Fernando’s 1981 Game Three – heroic or heinous pitch count complete game 5 – 4 victory
The Dodgers were down 2 – 0 in the 1981 World Series but they were back home and had the 1981 Rookie and Cy Young Award winner going for them. You could say they won this game the old fashioned way, by letting their starter finish what he started but it probably came with a future price. However, the current prize of keeping the World Series competitive was probably worth the price. Fernando would never again pitch in the World Series and his game three victory in the 1981 World Series would be his last postseason victory. You could say that Tommy Lasorda ruined Fernando but if you had been around, it is possible that Fernando would have clocked Tommy if he had tried to take him off the mound. Even at 20, Fernando was already the boss of moments. The boy wonder had completed 11 of his 25 starts in 1981. Fernando would make five starts in the 1981 postseason and complete two of them.
Fernando wasn’t the only hero in game five. This was a complete team victory that involved clutch pitching, clutch hitting, and clutch defense.
It all started with Fernando throwing ten pitches to future Dodger Willie Randolf who drew a walk on the 10th pitch. Jerry Mumphrey grounded into a force play but he walked future HOF Dave Winfield. On his 25th pitch of the inning, Lou Pinella grounded into the much needed double play Russel – Lopes – Garvey.
The Dodgers were facing their own whiz kid, 21-year-old AL ROY Dave Righetti who had led the AL in ERA+. Davey Lopes wasn’t impressed leading off the game with a double. Bill Russel attempting to sacrifice got a bunt base hit and the Dodgers had 1st and 3rd with no outs. Dusty Baker would hit a meek fly ball to 2nd base. Clean-up hitter and future Free Agent to be Steve Garvey struck out and it looked like the Dodgers would come away empty handed. When you wonder why Ron Cey was part of a trio of Dodgers to win the 1981 World Series MVP this was a big reason. Ron Cey didn’t leave any runners stranded and deposited the Righetti deep into the left-field pavilion giving the Dodgers a 3-run lead.
In the top of the second Dodger nemesis, Bob Watson would hit a home run to start the inning. Rick Cerone would hit a double and advance to 3rd on a fly ball to the outfield. Cerone would score on a single by Larry Milbourne and the score was now 3 – 2. It took Fernando another 25 pitches to get through the 2nd inning. He had already thrown 50 pitches in just two innings.
Fernando led off the bottom of the 2nd with a walk but was stranded on 2nd when Dusty Baker made the last out of the inning.
Dave Winfield struck out for the first out of the 3rd inning but Lou Pinellia hit a single. Bob Watson would strike out and just when you thought Fernando would escape unscathed Rick Cerone hit a surprising two-run home run and as fast as you could say Clayton Kershaw, Fernando had given up his original three-run lead and the Dodgers were now down 4 – 3. It took Fernando another 22 pitches to get through the 3rd inning. He was now at 72 pitches through just three innings.
The Dodgers chased Dave Righetti with a single by Garvey and a walk to Cey. With two on and no outs the Yankees brought in Dodger legend George Frazier(he would lose all three games at Dodger Stadium). Frazier got out of it easy enough striking out Pedro Guerrero, getting a fly ball from Rick Monday, and a groundout from pinch-hitter Mike Scioscia.
The top of the lineup was due up for the Yankees in the 4th and unlike the 1st inning in which Fernando labored to get three outs in 25 pitches, he dispatched them easily enough throwing only 12 pitches. He was now at 84 pitches through four and the Dodgers still trailed 4 – 3.
With two outs Bill Russell hit a single in the bottom of the fourth but Dusty Baker made the final out leaving Russell on base.
The fifth was anything but easy for Fernando. Bob Waston led off with a ground-rule double down the right-field line on the first pitch. They could ill afford to give up another run and Fernando reached back and struck out Rick Cerone. A groundout got Waston to 3rd base so the Dodgers intentionally walked Larry Milbourne. The Yankee decided to let George Frazier bat with a runner on 3rd and two outs. Frazier had already thrown twenty-two pitches in relief while getting six outs. The Yankees would be asking for him to go another inning. Fernando would strike out Frazier and if you are looking for turning points in a World Series this might have been the biggest one. Fernando threw seventeen pitches in the 5th and had already thrown 101 pitches.
The Yankees were up two games to zero. They had a 4 – 3 lead in the fifth inning. They decided to let their relief pitcher hit with a runner on 3rd base. It would not turn out well for the Yankees. This is when the series turned. This is when the Dodgers made their move to win their first World Championship since 1965.
Once again Garvey and Cey got on base via a single and walk. The last time they did this George Frazier came in from the bullpen and struck out Pedro Guerrero. Not this time. Pedro launched a rocket ground ball double that scored Steve Garvey. The game was not now tied at four and the Dodgers had 2nd/3rd with no outs. Rick Monday was intentionally walked bringing up Mike Scioscia. Mike would hit the ultimate double play ground ball. He killed the rally but did manage to bring in the go-ahead run. The Dodgers had the lead 5 – 4. Fernando was up with a runner on 3rd and two outs. The same decision the Yankees had to make in the top of the fifth. The difference being that Fernando had already thrown 101 pitches. Who lets their pitcher hit with a runner on 3rd and two outs, when he has already thrown 101 pitches? Tommy Lasorda does. Fernando left the runner stranded, would he suffer the same fate as George Frazier?
Fernando started the 6th much like he started the game by walking leadoff hitter Willie Randolf. Mike Scioscia would throw out Randolf trying to steal and it might have biggest caught stealing by Mike Scioscia over his future long Dodger career. With no one base and one out, Fernando dispatched Jerry Mumphrey and Dave Winfield. He threw 12 pitches, the total was now 113 after six innings.
Davey Lopes led off the bottom of the 6th with a single but Russell/Baker/Garvey went down in order. Still, 5- 4 Dodgers headed to the top of the 7th.
Fernando breezed through the 7th, needing only ten pitches to get two fly balls and a popup. Was he smelling the finish line? By my count that is 123 pitches through seven.
Ron Cey led off the bottom of the 7th with a single, but Pedro struck out, and Derrell Thomas hit into a double play. Derrell was pinch-hitting for Rick Monday so now the Dodgers had their best fielding center fielder in the game. A surprising fact here, Rick Monday had been playing RF and Pedro Guerrero was in CF. Yup, Pedro was in CF to start the game.
The top of the eighth started with two singles. First and second, no outs, Bobby Murcer comes up to pinch hit. Bobby Murcer hit 252 career home runs. In over 7700 plate appearances he had 18 successful sacrifice bunts. Murcer had zero sacrifice bunts in 1981. He was asked to sacrifice bunt. He would end 1981 with zero sacrifice bunts. Instead, he popped his bunt up foul, the Penguin waddled in and as though diving for an ice flow to slid into the water he caught the bunt and doubled up the runner at 1st base. It was an incredible play
Why was the runner off with the bunt? Fernando would get Randolf for the final out of the 8th inning. Fernando needed only nine pitches in the eighth and by my count was now at 132 pitches through eight.
Mike Scioscia led off the bottom of the eighth with a single and Fernando was due up. Tommy let him hit and Fernando didn’t even try to bunt grounding out. Lopes and Russell made the final two outs and the Dodgers headed to the top of the 9th clinging to a one-run lead with a pitcher who had already thrown 133 pitches.
What could go wrong?
Apparently nothing, but it wasn’t that easy. It took Fernando another fifteen pitches to get the Yankees in order in the top of the 9th.
Fernando and the Dodgers had done. They won their first game of the 1981 World Series and set the stage for the first Dodger World Championship since 1965.