Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Memories of Yanks-Brewers

I'm not a big fan of interleague play, but the series that starts tonight with the Brewers visiting the Yankees does bring back fond memories of a time in the late 1970s and early '80s when the two had a heated rivalry.

MLB.com recounted some of the highlights -- brawls and nasty words mostly -- that marked the teams' meetings back then. I remember some of that, but mostly I remember some amazing moments between two of the top teams in the American League.

The Brewers were still playing in Milwaukee County Stadium and starting in the summer of '78 the place was rocking every night. And when the Yankees with Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage, Ron Guidry and the rest of the Bronx Zoo came to town, the old ballpark was even more electric.

One series stands out above the rest. It was early July 1978 and for the first time since the club moved from Seattle there was a reason for the fans to be excited. Robin Yount and Paul Molitor were rising stars; Gorman Thomas and Pete Vuckovich were the kind of nasty, blue-collar types Milwaukee loves; and Larry Hisle, Sal Bando and the rest propelled the team into the pennant race.

Just before the big series, the Yanks had come to town for a doubleheader. George Steinbrenner was livid about the makeup date. He bellowed that the Yanks had played too many days in a row. The Crew sent the Yanks home to rest with two losses.

Ten days later the Bronx Bombers were back for three in a weekend series. Game one featured Guidry, 13-0, at the time on the mound. He was knocked around before being sent to the showers after six, down 5-0. The hitting hero was Hisle, who hit two out of the park; one in the first and the other in the sixth. From the upper deck, his first home run looked like it was shot from a cannon.

Saturday night games at County Stadium were an event back then. This games was extra special. My parents, my brother, his wife and her family got tickets well before the season started. It being Milwaukee, we tailgated along with thousands of others. No chance of missing the first pitch.

Game two was tense, exciting and, for the Yanks, ended the same. Hisle again was the hero, sending a towering two-run blast off Gossage to give the Brewers the lead and the win. The crowd was wild after that. Beating the Yankees and Gossage (back then closer pitched more than one inning) was like being in heaven (except there was beer).

There was no way I was missing the finale on Sunday afternoon. I went alone, scalped a ticket in the upper deck and watched the Brewers go for the sweep. They did not disappoint. They scored four in the first en route to an 8-4 victory.

That was the moment when everyone knew the Brewers were for real. They had swept the Yankees and beaten them five times in less than two weeks. From there it was a magical five seasons, culminating with a World Series berth in '82.

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