Cooperstowners definitely starred in Canada on September 21, 1978.
At first glance, the contest between the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays at Exhibition Stadium that night appears to be little more than another late-season loss by the last-place Jays. However, upon closer inspection of the box score, you’ll notice that three Bronx Bombers were doing exactly what would eventually earn them their plaques in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
With the clubs splitting the first two games of the series, the Yankees were looking to win the finale and pad their lead over the Boston Red Sox atop the American League East standings. The Jays were again attempting to muzzle the Bombers’ offence by sending Balor Moore – yet another left-hander – to the hill. He was the third consecutive southpaw to start for the Jays in the series. Mike Willlis and Tom Underwood had started the first two contests.
The Yankees countered with the legendary Catfish Hunter, who despite battling shoulder and groin injuries for much of the season, still owned a 10-5 won/loss record. This proved to be the last opportunity Jays fans would have to see the crafty, five-time 20-game winner pitch in their city. Shoulder woes would force him to retire the following campaign when he was just 33.
On that September night in Toronto, Hunter looked like the pitcher who had won 25 games and the American League Cy Young Award with the Oakland A’s in 1974. After Jays’ leadoff hitter, Rick Bosetti, belted Hunter’s third pitch over the left field wall for a home run, the Yankees ace settled in and permitted just three more hits and held the Jays scoreless over the next five innings.
That was enough time for the clutch-hitting Reggie Jackson, another future Cooperstowner, to smash a two-run double to left field in the fifth inning to give the Bombers a 3-1 lead. Thurman Munson (2 for 4, two RBIs) and Lou Piniella (1 for 4, RBI), two legends many believe will eventually be honoured in Cooperstown (Piniella largely for his managerial career), were also key contributors for the Yankees.
The closest to a rally that the Jays could muster off of Hunter were back-to-back hits by Luis Gomez (single) and Bosetti (double) with one out in the sixth inning. That rally was quashed when Alvis Woods popped up to the catcher and Willie Horton, the most distinguished batter in the Jays lineup, grounded to shortstop.
After the sixth inning, Hunter was replaced by future Hall of Famer Goose Gossage, who promptly tossed three shutout innings to record his 24th save. The Yankees added four runs in the seventh off of Moore and right-hander Tom Buskey, who was replaced by Victor Cruz before the end of that frame. (Editorial note: Sadly, both Buskey and Cruz died far too young. Buskey died of a heart attack at the age of 51 in 1998, while Cruz passed away in 2004 when he was just 46. I couldn’t find a cause of death for Cruz.)
So while the Jays’ 7-1 loss to the Yankees nearly 35 years ago may initially seem meaningless, the box score tells a different story. It would’ve been great to be at The Ex that night to watch three future Cooperstowners do what they did best, and what would ultimately earn them their plaques in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Here’s a link to the box score: http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1978/B09210TOR1978.htm