It’s been a long time since the New York Yankees were swept in a best-of-seven series. So long ago that the last time it happened Gerald Ford was President – though he’d be voted out of office a few weeks later, the number one TV show was “Happy Days” and the number one song was, “Disco Duck.” Yes, there really was a song called “Disco Duck,” I was alive to hear it and if I’m not mistaken, we had the 45.
The year was 1976.
The World Series saw the Yankees matched up against the infamous “Big Red Machine” Cincinnati Reds – A team that had won the World Series the previous year and who had Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Dave Concepcion and Johnny Bench on their roster.
Not that the Yankees were slouches. They had Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss and Willie Randolph.
The Yankees got to the World Series by beating the Kansas City Royals in five games in the American League Championship Series – it was best-of-five back then. And they won that final game on a walk-off home run by Chambliss in the bottom of the ninth inning.
After a World Series appearance drought which lasted 12 years, the Yankees were finally one step away from a championship.
It didn’t happen.
For Game One, the Yankees found themselves in Riverfront Stadium playing in front a raucous pro-Reds crowd that had just watched their team sweep the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Championship Series.
The Yankees were set down in order in the top of the first and the Reds took an early lead on a Joe Morgan home run in the bottom of the first.
Graig Nettles helped put the Yankees on the board in the second with a sacrifice fly that scored Lou Piniella. It would be the only run the Yankees would push across the plate. Hey, that sounds familiar.
The Reds went on to a 5-1 Game One victory.
Game Two was a matchup between Catfish Hunter and Fred Norman. Hunter surrendered the first runs of the game in the second inning. The Reds scored three runs on four hits – George Foster, Dave Concepcion, Johnny Bench and Dan Driessen had the hits and Ken Griffey drove the third run in with a sac fly.
The Yankees cut the lead to 3-1 thanks to a Graig Nettles RBI single that drove in Thurman Munson.
They were able to tie the score in the seventh thanks to a Fred Stanley RBI double and Munson ground out to second which scored Stanley from third.
The game was tied going into the bottom of the ninth and Catfish Hunter was still on the mound. He got two quick outs but Ken Griffey reached on a throwing error by Fred Stanley and the Reds were still alive.
Hunter intentionally walked Joe Morgan to put runners on first and second and Tony Perez singled on Hunter’s first pitch of the at bat. Griffey scored and the Reds took a 2-0 lead in the series.
The series made its way to Yankee Stadium. It was the first World Series in the newly renovated Stadium and the first one in the Bronx since 1964.
It wasn’t a happy homecoming.
The Reds jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the third inning against Yanks’ starter Dock Ellis – who gave up four runs in 3.1 innings of work.
The Reds had a 4-0 lead going into the bottom of the fourth. The Yankees were able to score one in the bottom of that frame but were never really in this game and they lost 6-2.
Facing a sweep at the hands of the vaunted Big Red Machine, the Yankees sent Ed Figueroa to the mound to face-off against Gary Nolan.
In a switch from the previous games, the Yankees actually scored first, scoring one in the bottom of the first inning.
The Reds, had what seemed to be their signature, three-run inning in the fourth inning. The first mistake was walking Joe Morgan who stole second during Dan Driessen’s at bat. Tony Perez actually batted after Morgan but lined out on the first pitch of the at bat which didn’t give Morgan time to do anything.
With Morgan on second, Driessen hit a foul fly out which was caught by Munson. George Foster stepped in and hit an RBI single, scoring Morgan to tie the score. There were two outs and Figueroa had a chance to escape without surrendering the lead.
Foster ended that possibility with a home run to left. The Reds now led 3-1 and the Yankees found themselves in a familiar position.
The Yankees cut the lead to 3-2 in the bottom of the fifth but couldn’t score after that.
The Reds did one better than their fourth inning outburst and scored four runs in the top of the ninth to put the game out of reach. They won the game 7-2, swept the series four games to one and won the World Series for the second year in a row.
The 1976 Yankees batted .222/.289/.281/.570 in the World Series.
The 2012 Yankees, the next team to be swept in a seven-game series, batted .157/.224/.264/.488 in the American League Championship Series which mercifully ended last night in an 8-1 loss to the Tigers.
It took 36 years for the Yankees to be the victims of a four-game sweep in the playoffs. That’s a pretty impressive streak when you consider how many times they’ve made the playoffs in those 36 years. Even with the “drought” of the 1980s and early 1990s, the New York Yankees appeared in 38 playoff series between the 1976 sweep and 2012 sweep.