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Birthday Baseball (An Occasional Series): Game 9 – July 12, 1979

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 1979, July 12 to see what took place in the Yankees game that day.

***

On Thursday, July 12, 1979, the World Champion Yankees were in Seattle playing the Mariners. The Yankees came into the game sporting a 48-40 record…good, not great. The Mariners, in only their third season, 39-51. They were not good. At all.

This was the third and final game of the series. The Mariners had won the previous two games by scores of 5-1 and 16-1.

Catfish Hunter, in his final season, took the ball for Yanks. Hunter entered the game with a 1-5 record. Mike Parrott (6-5) was on the mound for the Mariners.

On this day, the Yankees sent out the following line-up:

Bobby Murcer – cf

Thurman Munson – c

Graig Nettles – 3b

Reggie Jackson – rf

Lou Piniella – lf

Chris Chambliss – dh

Jim Spencer – 1b

Willie Randolph – 2b

Bucky Dent -ss

The Mariners countered with the following:

Larry Milbourne – 2b (a future Yankee)

Ruppert Jones – cf (a future Yankee)

Bruce Bochte – 1b

Willie Horton – dh

Dan Meyer – 1b

Leon Roberts – lf

Tom Paciorek – rf

Bob Stinson – c

Mario Mendoza -ss

This game had a quiet start. Both teams went down in order in the first inning.

Once the second inning came, though, the fireworks started.

In the top of the second, the Yankees began with three consecutive singles from Reggie Jackson, Lou Piniella, and Chris Chambliss (driving home Jackson with the game’s first run). Jim Spencer then grounded into a double play that scored Piniella (who had been on third base). Willie Randolph then singled. Bucky Dent followed with an RBI double scoring Randolph to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead.

In the bottom of the second frame, the Mariners made a “go” of it and worked to get back into the game. Willie Horton, the old veteran, now 36 years old, and enjoying his penultimate season, led off the inning with a single.

Quick trivia break… How many games did Willie Horton play in 1979? (The answer is coming up…)

With Horton on first, Dan Meyer flew out. Leon Roberts then walked. Tom Paciorek then flew out before Bob Stinson walked to load the bases. That brought up Mario Mendoza. Yes, that Mendoza…the one the Mendoza line was named for, appropriately. Mendoza strode up to the plate sporting a .191 batting average on the season. Of course, he connected on a two-run single to bring the Mariners within a run a 3-2. Larry Milbourne then grounded out to end the inning. This was the closest the Mariners would get to the Yankees all-night.

Trivia answer – Believe it or not, Willie Horton played in all 162 Mariners games in 1979. It was the only time in his career, he’d play in all of a team’s 162 games. The next year, 1980, Horton appeared in 97 games to close out his career.

In the top of the third, Thurman Munson reached on a error by Larry Milbourne. After Graig Nettles flew out, Reggie Jackson doubled Munson to third. By this point, the Mariners had seen enough of Mike Parrott and Rich Hinton (a former Yankee – he pitched for the Bombers in seven games in 1972) came into the game to pitch. He wouldn’t stay long.

Hinton intentionally walked Lou Piniella to load the bases. He then hit Chris Chambliss with a pitch to drive home a run. Jim Spencer then grounded out, with a run scoring on the ground out to give the Yankees a 5-2 lead. Willie Randolph then clubbed a three-run home run to put the Yankees up 8-2. That was then all for Rich Hinton as John Montague was summoned from the Mariners’ bullpen.

Montague retired Bucky Dent on a ground out to the pitcher to end the frame.

In their half of the third inning, the Mariners went down in order.

In the fourth, the Yankees began with singles from Murcer and Munson, but Nettles (ground out), Jackson (fly out) and Piniella (fly out) were unable to capitalize on the good start.

In the bottom of the fourth, Tom Paciorek hit a two-out single, but otherwise Catfish Hunter kept the Mariners in check. After four innings, the Yankees led 8-2.

The Yankees failed to score in the fifth inning as well (although Jim Spencer hit a double). The Mariners got a single from Mario Mendoza, but were also unable to score any runs.

Neither team scored in the sixth inning.

Reggie Jackson led off the Yankees’ seventh inning with a solo home run. After Piniella grounded out, Chambliss, Spencer, and Randolph (RBI) all singled to knock John Montague out of the game. Rob Dressler came in to pitch for Seattle. Bucky Dent greeted Dressler with an RBI single, making the score 11-2 in favor of the Yankees. One out later, Thurman Munson drove home Willie Randolph to make the score 12-2.

Meanwhile, Catfish Hunter was sailing. He retired the Mariners in order in the seventh inning. (This would be the last time in his career that Catfish would pitch this deep into a game.)

The Yankees did not score in their half of the eighth inning.

In the bottom of the eighth, Ruppert Jones led off with a single. That was all the Mariners would get. The next three batters all flew out. The last out would end Hunter’s night.

The Yankees scores twice more in the ninth inning (Randolph single, Dent double, Murcer rbi-single, Munson rbi-ground out) to make the score 14-2. With the Yankees comfortably up, they, of course, brought in their bullpen ace, Rich “Goose” Gossage. With the help of a double play following a lead-off walk, Gossage retired the side in order to close out the Yankees’ 14-2 victory.

One might wonder why Gossage was brought into a game like this. The answer is simple. Gossage hadn’t pitched since April 18 when he broke his thumb in a locker room fight with Cliff Johnson. It seems the Yankees wanted to give the Goose a chance to pitch in a low-leverage spot.

Of note, the win was the second on the season for Jim “Catfish” Hunter. It would be the last victory he’d ever record in the Major Leagues.

***

The next installment of this series will bring us to 1980. Stay tuned!

Yankees Record on July 12 (in this series – since 1968): 8-1

(There were no games played on July 12 in 1971, 1976, and 1978.)

Graig Nettles (as a Yankee on July 12): 24 AB, 6 hits (.250), 1 run, 2 strikeouts, 3 walks. 1 RBI (in this game, while every other starting player had at least one hit, Nettles went 0-for-6.)

#BirthdayBaseball

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