This article is part of our occasional series where we look back at some famous games in Yankees history that nonetheless tell a great story. You might call these games "Not Quite Yankees Classics."
For this article, we will look at what might have been Graig Nettles’ greatest day as a hitter. In order to fully appreciate the day, we’ll need to examine two games as it was through both games of an early season double header that Nettles excelled.
The date was Sunday, April 14, 1974. The Yankees were playing in Cleveland finishing a road trip that was anything but successful. After beginning the season with a three-game sweep of the Cleveland Indians in New York, the Yankees went on the road and, after winning their fourth game of the year in Detroit, lost the next three games in a row. They needed some magic, and Graig Nettles delivered…
1974 was Graig Nettles’ second as the Yankees third baseman. He had come to the Yankees in a trade with these same Cleveland Indians before the 1973 season in one of the best trades the Yankees ever made. Nettles, who would become one of the greatest third baseman to ever play for the Yankees was acquired (along with Jerry Moses) for John Ellis, Jerry Kenny, Charlie Spikes, and Rusty Torres.
When he came to the Yankees, Nettles was already known as player with an excellent glove and powerful left-handed bat. The previous three seasons for Cleveland, Graig Nettles hit 26, 28, and 17 home runs. As a defender, Nettles led the American League third basemen in assists (in 1971). If not for a player named Brooks Robinson, Graig Nettles might have been considered the best defensive third baseman in the American League.
In 1973, his first season in New York, Nettles again led A.L. third sackers in assists while belting 22 homers and driving in 81 runs. This production solidified Nettles as the Yankees third baseman for the foreseeable future bringing stability and great production to a position that had not seen a quality player since Clete Boyer manned the spot in the 1960’s.
As noted above, the Yankees came into the first game of the double header losers of their three previous games after beginning the year 4-0. They needed a spark to get back to their winning ways.
In the top of the first inning, Thurman Munson provided that spark belting a two-out solo homerun. In the top of the second inning, designated hitter Ron Blomberg also homered giving the Yankees a quick 2-0 lead. Unfortunately, after that point, the scoring stopped as the Indians’ starter, Bob Johnson, settled down and started retiring the Yankees batters with ease. Following Blomberg’s homer, the Yankees managed only two singles over the next five innings. Johnson was sailing.
The good news for the Yankees was their starting pitcher, Steve Kline, was pitching even better. Through six innings, Kline had allowed only one run. That run came in the bottom of the fourth inning when soon-to-be Yankee Chris Chambliss delivered a two-out single scoring the now all-but-forgotten Remy Hermoso.
The Yankees threatened to break the game open in the top of the seventh-inning. Mike Hegan (1b) began the inning by reaching on an error by the aforementioned Indians’ second baseman, Remy Hermoso. Gene Michael (actually playing second base that game) then walked. After a Jim Mason (ss) sacrifice, the Yankees seemed set-up to score some runs. One of the Yankees stars at that time, left-fielder Roy White, though was intentionally walked to load the bases with only one out for Walt “No Neck” Williams (rf). Williams, a solid Major Leaguer for many seasons, had come to the Yankees as part of a three-team trade (that included the Indians) less than a month before. This game was his first start of the year, and this was his first chance to bat in a big spot. Alas! It wasn’t to be. Williams grounded into an inning-ending double play.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Cleveland seized upon their good fortune and struck. Chris Chambliss led off the inning with a single. That brought up Charlie Spikes, one of the men Nettles had been traded for. Spikes hit a two-run home run to give Cleveland a 3-2 lead that could have taken the wind out of the Yankees’ sails.
The Yankees needed a hero…and soon.
Now trailing 3-2 in the top of 8th, Thurman Munson led off for the Yankees by reaching on an error, this time by the Indians third baseman Buddy Bell. Bobby Murcer then reached on a fielder’s choice and Ron Blomberg walked. This prompted the Indians to remove Bob Johnson and bring in left-handed pitcher Tom Hilgendorf to face the left-handed hitting Nettles.
To the Yankees’ delight, Nettles launched a three-run homer that put the Yankees ahead 5-3.
In the bottom of the eighth, Sparky Lyle, now pitching for the Yankees, allowed Cleveland to creep back to 5-4 by allowing an RBI single to John Ellis (who had also been in that original trade with the Yankees for Graig Nettles).
But, in the top of the 9th, the Yankees put this game away for good. Walt Williams came through with a single. Two batters later, Bobby Murcer hit a two-run homer. After a Ron Blomberg pop-out, Graig Nettles launched his second home run of the game. Mike Hegan followed Nettles by blasting a round-tripper of his own.
In the bottom of the ninth, Remy Hermoso had a run scoring double, but that was all the scoring the Indians would get. Sparkly Lyle closed out the game with the Yankees winning the slug-fest 9-5.
In the second game of the double header, it was initially Bobby Murcer who stole the show. Murcer began the scoring with an RBI single in the first inning. He then hit a solo homer in the third. Unfortunately for the Yankees, their starting pitcher, Fritz Peterson, who would soon be pitching for the Indians, couldn’t hold the lead. Peterson gave up a run in the bottom of the third, and then two runs (on run scoring singles by John Ellis and Charlie Spikes) that allowed the Indians to take a 3-2 lead. The single by Spikes knocked Peterson out of the game. He was replaced by, Sam McDowell, who, had, of course, been an Indians pitcher. McDowell, a former flame thrower who spent eleven years in Cleveland, was at the tail end of his career with the Yankees.
Once again, the Yankees needed a hero.
And, once again, Graig Nettles delivered. Nettles led off the top of the sixth inning with a solo home run to tie the game.
Sam McDowell, though, couldn’t hold the lead. In the bottom of the sixth inning, McDowell gave up a run (it was Chris Chambliss who scored) and was replaced later that inning, with the bases loaded and only one out. The Yankees brought in Tom Buskey, who (you know where this is going) would be later traded to the Indians. Buskey gave up RBI doubles to (yes) former Yankees John Ellis and Charlie Spikes. The Indians scored five runs that inning, and one more run in the bottom of the seventh inning, to seemingly put the game out of reach.
Yet, the Yankees gave it one last noble effort in the ninth inning. With one out, Thurman Munson singled. Bobby Murcer then singled sending Munson to third. Ron Blomberg followed with a sacrifice fly which brought up Graig Nettles one last time.
Nettles promptly hit a two-run home run to bring the Yankees to within 9-6, but was where the scoring stopped. The Yankees lost that second game 9-6.
In the end, the Yankees split the double-header, but Graig Nettles had a banner day; possibly his best ever. In two games, Nettles smacked four home runs and drove in seven runs.
Later that month, on April 26, pitchers Steve Kline, Fritz Peterson, Tom Buskey, and Fred Beene (who had mopped-up in the 9th inning of the second game of the double-header) were traded from the Yankees to the Cleveland Indians for first baseman Chris Chambliss, and pitchers Dick Tidrow, and Cecil Upshaw.
Later that year, on September 29, 1974, and once again in Cleveland, Graig Nettles would launch two more home runs in one game against the Indians. The Yankees won that game easily 10-0.
Nettles would, of course, go on to much more greatness with the Yankees. He led the American League in home runs in 1976 (with 32). Nettles won Gold Gloves for his outstanding defense in 1977 and 1978. It was Nettles’ defensive play in Game 3 of the 1978 World Series that turned the series around and helped lead the Yankees to their second straight World Championship. In 1981, Graig Nettles was the MVP of the American League Championship Series. A gutsy player and a team leader, Nettles was named Captain of the Yankees in 1982.
After writing a tell-all book about the Yankees (Balls), Nettles was traded to the San Diego Padres in 1984. That season, he, along with Goose Gossage, another Yankee cast-off, helped the Padres reach the World Series.
Nettles played with San Diego through 1986. In 1987, Nettles played for the Atlanta Braves, before finishing his career in 1988 by batting .172 in 80 games with the Montreal Expos.
The last career home run Nettles hit was on April 16, 1988. On that day, Nettles found the old magic one last time belting a pinch-hit game tying home run for the Montreal Expos in the bottom of the 8th inning.
Of all the players who appeared in that wild double header in 1974, Graig Nettles was the last to remain active as a Major League baseball player.