Welcome to the Bronx Zoo. A team that had more subplots than any other World Champion in major league history. Playing .700 ball from mid July through October is a good way to win a championship. In the Yankees case all it guaranteed them was a 1 game playoff in Fenway Park on October 1st. Massive injuries and the implosion of skipper Billy Martin left the Bombers all but dead in the water as the Red Sox built a huge double digit lead by July. A managerial change brought in the steady Bob Lemon to replace the volatile Martin and all of a sudden the atmosphere changed. Don't discount the fact that the troops got healthy and Ron Guidry was in the midst of a season for the ages, and all off a sudden the Yankees had the formula. Slowly but surely they chipped away at the Red Sox lead. Entering September they were 6 1/2 back, just within earshot of making a run. Heading into a key 4 game set in Boston on September 7th the Bombers were 4 games behind the Red Sox. All Boston needed was a split to keep the status quo. Even 1 win would allow them to keep a 2 game lead. Instead the Yankees blew the doors off the Red Sox in a 4 game sweep know in the Big Apple as "The Boston Masacre". New York didn't just win those 4 games they pummeled the Red Sox by scoring 15, 13, 7 and 7 runs. Just like that both teams were tied atop the AL East and the Yankees owned all of the momentum. 4 days later the two teams would again do battle, this time for a 3 game weekend set in the Bronx. Before sellout crowds over 55,000 the Yankees won the first 2 games, then lost the finale. The Yankees were now up by 2 1/2 games and the baseball world knew that the Red Sox were dead. Unfortunately, the baseball world forgot to inform the Red Sox of their funeral. Boston, to their credit, rallied back and tied the Yankees by winning on the final day of the season, while the Yankees dropped a 9-2 stinker to Cleveland. That set the stage for the 1 game playoff in Boston on October 2, 1978. The rest they say, "is history".
New York's strength was a veteran lineup that knew how to win. When the New York tabloids went into full panic mode that summer the team never wavered Bob Lemon was the right guy at the right time. As the team suffered through stagnant play and injuries the fiery Martin made things worse. Lemon's patience paid off as New York executed one of the greatest comebacks in modern baseball history. 31 year old Thurman Munson was the heart and soul of this team. Playing on 2 gimpy knees, which reduced his homer outpu to just 6, he was able to lead his team to the promised land one final time. "Sweet" Lou Piniella (.314) was the only regular to hit over .300. Reggie and Craig Nettles both had solid seasons hitting in the .270's with 27 homers. A cast of minor leaguers helped cover for the injured Willie Randolph, including Brian Doyle who had a post season to remember. Steady veteran Roy White was injured hobbled most of year. Dent, the hero in Fenway, missed 39 games. Unheralded first baseman Chris Chambliss played in all 162 games and knocked in 90 runs. Guidry (25-3, 1.74) dominated AL hitters better than any lefty before or since. Louisiana Lighting fanned 248, including 18 Angels on an otherwise forgettable May night vs the Angels, up at the Stadium. Ed Figueroa (20-9, 2.99) was an outstanding #2 starter, who logged 253 innings and somehow doesn't get the credit he deserved. Led by Guidry the Yankee staff led the AL in ERA. Due to injuries to anticipated starters Don Gullett and Andy Messersmith, swingman Dick Tidrow was moved into the rotation and he gave Lemon 185 solid innings. Rookies Jim Beattie and Ken Clay filled the gap as well. Ancient 32 year old future HOF'er Catfish Hunter (12-6, 3.58) was on his last legs. Still he found a way to log 20 starts. The pen had superstar free agent signee Goose Gossage logging 134 innings and notching 27 saves. His setup man was former closer Sparky Lyle, who won the 1977 AL Cy Young Award. Graig Nettles joked that Lyle, "went from Cy Young to Syanora". Gossage was just that good in '78. He was worth every penny of George Steinbrenner's millions that it took to get him to the Bronx.
I added 17 new cards to complete the Yankees 1978 set.
Fun Fact: Johnstone was know as one of the games greatest pranksters. He is credited with stuffing his shirt, graying his hair and walking around Dodgertown pretending to be Tommy Lasorda. You can read about his exploits in one of his 3 books or by clicking here and reading a neat article by SABR. I found this autographed photo on ebay.