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Birthday Baseball (An Occasional Series): Game 5 – July 12, 1973

As I thought about the long winter months, I came up with a new feature for the blog, one that is as obscure as it promises to be fun. I decided I’d look back on some specific Yankees games played in years gone by, but I’d only look at one specific date on the calendar…

“The ones played on my birthday,” I thought. “I wonder if anything exciting happened for the Yankees on the day I was born and then on successive years on that date.

And with that, this new series was born.

(As always, whenever I do research like this, my first two stops are always Retrosheet and Baseball-Reference.)

Let’s head back to 1973, July 12 to see what took place in the Yankees game that day.

***

Thursday, July 12, 1973 saw the Yankees playing at home against the Kansas City Royals. This was a Thursday night game that featured Pat Dobson (Yankees) and Dick Drago (Royals) as the starting pitchers.

Little would many of the players in the game know, but in a few short years, the Yankees and the Royals would become fierce rivals. Many of the players who were central figures in that rivalry battled in the Bronx that night. These players included Freddie Patek, Amos Otis, Graig Nettles, Thurman Munson, and Lou Piniella.

The fun thing when looking back on a game like this is seeing fun facts like the above. Yes, some of the big rivals were battling, but one of those guys, in 1973, at least, was on the other team. Piniellla wouldn’t become a Yankee until after the 1973 season when the Royals traded him to the Yankees for Lindy McDaniel.

BaseballReference.com is so fun to look through because it has almost every single thing a person can consider when researching almost any topic. As I was writing this, I wondered if Piniella had had particularly good numbers against the Yankees in 1973 that helped to make the Yankees interested in dealing for him. The answer was, No. In 1973, Piniella batted .222 with no homers and three runs batted in ten games against the Yankees.

(I couldn’t resist digging even deeper. In his career, Lou Piniella played in 52 games against the Yankees. He hit .276 with four homers and 21 runs batted in games vs the team from the Bronx.

But, we should really head back to 1973…

The visiting Royals came in with a record of 49-42. The Yankees were 49-41. These were two evenly matched teams.

The Royals lineup was as follows:

Freddie Patek- ss

Cookie Rojas – 2b

Amos Otis – cf

John Mayberry – 1b

Ed Kirkpatrick – rf

Lou Piniella – lf

Steve Hovley – dh

Kurt Bevacqua – 3b

Fran Healy – c

Piniella, John Mayberry, and Fran Healy would all, one day, be Yankees.

The Yankees countered with the following as their starting lineup:

Horace Clarke – 2b

Matty Alou – 1b

Roy White – lf

Bobby Murcer – cf

Ron Blomberg – dh

Graig Nettles – 3b

Johnny Callison – rf

Thurman Munson – c

Gene Michael – ss

I find it very interesting that Thurman Munson batted eighth that game. In 1973, Munson batted seventh in 50 games and he batted eighth in 49 games. I did not know, until just now, that as late as 1973 that Munson was a bottom of the batting order hitter. Munson hit .301/20/74 in 1973. What was he doing batting so low in the batting order?

Also of note for me, Graig Nettles, who would become my favorite Yankee as I grew up, appears for the first time in this series. He’d have a good day. (We’ll keep track of Nettles’ performances as well at the end of these posts.)

***

The game began with the Royals attacking starting pitcher Pat Dobson of the Yankees. Freddie Patek singled. He was then thrown out trying to steal second. Cookie Rojas then walked before Amos Otis hit a big two-run homerun to give the Royals the lead. Dobson then got two ground outs to get out of the inning. That caught stealing seemed to loom large in the first frame.

The Yankees countered with a run of their own in the first inning. With one out, Matty Alou doubled. Two batters (and an out) later, Bobby Murcer drove home Alou to make it a 2-1 game.

In the second inning, Lou Piniella began the Royals inning by singling, but he was quickly erased on a line out that became a double play. Kurt Bevacqua flew out to end that inning. Two innings for the Royals, two runners erased on the base paths. Not good.

In the bottom of the second inning, the Yankees tied the game and then took the lead. Graig Nettles doubled. Johnny Callison walked. Thurman Munson then grounded into a fielder’s choice putting runners on the corners. Gene Michael reached base when Freddie Patek made an error. That error also allowed Nettles to score the tying run. One out later, Matty Alou got his second hit of the game, a single, driving home Munson and giving the Yankees the lead at 3-2.

Neither team scored in the third inning.

The Royals also didn’t score in their half of the fourth inning.

But, the Yankees scored a bit in the fourth when their turn came up.

Johnny Callison, the long-time veteran playing in his final season, began the frame with a homerun. This would be the 226th homer of his career, the last one he’d ever hit.

Thurman Munson then tripled. After a Gene Michael line out, Horace Clarke singled home Munson. The Yankees now led 5-2. Matty Alou then had his thrid hit, a single, that knocked Dick Drago from the game. The Royals turned to Steve Mingori to pitch. Roy White greeted him with an RBI single to up the Yankees’ lead to 6-2. Bobby Murcer then loaded the bases with a single of his own before Ron Blomberg hit into the rare 3-2-1 double play to end the inning.

The Royals scored a run in the fifth on three singles, one each by the bottom three batters in their lineup, the final one, an RBI single by Fran Healy. That was all the scoring they’d do that inning…and for the rest of the game.

The Yankees, though, weren’t done.

In the bottom of the fifth, Graig Nettles singled and was then erased on a fielder’s choice. Thurman Munson then walked. Gene Michael then hit a two-run double upping the Yankees’ lead to 8-3. Horace Clark then singled home Michael.

After five innings, the Yankees led 9-3.

Pat Dobson kept the Royals at bay in the sixth. Bruce Del Canton came in to pitch for the Royals. Graig Nettles had a one out single that he turned into an out as he tried to stretch it to a double. That was the only hit the Yanks would get in that frame.

Both teams went quietly in the seventh inning.

The Royals went quietly in the eighth.

In the bottom of the eighth, the Yankees got one last run courtesy of back-to-back doubles by Roy White and Bobby Murcer.

Pat Dobson went out to begin the ninth inning looking for the complete game. He retired all three batters (two ground outs and a game-ending strikeout) to close out the Yankees’ 10-3 victory.

***

The next installment of this series will bring us to 1974.

Yankees Record on July 12 (in this series – since 1968): 4-1

(There was no game played in 1971.)

Graig Nettles (as a Yankee on July 12): 5 AB, 1 run, 3 hits, 1 strikeout

#BirthdayBaseball

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