After defeating the Milwaukee Brewers in five games in the A.L. East Division Playoff Series and subsequently vanquishing the Oakland A’s in three straight games in the ALCS, the Yankees moved on to the World Series to face the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The Dodgers advanced to the Fall Classic by edging out the Houston Astros in five games in the N.L. West Division Playoff Series, before barely squeaking past the Montreal Expos in five games in the NLCS.

The Dodgers, who finished the regular season with the National League’s second-best overall record (63-47), placed fourth in the senior circuit with 450 runs scored and a .262 team batting average.  Although they finished just 10th in the league with 73 stolen bases, they topped the senior circuit with 82 home runs.  By contrast, the Yankees compiled an overall record of 59-48, finished 11th in the American League with only 421 runs scored, finished ninth with a team batting average of .252, placed second with 100 home runs, and finished eighth with 47 stolen bases.

Ron Cey, Pedro Guerrero, and Steve Garvey were the Dodgers’ primary power threats.  Cey led Los Angeles with 13 homers, drove in 50 runs, and batted .288.  Guerrero hit 12 homers, knocked in 48 runs, and batted .300.  Garvey hit 10 home runs, batted .283, and led the club with 64 runs batted in and 63 runs scored.  Dusty Baker added nine homers and 49 RBIs, and he led the team with a .320 batting average.  Meanwhile, Dave Winfield was New York’s top offensive threat, finishing the year with 13 home runs, 68 runs batted in, and a .294 batting average.

The greatest strengths of both the Dodgers and Yankees lay in their pitching staffs.  New York led the American League with a team ERA of 2.90.  Ron Guidry, Tommy John, and A.L. Rookie of the Year Dave Righetti gave the Yankees a formidable “Big Three” at the top of their starting rotation, and Goose Gossage and Ron Davis gave them an intimidating duo in the bullpen.  Meanwhile, the Dodgers’ team ERA of 3.01 placed them second only to Houston in the senior circuit, and their rotation featured three of the league’s top starters.  Burt Hooton finished 11-6 and placed third in the league with a 2.28 ERA.  Jerry Reuss won 10 of his 14 decisions, and he finished right behind Hooton with an ERA of 2.30.  The most celebrated Dodger hurler, though, was Fernando Valenzuela, who took the National League by storm in his rookie season.  The 20-year-old left-hander finished 13-7, with a 2.48 ERA and a league-leading 180 strikeouts, eight shutouts, 11 complete games, and 192 innings pitched, en route to earning N.L. Rookie of the Year and Cy Young honors, and a fifth-place finish in the league MVP voting.

Heading into the World Series, the Dodgers believed that their “Big Three” compared favorably to that of the Yankees, giving them an excellent chance of turning the tables on a team that defeated them in both the 1977 and 1978 World Series.   

The Dodgers appeared to be somewhat overmatched in the first two contests played in New York, even though the Yankees were forced to play without Reggie Jackson, who missed the first three games of the Series after he injured himself running the bases in Game Two of the ALCS.  A first-inning, three-run homer by Bob Watson gave the Yankees an early lead in Game One that they nursed the rest of the way.  New York also scored single runs in the third and fourth frames, to go up by a score of 5-0.  Ron Guidry worked seven strong innings for the Yankees, allowing the Dodgers just one run on four hits.  Los Angeles made the game interesting by scoring twice against Ron Davis in the top of the eighth inning, but Goose Gossage ended the suspense by throwing shutout ball over the final two innings, to give the Yankees a convincing 5-3 victory.

Burt Hooton allowed the Yankees only one run on three hits over six innings in Game Two, but New York scored twice against Dodger reliever Steve Howe in the eighth frame, en route to posting a 3-0 victory.  Tommy John blanked his former team on just three hits over the first seven innings, before giving way to Goose Gossage in the eighth.  Gossage shut out the Dodgers over the final two innings, allowing them just one hit and striking out three.  However, the win proved to be a costly one for the Yankees, who lost the services of Graig Nettles for the next three games after he injured his thumb playing third base.

Needing a win desperately when the Series shifted to Los Angeles for Game Three, the Dodgers sent Fernando Valenzuela to the mound.  The Yankees countered with fellow rookie Dave Righetti.  Both starters struggled during the early stages of the contest, with Ron Cey reaching Righetti for a three-run homer in the bottom of the first, before New York countered with two runs in each of the next two frames.  Righetti ended up lasting only two innings.  After entering the game in the third, George Frazier surrendered two runs to the Dodgers in the bottom of the fifth.  Meanwhile, Valenzuela settled down to blank New York on only three hits over the final six innings, to give Los Angeles a much-needed 5-4 victory.

The Yankees scored four early runs against Bob Welch and Dave Goltz in Game Four, to build a 4-0 lead.  The Dodgers, though, countered with eight runs of their own against five Yankee pitchers, to eventually take an 8-6 lead.  Making his return to the Yankee lineup, Reggie Jackson capped a three-for-three day by hitting a solo homer in the eighth inning.  But it wasn’t enough, as the Dodgers held on for a Series-tying 8-7 win.

Seeking to halt the Dodgers’ momentum, the Yankees sent Ron Guidry to the mound for Game Five.  Los Angeles countered with Jerry Reuss.  Both men pitched extremely well, with a second-inning run by New York remaining the contest’s only score through the first six innings.  However, after shutting out the Dodgers on only two hits to that point, Guidry gave up back-to-back home runs by Pedro Guerrero and Steve Yeager in the top of the seventh inning that gave the Dodgers a 2-1 victory and a 3-2 Series lead.  Los Angeles won the contest despite collecting only four hits.  Meanwhile, Reuss went the distance, allowing New York only five safeties.  

After sitting out the three previous contests, Graig Nettles returned to the Yankee lineup when the Series moved back to New York for Game Six.  Nettles’ presence hardly mattered, though.  With momentum clearly on their side, the Dodgers pounded six Yankee pitchers for nine runs and 13 hits, en route to posting a 9-2 win that gave them a 4-2 Series victory.  By sweeping the final four games after dropping the first two, Los Angeles duplicated New York’s feat from three years earlier.

Ron Cey, Pedro Guerrero, and Steve Yeager shared Series MVP honors.  Cey homered once, drove in six runs, and batted .350.  Guerrero hit two homers, knocked in seven runs, and batted .333.  Yeager homered twice, drove in four runs, and batted .286.  Meanwhile, Yankee reliever George Frazier suffered the indignity of being charged with three of his team’s four losses.

By Bob_Cohen
1981 World Series, Bob Lemon, Bob Watson, Bob Welch, Burt Hooton, Dave Righetti, Dave Winfield, Dusty Baker, Fernando Valenzuela, George Frazier, George Steinbrenner, Graig Nettles, Jerry Mumphrey, Jerry Reuss, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Pedro Guerrero, Reggie Jackson, Rich Gossage, Rick Cerone, Ron Cey, Ron Davis, Ron Guidry, Rudy May, Steve Garvey, Steve Howe, Steve Yeager, Tommy John, Willie Randolph
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