1981 World Series is why Fernando is so revered
If you are a Dodger fan you have now heard from multiple people that the last time the Dodgers lost the first two games in the World Series they went on to win that World Series in 1981. Not only in 1981 bt also in 1965 and 1955.
Unlike many of you who might be reading this, I was in my full blown Dodger fandom in 1981. It might have been my peak. I’m going to try to provide some context for that 1981 World Series.
The Dodgers had lost three straight World Series, in 74 to Oakland, in 77 and 78 to the Yankees. In each case, I felt the Dodgers had the better team and to not come up with even one World Championship or even a game seven was a bitter blow to this fan.
Heck, in 1978 the Dodgers won the first two games at Dodger Stadium, only to lose the next three at Yankee Stadium, and game six at Dodger Stadium. So not only do the Dodgers have precedent for coming back from two games down in the World Series, they have even had it done to them.
As I peek back into my 1981 memories, I’m pretty sure that the entire world felt the Yankees would be the 1981 World Champions after they won the first two games. I would like to tell you that I still felt the Dodgers would win but I don’t remember if I was optimistic or pessimistic. I don’t have a blog or diary to go back in time to see what my state of mind was in. I’d bet I was very pessimistic, given I’d already seen the team lose three World Series and were currently down two games to the same team that had already beaten them in 77 and 78.
1981 had something different. Sure it had the exact same infield. It still had Dusty Baker and Steve Yeager. It even had Reggie Smith on the roster though he would barely play.
1981 had Fernando and Fernando would do everything he could do to win his games. The stats look horrible for game three. He gave up four runs, walked seven, but won the game 5 – 4. You may believe 100% that wins don’t mean anything, but in 1981, that win was earned by Fernando. Let me explain the ways.
Fernando gave up four runs in the first four innings. He threw 72 pitches in those first three innings. He didn’t give up another run and ended the game throwing 149 pitches. I added these up manually using the Baseball Ref box score so I hope I did it right.
Fernando was at 124 pitches when the 8th inning started. The Dodgers had a one-run lead. Fernando gave up singles to the first two hitters. Even in the days of complete games, the idea that Fernando would still be in this game after 126 pitches and the tying run at second the winning run at 1st with zero outs should blow your mind. Fernando got the play he had to get. A DP but not your normal double play. Ron Cey made an insane catch of a foul bunt and doubled the runner off of 1st base. With the tying run on 2nd base, he got the 3rd out.
Fernando now entered the 9th inning having thrown 134 pitches. Still no relief in sight for a one-run game. You’d think he breezed through the 9th given he finished the game, but nothing came easy in this game. Fernando did retire the side in order but it took him 15 pitches to retire the side striking out Lou Pinella for the final out. Fifteen pitches in the 9th inning for a guy who had already thrown 134 pitches. It is possible this was the gutsiness game in LAD history surpassing what Koufax did in 1965. It wasn’t the most aesthetic, but for a must-win game, it was something else.
And it wasn’t even the best game of the series. That was game four which might be the most memorable World Series game for me. Even more than the Gibby homer because this was still a must-win game.
The fifth game was just as nerve-racking. The Dodgers won all three games at Dodger Stadium, but all three were one-run victories leaving their fans delirious and worn out.
Game six was the only blowout and they didn’t need Fernando again. He had already done his part.
So, you might want to buckle up for this one. It ain’t over yet.