Tagged: Reggie Jackson

Happy Birthday, Sparky Lyle

Sparky LyleHappy 71st Birthday to Sparky, my friend and teammate and the best relief pitcher I ever played with.   When the Yankees traded Danny Cater to the Red Sox for Sparky in March of 1972, it changed my life for the better.  We hit it off immediately and had lots of fun together.  Jim Turner, the Yankees pitching coach, once called our group “The Nursery” because of all the childish pranks we pulled, and we wore that as a badge of honor.  I enjoyed every minute I played with The Count, and one of the reasons is that our team got significantly better because of his arrival.

I remember Sparky’s Pinstripe debut on April 19, 1972.   We were ahead of the Brewers 3-0 in the top of the ninth. Mike Kekich had given up just two hits when Ron Theobold hit a two-out single, followed by John Briggs’ Home Run.  Ralph Houk brought in The Count to pitch to George Scott, who grounded out on the second pitch.  The first time he came to my rescue was on May 21, against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium.   I was off to a miserable start and was 0-6 so far that season.   I went in to the top of the ninth with a 6-1 lead, and quickly have up successive singles to Duane Josephson, Rico Petrocelli and Phil Gagliano.  With the bases loaded and two out, The Major brought The Count in to pitch, and I got my first win of the year.

Another memorable game from early in The Count’s Yankee career came in his second appearance for us, against the Oakland A’s on April 25, 1972.  It was a pitcher’s duel between Sparky and Rollie Fingers.  Steve Kline and Catfish Hunter were the starters and the game was tied 3-3 going into the ninth inning.  Sparky had a 1-2-3 inning, followed by Rollie walking Rich McKinney and facing four batters.  Sparky had a 1-2-3 tenth; Rollie had a little more trouble.  He gave up a two-out walk to Bobby Murcer, who moved to second on Roy White’ single and got stranded there when Rollie got Felipe Alou out.  In the eleventh, gave up a one-out hit to Joe Rudi and walked Reggie Jackson – then he struck out Sal Bando and Mike Epstein.   With two outs in the bottom of the eleventh, The Major sent Ron Blomberg to the plate to pinch hit for Sparky.  Bloomie walked, but then Rollie got Jerry Kenney out to end the inning. Mike Hegan hit an RBI double off Lindy McDaniel in the top of the twelfth, and Rollie had a 1-2-3 inning to get the win.  It didn’t take long for our team to understand that the Era of Lindy McDaniel was over and there was a new fireman in town.   One of my greatest regrets was that I wasn’t around for Sparky’s Cy Young season.

I loved pitching to Reggie Jackson because he couldn’t hit me

Reggie JacksonI had 1,015 strikeouts during my eleven seasons as a Major League Baseball pitcher.  The player I struck out most was Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson: 23 times between his rookie season (1967) and my final year (1976).  Reggie had a .188 career batting average when I was on the mound.  The first time I faced him, on June 28, 1967, he had been playing for the Kansas City Athletics for less than three weeks.  I struck him out.  Reggie’s didn’t play in Yankee Stadium until the next season and I faced him in his second game there, on April 16, 1968.  He hit a Home Run off me, followed by two singles – each time advancing Bert Campanaris to third.  The other game I remember was May 7, 1970 in Oakland. I struck Reggie out three times that game, before he hit a single off me.  For trivia buffs, Reggie’s third and fourth career Home Runs came of Mel Stottlemyre and me.

In a way, Andy Kosco changed my life

I wrote in my book that Andy Kosco looked exactly like Clark Kent in pinstripes.  For ten years, he was an outfielder for the Twins, Brewers, Angels, Reds, Dodgers and Red Sox, and hopefully I won’t don’t sound arrogant when I say this, but I didn’t mind pitching to him.  He had a .179 career batting average against me.  There were a couple of times when I felt differently, like a leadoff double in Milwaukee that wound up costing me a run, or a sacrifice fly at Anaheim Stadium that drove in a run.  And in 29 plate appearances, I was only able to strike him our once.  The Twins sold Andy to Oakland after the 1967 season, and the following month he came to the Yankees under the Rule 5 Draft.  His one season with the Yankees would have a historic meaning, at least to me.  I remember he appeared in the first game I pitched of the 1968 season, against the A’s and Catfish Hunter at Yankee Stadium.   Reggie Jackson homered off me, but I still had a 3-1 lead in the top of the eighth when I gave up a leadoff single to Bert Campanaris, who moved to second on Reggie’s single.  Ralph Houk took me out, and Dooley Womack came in relief.  Campy wound up scoring when Sal Bando grounded out, and we lost the game in the ninth when Dooley gave up a two-run homer to a pinch hitter named Floyd Robinson.  We lost 4-3.  Andy achieved a small footnote in baseball history on September 28, 1968 when he replaced Mickey Mantle at first base after The Mick had his last major league at-bat.  And Andy Kosco played a major role in my life on December 4, 1968 when the Yankees traded him to the Dodgers for a pitcher named Mike Kekich.