Happy Birthday to George Lauzerique, who pitched for the A’s and the Brewers from 1967 to 1970. George had some cache because he had pitched a perfect game in the minor leagues. The first time I saw him pitch was on September 29, 1967 – his third major league game and his first at Yankee Stadium. It was the second game of a Twi-Night doubleheader on a Friday night, the last weekend of the season. I started for the Yankees and George was the starting pitcher for the Kansas City Athletics. In the top of the second, Joe Rudi and Rick Monday each hit grounders to me, which I threw to Mike Hegan to make the outs. But along the way, I hurt my ankle and had to leave the game after I walked Sal Bando. That was disappointing, especially because it was my game of the season and you hate to end on that kind of note. Fred Talbot came in relief and pitched beautifully, giving up just four hits. George was hugely impressive. He held the Yankees to five hits in seven innings, struck out five, and gave up just one run – a homer to Billy Bryan. It was an outstanding performance.
Happy 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 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.
Thurman Munson got called up to the Yankees in August 1969, and his first game was on August 8, a Friday night, the second game of a twilight doubleheader against the Oakland A’s. Thurman was the catcher, giving Frank Fernandez a rest after the first game. Thurman batted eighth, and in his first major league at-bat came in the second inning; Catfish Hunter walked him. He grounded out Bert Campanaris in the fifth. By the seventh inning, the game remained scoreless in a pitching duel between Catfish and Al Downing. Gene Michael led off with an infield single, and Thurman hit a clean single to Tommy Reynolds in left – his first major league hit! Stick made it to third and Thurman advanced to second on Reynolds’ throw to Sal Bando. Stick and Thurman scored on a Horace Clarke single, and Hoss made it to third on Jerry Kenney’s hit. That’s when Hank Bauer, the A’s manager, pulled Catfish. Thurman’s second career hit came off Marcel Lachemann in the eighth. Bobby Murcer led off with a single. Jimmie Hall walked, and Stick made it to first on Lachemann’s error. So Thurman comes to the plate for his fourth big league plate appearance with the bases loaded and no outs. He hit a single to Reggie Jackson in right, and advances to second on Reggie’s throwing error. Thurman went 2-for-3 in his major league debut, with two RBI’s. And this Yankee fans will appreciate: on Thurman’s first RBI, Bobby Murcer scored!