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The Brewers exult after Morgan's walk-off single (Photo: Getty).

Yesterday’s sudden death doubleheader in the baseball postseason had the feel of March Madness. While the Cardinals were rallying for what turned out to be the game’s only run in Philadelphia, the Brewers were enjoying a walk-off in Milwaukee. As remote controls worked feverishly across the country, baseball was in the midst of a 24-hour period in which three winner-take-all games would literally come down to the final at bat. Only twice before had more than one sudden death elimination game been played in one day (two on 10/15/2001 and three on 10/11/1981), but in none of those games did the tying run come to the plate in the last inning.

Nyjer Morgan’s game winning single in Milwaukee was only the 12th walk-off hit in a sudden death playoff series game (the 1972 NLCS also ended on a “walk-off” wild pitch), and the first since Aaron Boone’s 11th inning home run broke the hearts of Red Sox Nation in the 2003 ALCS. Earlier in the game, Willie Bloomquist’s RBI bunt single marked only the fourth occasion in which a road team staved off sudden death elimination with a run in the ninth inning, but that historical footnote was overshadowed by the Brewers’ eventual victory.

Sudden Death Walk-Offs in the Postseason

Date Series G# Tm Opp Batter Rslt Pitcher Inn
10/7/11 NLDS 5 MIL ARI Nyjer Morgan 1B J.J. Putz b10
10/16/03 ALCS 7 NYY BOS Aaron Boone HR Tim Wakefield b11
11/4/01 WS 7 ARI NYY Luis Gonzalez 1B Mariano Rivera b9
10/14/01 NLDS 5 ARI STL Tony Womack 1B Steve Kline b9
10/26/97 WS 7 FLA CLE Edgar Renteria 1B Charles Nagy b11
10/8/95 ALDS 5 SEA NYY Edgar Martinez 2B Jack McDowell b11
10/14/92 NLCS 7 ATL PIT F. Cabrera 1B Stan Belinda b9
10/27/91 WS 7 MIN ATL Gene Larkin 1B Alejandro Pena b10
10/14/76 ALCS 5 NYY KCR Chris Chambliss HR Mark Littell b9
10/13/60 WS 7 PIT NYY Bill Mazeroski HR Ralph Terry b9
10/10/24 WS 7 WSH NYG Earl McNeely 2B Jack Bentley b12
10/16/12 WS 8 BOS NYG Larry Gardner SF C. Mathewson b10

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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When the Milwaukee Brewers take the field tonight in the Bronx, it will be the first time the team has played at Yankee Stadium since 1997, and the only time as a member of the National League. Even though the Brew Crew made the switch to the NL in 1998, and to the AL Central in 1994, it’s still hard to not think of them as an A.L. East rival.

Yankees Cumulative Regular Season Record, 1980-1989

Team W L W% RS RA HW-L RW-L
Minnesota Twins 71 43 0.623 631 477 38-19 33-24
Seattle Mariners 68 45 0.602 538 422 30-25 38-20
Baltimore Orioles 74 56 0.569 566 520 40-25 34-31
Kansas City Royals 68 52 0.567 544 526 39-21 29-31
Cleveland Indians 73 56 0.566 666 562 38-27 35-29
California Angels 63 49 0.563 531 485 36-18 27-31
Texas Rangers 62 54 0.534 572 520 38-21 24-33
Toronto Blue Jays 65 57 0.533 566 567 30-31 35-26
Oakland Athletics 61 54 0.530 514 503 36-21 25-33
Chicago White Sox 61 58 0.513 525 481 32-28 29-30
Boston Red Sox 63 60 0.512 605 587 31-30 32-30
Detroit Tigers 64 62 0.508 581 590 39-22 25-40
Milwaukee Brewers 61 62 0.496 533 559 39-23 22-39
Total 854 708 0.547 7372 6799 466-311 388-397

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Over the years, the Boston Red Sox have usually been the Yankees’ chief rival, but during ebbs in the two teams’ relationship, other franchises have stepped in to fill the void. For part of the 1980s, the Milwaukee Brewers were that team.

Yankees celebrate victory over the Brewers in the 1981 LDS. Rich Gossage recorded as save in all three games won by the Yankees.

The Yankees won more games than any other franchise in the 1980s (as George Steinbrenner was fond of pointing out), but the Brewers were the one team against which they had a losing record (albeit by only one game). During the decade, the two A.L. East teams also faced off in an often forgotten playoff series necessitated by the 1981 strike. In what turned out to be the first League Division Series in baseball history, the Yankees avoided blowing a 2-0 series lead by winning the deciding fifth game, but not before suffering two very embarrassing moments.

In the seventh inning of game 3, which was held at Yankee Stadium, an irate fan jumped out of the stands and tackled third base umpire Mike Reilly, who an inning earlier called Dave Winfield out on a close play. Luckily, Graig Nettles was able to pull the fan off Reilly before serious damage could be inflicted. The black eye given to the entire Stadium crowd, however, was not avoided.

I didn’t see him ‘til he hit me from the back. I haven’t been tackled like that since I played high school football.”Umpire Mike Reilly, quoted by AP, October 10, 1981

After dropping that game 5-3, the Yankees also lost the next one 2-1. In the process, the team went 0-7 with runners in scoring position, which infuriated the Boss. In particular, Steinbrenner fumed over a base running blunder by Rick Cerone that cost the Yankees a first and third opportunity in the seventh inning.

According to newspaper accounts, the volatile Yankees’ owner lashed into the team during a clubhouse rant, but the chief whipping boy was the Yankees’ catcher.  Perhaps still steaming from losing an arbitration case to him earlier that spring, Steinbrenner repeatedly told Cerone that he would be gone next year, which not only provoked an angry response, but also tears.

You’re all a bunch of over priced fat cats. If we lose, I’ll take the heat, but all of you will be gone. You’re an embarrassment.” – Yankees’ owner George M. Steinbrenner addressing the team after a game 4 loss in the 1981 LDS, as quoted by AP, October 11, 1981

The Yankees rallied to win the series against the Brewers and then swept Billy Martin’s Oakland Athletics in the ALCS. However, Steinbrenner’s anger was only temporarily abated. When the Yankees lost the final four games of the World Series to the Dodgers, after taking a 2-0 series lead no less, the Boss’ wrath was felt once again. This time, Steinbrenner expressed his dismay with a now infamous public apology.

Yount and Molitor were twin terrors against the Yankees during the 1980s.

Despite never being directly involved in a pennant race during the same season, the Yankees and Brewers always seemed to play competitive series punctuated by dramatic rallies and improbable comebacks. What’s more, at various points during the 1980s, both teams also featured several future Hall of Famers. Two such examples, Robin Yount and Paul Molitor, also happened to be among the Yankees’ chief tormenters during the decade. The really Yankee killer, however, was left handed pitcher Teddy Higuera, who dominated the Bronx Bombers with relative ease. Not only did the Brewers’ lefty notch a decade best 12 wins (Floyd Bannister also had 12) against the Yankees, but he also ranked first in ERA and winning percentage among all pitchers with at least 75 innings.

Although the two teams will meet this week as distant interleague opponents, it’s still fun to hark back to the days of those great 1980s Brewers. Of course, the current squad, which includes such stars as Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo, shouldn’t be taken for granted. After all, if each team maintains its current position in the standings, the Brewers next trip to the Bronx could come as soon as this October. With all eyes on the Red Sox vs. Phillies as a potential World Series preview, the real sneak peak could be taking place at Yankee Stadium.

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