrey, was the very player whose absence probably cost the Yankees the game.
With Dusty Baker on first and Rick Monday at bat in the bottom of the seventh, this game turned.
Monday hit what he called "a horrible piece of junk off the end of my bat."
As that junk floated toward shallow center field, the same thought seemed to register in every mind: "Where's Mumphrey?"
The late-inning man in center field for the Yankees was notoriously bad fielder Bobby Brown. For Mumphrey, the Monday fly would have been easy Sunday work. For Brown, it was an impossibility. His sliding attempt at a knee-high catch merely produced a Dodger double.
Two batters later the game belonged to the Dodgers. A Steve Yeager pinch-hit sacrifice fly scored the go-ahead run, and a cheap chop single to third by Davey Lopes gave the Dodgers what proved to be the last and winning run.
And where was Mumphrey?
"I don't know," said Graig Nettles, out for the second straight game with a thumb injury. "I asked Jerry 'Why aren't you out there?' and he said, 'I don't know, either.' "
Even in the Yankee owner's box the question was being posed. "We all thought Mumphrey was going out to center field in the sixth inning when we had a three-run lead," said Steinbrenner, mercilessly second-guessing his own manager. "I don't know why he wasn't."
Many a Yankee suspects that it was Steinbrenner himself who, after ordering Mumphrey's benching, was responsible for the fleet center fielder's absence.
"There are millions of people who wonder if George had a hand in Jerry not being out there," said Reggie Jackson, who had two singles and two walks in addition to the homer. "I'm just one of the millions who wishes he knew." The Dodgers' Steve Garvey, who had three more hits today, was asked how the complexion of this Series had changed after two scintillating, one-run Dodger victories within 20 hours. "It's like we've been using a miracle facial soap," said Garvey. "Our complexion has cleared up nicely. We've never looked so good."
And the Yankees have never looked so bad.
New York starter Rick Reuschel was given a 4-0 lead after the Yanks knocked out Dodger hurler Bob Welch on just 16 pitches to four batters in nine minutes of a two-run first inning. But the 250-pound Reuschel couldn't hold the lead.
Worse, the Yankees tangled their bullpen assignments so badly that with the game on the line, tied in the seventh, it was career journeyman George Frazier on the mound, not Goose Gossage. And, for the second time in two days, Frazier, who was not even supposed to appear in this Series, took the loss.
No man had lost back-to-back Series games in 40 years. What in the world, the Yankees must ask, was Frazier doing on the mound in such crises?
Adding to the mood of Yankee panic was the sight of starter Tommy John in relief when Yeager and Lopes came through to bat in runs in that seventh. By what mismanagement of affairs was this 38-year-old making his first rescue appearance in three seasons?
Everywhere the proud Yanks look they see bad news. Dave Winfield, today's center field starter moved back to left when Brown came in, only a fortnight ago was crowing about how this postseason would show his vast total skills. He is now two for 31 and pressing on every swing. "Winfield is 0 for 20 (since midplayoffs) but we can't take 'em all out of the lineup," said Steinbrenner, sounding as though he wished he could.
And in the ninth, the Yankees got two men on base, thanks to some sloppy Dodger fielding. But Willie Randolph, who earlier had tripled and homered, flied out to the warning track in right center in front of the 385-foot sign, as Steve Howe earned the victory with three shutout innings.
One man who wished he were in the lineup but couldn't be is Nettles, who took batting practice before the game in a desperate attempt to play. Instead, he reinjured his bruised left thumb and, by his own admission, "probably set back the healing process a couple of days."
While the Yankees count their misfortunes, the Dodgers are tabulating their heroes.
The beginnings of Dodger madness really began in the bottom of the sixth when pinch hitter Jay Johnstone smashed a two-run homer off Davis to cut New York's lead to 6-5. That lit the fire as a record Dodger Stadium crowd of 56,242 forgot to act laid-back and instead imitated mass hysteria.
When the next batter, Lopes, hit a routine fly ball to right that hit Jackson squarely in the heart for a two-base error, the house rocked with delight.
"I never saw the ball after it got into the sun," said Jackson. "I zigzagged running in hoping the ball would get out of that sunspot. I guess I looked like a drunk."
After Jackson botched Lopes' fly, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the snakebitten, backsliding Yankees would find a way to lose. A Billy Russell single off Davis brought home Lopes with the tying run. As he crossed the plate, he fired one finger in the air.
The Yankees could do nothing to disprove his brash claim.
In defeat, the Yankees sounded alarmingly like the Dodgers of 1978 who, after leading two games to none, then losing two games in Yankee Stadium, began complaining and alibiing about everything except sunspots.
"They got a lot of chop hits and good hops today," said Lemon. "They know where the rocks are in this infield. I guess we have to find them."
"What a terrible ballpark this is," said Steinbrenner. "What an awful infield."
It wasn't bad hops that knocked out Reuschel, nor chops that blasted Davis from the mound when he might have taken command. It wasn't rocks, but rockheadedness that caused the Yankees three more base-running blunders today.
However, when panic sets in, things are not seen for what they are. Perhaps that is why, after this marvelously bizarre 3-hour 32-minute game, Yankee Bob Watson could stubbornly say, "I think we're still in the driver's seat."
Unfortunately for the Yankees, a Chavez Ravine cliff appears to be dead ahead.