Ask any casual baseball observer what they think of first when they hear "A's", "Dodgers", and "World Series" and the likely response is something that rhymes with "smirk dibson".
Ah, but the more seasoned fans (nice way of saying "older") will recall that the A's had their way with LA fourteen years earlier. Even though Oakland was going for its third straight title (that season's rallying cry was Once More in '74), the experts were siding with the upstarts from down south in what was dubbed the "Freeway Series".
The A's of those days could do very little without a touch of turmoil, and 1974 was no exception. In a seventy-two hour span leading up to the Fall Classic, former second baseman Mike Andrews sued Charles Finley for 2.5 million, Catfish Hunter charged the owner with a breach of contract (he would sign with the Yankees at year's end), and Rollie Fingers brawled with John "Blue" Moon Odom on the eve the Series opener.
Makes you wonder how they found the time to win.
The nucleus that made up the 3-time World Champion A's.
But win they did, taking Game 1 by a 3-2 count, even though they were out-hit 11-6. Reggie Jackson homered in the second inning to give the A's a quick lead. In the fifth, Oakland's starting pitcher Ken Holtzman doubled, went to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a two-strike bunt by Campy Campaneris.
Jackson and Campaneris seemed to be playing for both teams as their errors in the bottom half led to LA's first run.
Campy was in the middle of the action once more, leading off the eighth with a single, and later scoring on a miscue by third baseman Ron Cey that allowed batter Sal Bando to motor within ninety feet of another A's run. Jackson then lofted a fly to center field, where Jim Wynn positioned himself for a play at the plate. At the last minute right-fielder Joe Ferguson cut in front of the weak-armed Wynn, and nailed Bando at the dish in a spectacular inning-ending double play.
With two outs in the ninth Wynn homered to cut the lead to 3-2, and Steve Garvey followed with a single off Rollie Fingers who was brilliant in 4-1/3 innings of relief before handing the ball to Hunter, in a rare role reversal of starter taking over for the closer. Catfish struck out Ferguson to end it.
Game 2 belonged to Don Sutton and the Dodgers by the same 3-2 score, in a contest that featured the ugly side of Finley's designated runner experiment. Trailing 3-0 after eight, the A's rallied. Bando was hit by a pitch, and Jackson check-swung a double down the left field line. Both runners scored on Joe Rudi's base hit, and suddenly Oakland had the tying run on first with no outs. Rudi was removed for Herb Washington, who played 105 career games without a single at-bat or one inning in the field. While Rudi fumed, Washington got picked off first by relief specialist Mike Marshall, and the A's went quietly after that.
The brash Dodgers were anything but quiet. Even before the Series began they were talking the talk without ever having walked the walk. Said Jackson in his autobiography depicting the '74 season:
"Do it man, don't talk about it! Do it if you can, then talk. I'm convinced this is a cocky club and it will kill them."
The Series was squared at a game apiece, and headed up the highway. Jim "Catfish" Hunter didn't know it was to be his last game in an A's uniform, but the 25-game winner went out in style regardless, delivering yet another 3-2 victory for Oakland.
Once again the A's were their opportunistic selves, taking advantage of shoddy play by the Series newbies. Bill North singled with one out in the third and raced to third base on a groundout by Campaneris. Bando walked and Jackson topped one in front of home plate that catcher Ferguson miffed. North scored, and Bando soon joined him after a single by Rudi. In the fourth Dick Green reached on a lead-off walk, was sacrificed to second by Hunter, and touched home on Campaneris' base hit.
Staking the eventual Cy Young Award winner to a 3-0 is never a good idea, and the Dodgers made things worse by hitting into three double plays, including one in the eighth after Bill Buckner homered for LA's first run. Fingers took over for Catfish, who was superb in 7-1/3 innings of work (1R, 5H, 2 BB, 4 K). In the ninth, Willie Crawford went deep to close the gap to 3-2 with one out, and Ferguson reached on another Campaneris error, as 49,347 fans shifted uncomfortably in their seats. But Bill Russell hit into a 4-6-3 double play, and the A's were halfway home to another October celebration.
Afterwards the Dodgers continued to stick their feet in their mouths. Buckner spouted off to the media that only three A's- Jackson, Bando, and Rudi- were good enough to play for LA. Jackson again:
"He doesn't know his own game. Doesn't defense count? We have the guys who will not blow the big play when you need one. We have guys who will get the big hit when we need it. It is all there in the records. Read them, man! Not the stats. Read the wins and losses. Add up the championships. Respect the records. Don't be putting down the people who have done it."
Game 4 would be the only one that didn't finish with a 3-2 score, and it was the only contest the A's had to come from behind to win. After Holtzman gave the A's a 1-0 lead with a homerun in the third (so much for the DH), the Dodgers went ahead with a pair of runs in the fourth. They would score no more this night, and the A's inched closer to the title with a four-run outburst in the sixth.
Bill North walked and was subsequently picked off. Only he wasn't. An error by pitcher Andy Messersmith sent North to second, and he scored on Bando's knock to right field. Jackson walked, and Rudi moved the runners up ninety feet with a sacrifice bunt. After an intentional walk to Claudell Washington, Jim Holt came through with a two-run single, as Jackson slid home with the A's fourth run. Washington scored on a groundout to make it 5-2.
That's how it stayed as Dick Green electrified the sellout crowd by belly-flopping to the turf, and starting a game-ending double play. One more for Once More.
Green turned out the lights on LA in Game 4.
The A's went small-ball in the first inning of Game 5. Campy led off with a single, was forced by North who stole second base, took third on the errant throw, and scored on Bando's sac fly.
In the second Ray Fosse homered to make it 2-0, but the Dodgers clawed back to tie it in the sixth. Came the bottom of the seventh, and A's fans decided to let left-fielder Buckner know that they were none too pleased about his remarks earlier in the week, and began pelting him with debris. Time was called, and Marshall declined to warm up while the umps restored order. Which batter Joe Rudi, as champions do, noticed. Jackson:
"Rudi said, ‘He's going to come inside with it, try to move me back, intimidate me. And I am going to hit the hell out of it.' Which is what happened."
Joe Rudi's tie-breaking homerun sent a roar through the halls of the Coliseum, but there was more to come before the corks could be popped. Buckner led off the top of the eighth with a single that got past North. Without hesitation Buckner raced to second, with an eye on third. Jackson backed up the play and fired a bullet to Green, who wheeled and threw to Bando. Out!
The play epitomized the dynasty that was the 70's A's. Picking a teammate up. Positioning. Trusting. Not thinking, doing.
Fingers was in for the fifth time in as many games, a feat that would earn him the Series MVP. After the Buckner play, he walked Wynn, then retired the last five batters, with Von Joshua hitting a comebacker to the mound to end it.
The A's three-peat was complete, and it was sweet.
Oakland wraps up its three-game series with the Dodgers tonight. Game time 7:10PM. See you in the thread.