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Greatest moments in Dodger history, No. 15: Dodgers win 1981 World Series

Tommy Lasorda hugs Steve Yeager after he hit a homerun to give the Dodgers the lead in Game 5.
Tommy Lasorda hugs Steve Yeager after he hit a homerun to give the Dodgers the lead in Game 5.
(Bruce Bennett / Getty Images )

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell, and the greatest moment countdown continues

I’m assuming everyone knows how this works by now, so I’m going to drop the explanatory introduction to these. If you need a reminder, click on any of the Nos. 20-25 greatest moments below.

Up next is a classic World Series victory.

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No. 15: Dodgers win the 1981 World Series (5,922 points)

Game 6 of the 1981 World Series

Watch Game 6 of the 1981 World Series here.

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The Garvey-Lopes-Russell-Cey infield was on its last legs. If they were going into the history books as champions, it had to be now.

The Dodgers fell into a 2-0 hole in the Series, losing Game 1, 5-3, and Game 2, 3-0. Both games were at Yankee Stadium.

Games 3, 4 and 5 were at Dodger Stadium, and that’s when the Dodgers turned things around.

Fernando Valenzuela’s performance in Game 3 can best be described with one word: Tenacious. He seemed to be in trouble every inning, but somehow managed to pitch a complete game, giving up nine hits and walking seven in a 5-4 victory. The Yankees seemed to threaten to blow the game open every inning, and Valenzuela escaped every serious jam. In the eighth inning, Aurelio Rodriguez and Larry Milbourne singled to put runners and first and second with none out. Bobby Murcer came up to pinch-hit for pitcher Rudy May. Murcer was a power hitter who finished his career with 252 homers. In a surprise move, he tried to bunt and popped the ball foul between third base and the dugout. Ron Cey raced and dove for the ball, catching it and then doubling Milbourne off of first to effectively end the Yankees’ final threat of the game.

Afterward, Lasorda was asked why he stayed with Fernando for the whole game.

“I thought about taking him out, but I said to myself, ‘This is the year of Fernando.’ That was one of the guttiest performances I’ve ever seen a young man do. He was like a championship poker player, bluffing his way through a hand.”

Cey was also a star of the game, not only making that great defensive play, but hitting a three-run homer in the first inning.

The losing pitcher for the Yankees was reliever George Frazier. That becomes important later.

Game 4 was a hitters’ paradise, with runs being scored in every inning except the fourth and the ninth. Ten pitchers were used in the game (back when using 10 pitchers in a game was unusual).

It was 6-3 Yankees in the bottom of the sixth when Jay Johnstone pinch-hit for Tom Niedenfuer and slammed a two-run homer to bring the Dodgers to 6-5. Davey Lopes reached on a two-base error, stole third and scored on Bill Russell‘s single to tie things up. In the bottom of the seventh, the Dodgers took an 8-6 lead on a sacrifice fly by Steve Yeager and a single by Lopes. They held on for an 8-7 victory.

The losing pitcher for the Yankees was George Frazier.

Game 5 matched two veteran left-handers, with the Dodgers sending Jerry Reuss against Ron Guidry.

The Yankees scored in the second inning when Lou Piniella singled to score Reggie Jackson. It stayed that way until the bottom of the seventh.

Guidry appeared to be cruising after he struck out Dusty Baker leading off the seventh, bringing Pedro Guerrero to the plate. On an 0-1 pitch, Guerrero launched a ball to deep left-center to tie the score. Four pitches later, Yeager launched a ball to almost the identical spot in left-center, giving the Dodgers a 2-1 lead.

The worst moment of the game for the Dodgers came in the eighth inning. Goose Gossage, a future Hall of Famer who owned a blazing fastball, let go of a 94-mph heater that hit Cey square in the helmet. The thwack of the ball hitting the helmet reverberated around the stadium, the ball ricocheted down the third-base line, Cey collapsed to the ground, holding his head, and the fans grew silent.

And no one felt worse than Gossage. “I was saying to myself ‘Oh, God.’ If he doesn’t have the helmet, he might be dead. I kept saying ‘Get up, get up.’ There was nothing more I could do.

“Sure you want to win the game at any expense. But not this one. There was no way I was throwing at him. I generally try to throw my fastball right down the middle, but with Cey I was trying to keep it up. The ball sailed. There was nothing I could do about it.”

Cey walked off the field, but was uninjured and returned to play in Game 6. Meanwhile, the Dodgers held on to their 2-1 lead and took a 3-2 Series lead.

The teams returned to New York for Game 6.

The key moment came in the bottom of the fourth. With the score tied, 1-1, the Yankees had two runners on with two out with their starting pitcher, Tommy John, due up. John had gone 9-8 with a 2.63 ERA in 1981 and had held the Dodgers to one run in 13 innings during the World Series. Plus, the Yankees bullpen had been unsteady during the Series.

Manager Bob Lemon decided to hit for John, sending Murcer up to the plate. John was irate, with TV cameras catching him saying “Unbelievable!” in the Yankees dugout.

Murcer flied out to end the inning, making Lemon’s decision look even worse.

“I wanted to get some runs,” Lemon said. “I didn’t think it was a gamble. I’ve seen John look better. He’d given up six hits in four innings. I just thought I’d make a move then, get some runs.”

Lemon replaced John on the mound with ... George Frazier. Here’s what happened: single by Lopes. Sacrifice by Russell. Fly out by Steve Garvey. Single by Cey. Single by Baker. Triple by Guerrero. Rick Monday strikes out. Three runs score and it’s 4-1 Dodgers.

The wheels then came off for the Yankees. The Dodgers scored four more times in the sixth and one in the eighth to win Game 6, and the World Series, 9-2.

The losing pitcher was George Frazier, who became the first pitcher to lose three games in one World Series.

The win also made the Garvey-Lopes-Russell-Cey infield champions at last.

“They can do anything they want with us now,” Lopes said. “I’ve got the ring. They can’t take that away from me.”

Cey: “Now maybe they won’t call us too old. We’ve been as successful as anybody in the game. We’ve won four pennants and now we’ve won the World Series.”

Game 6 would be the final game the famed infield would play together. Lopes was traded to the Chicago Cubs after the season.

Previous greatest moments

No. 16: Roy Campanella Night

No. 17: Rick Monday’s 1981 NLCS home run

No. 18: Rick Monday saves the flag

No. 19: Winning the 1988 World Series

No. 20: Winning the 1959 World Series

No. 21: Sandy Amorós’ catch in 1955 World Series

No. 22: Cody Bellinger’s catch in 2020 NLDS

No. 23: Justin Turner’s walkoff homer in 2017 NLCS

No. 24: Sandy Koufax strikes out 15 in 1963 World Series Game 1

No. 25: Mike Scioscia’s 1988 NLCS homer

And finally

Pedro Guerrero and Steve Yeager hit back-to-back homers in Game 5. Watch it here.

Until next time...

Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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