Champion Dodgers were dandy; not so the Yankees
After losing two games they finally got a chance to play at home behind their spectacular young left-hander, who had been the talk of baseball all season. He was struggling that night, but hung in there - saved in the end when his third baseman made a great stab to start a rally-killing double play. That seemed to take the starch out of the opposition, launching a sweep of four straight games, ending with a lopside sixth-game rout in the enemy ballpark.
Yes, there was a lot of deja vu in the 1981 World Series, but instead of Ron Guidry and Graig Nettles, the names this time were Fernando Valenzuela and Ron Cey. And, of course, it was the Los Angeles Dodgers who finally turned the table on the New York Yankees to win their first fall classic since the Koufax, Drysdale glory days of the 1960s.
That third game in L.A., with Valenzuela producing a courageous, 145-pitch complete game effort and Cey hitting a three-run homer along with his big defensive play, was obviously the turning point. But in overall terms one can cite numerous factors that combined to give these Dodgers the triumph they had cherished for so long over the team that had trounced them so decisively in both 1977 and 1978.
First and perhaps most important, the 1981 Dodgers were a team that had turned the dramatic comeback into an art form - and according to many of them, this was one of the big reasons they were able to shrug off those first two losses in New York.
''Even before we got to the Series we had come through five 'no tommorow' situations,'' said outfielder Rick Monday of the way the Dodgers had overcome 0- 2 and 1-2 deficits to beat Houston and Montreal in best-of-five playoff series. ''We didn't accomplish that by selling ourselves short.''
Manager Tom Lasorda said the crucible of those pressure-packed playoffs had helped mold the ''never-say-die'' attitude his club carried into the Series. And if ever a team needed such inner strength it was the Dodgers after those first two games.
They got reasonably good pitching and they played well enough, but every hard-hit ball seemed to go right at somebody, or else a Yankee fielder made a big play, or else a close call went against them. It was enough to take the heart out of a lot of teams, and after their previous frustrations in '77 and ' 78 it was easy to imagine the Dodgers throwing up their hands and saying, ''Here we go again.'' But they didn't.
''We were a lot more confident this time,'' said first baseman Steve Garvey. ''I think it was because of our greater experience and all we've been through. We were still optimistic even after we were down 0-2 - and we showed it.'''
Emotion can take a team only so far, however, and then it becomes a matter of execution, but here too the Dodgers prevailed.
On offense they did the things they were supposed to do. They hit with timeliness and power and produced a balanced attack - so much so that for the first time in the history of the Most Valuable Player voting, those making the choice couldn't settle on one winner, or even two, but decided to split the award three ways.
There was Cey, who not only turned things around in Game 3, but came back after being beaned by a Goose Gossage fastball in Game 5, getting two hits in the finale to finish with a .350 batting average and six RBIs. There was Pedro Guerrero, who after an 0-for-8 start hit more than .500 the rest of the way to wind up at .333, with two homers and seven RBIs. There was catcher Steve Yeager , who also hit two homers, including the winner in the pivotal fifth game, and was a solid force throughout. And a lot of people wondered why they didn't make it a four-way tie and include Garvey, who batted a team best .417 with 10 hits.
The Dodger hitting was no big surprise, but on the other side the Yankees never were able to take similar advantage of their supposed edge in pitching and defense.
The suspect L.A. defense, which had contributed to the earlier Series losses was again a negative factor with nine errors, including a record-breaking six by second baseman Davey Lopes. But this time the Yankees were quite a bit less than airtight in the field themselves - especially in Game 4, when Reggie Jackson lost one fly ball in the sun, Bobby Brown misjudged another, and New York practically handed the Dodgers the 8-7 victory that squared the Series.
The Dodgers also neutralized the expected Yankee edge on the mound, with Burt Hooten and Jerry Reuss each pitching strongly in victory and defeat, Valenzuela coming through in his one appearance, and young reliever Steve Howe winning one game and saving the finale. New York also got strong efforts from its top two starters, Guidry and Tommy John, plus two early saves by Gossage, but the rest of the Yankee staff was a big disappointment.
Indeed, the Yankees played so poorly in their four straight losses that it was difficult at times not to think of this as a Series they blew, rather than as one the Dodgers won. Their defense was sloppy, their baserunning was sometimes not even up to high school standards, and they couldn't ever seem to get the good hit, stranding a record-breaking 55 runners on the bases. There were many disappointments in the New York batting order, but the biggest one had to be Dave Winfield, who batted .045 (1 for 22) in the No. 3 spot.
The Yankee pitching, especially the bullpen which had been one of the team's big strengths all season, failed in many key spots. The middle relievers were unable to hold the Dodgers in check, thus negating what had been New York's biggest edge of all - the awesome presence of Gossage in the bullpen to come in and preserve leads late in the game.
Many of the Yankee problems were quickly laid at Manager Bob Lemon's doorstep by the second guessers.
This was the same Bob Lemon, of course, who seemingly could do no wrong in leading the 1978 Yankees to the world championship, and who appeared to have the magic touch again through two playoff rounds and the first two Series games.
After that, though, everything he did seemed to go wrong - whether it was decisions on whom to play and whom to bench, when to take a pitcher out or leave him in, and when to to pinch-hit in this Series, which was played under National League rules with no designated hitter.
Controversial owner George Steinbrenner, who got into the news as usual via an altercation with fans in a Los Angeles elevator, was so upset by the final result and his club's shoddy performance that he decided an apology was in order.
Bob Watson, who led the Yankee attack with a .318 batting average, simply said, ''The team of the moment won. It was their time. . .they seemed to want it more than we did.
''That was the sentiment of the Dodgers - and they wanted to make sure everyone knew it.
''The World Series wasn't won on any one play,'' added Garvey. ''It was four victories through a lot of pressure. We won the world championship. The Yankess didn't fumble it away.
''Finally, the veteran first baseman, who like many other members of this veteran L.A. club had been waiting a decade or more for this moment, tried to explain how much it meant to all of them: ''It's a special feeling - the end of a very sentimental journey.And how very, very sweet to have won it here, where we've struggled so much (six straight losses, dating back to Game 2 in 1977) - to dispel the myth that we can't win in Yankee Stadium.''