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Billy Martin's A's Face Yankees in AL playoffs

By Larry EldridgeSports editor of The Christian Science Monitor / October 13, 1981

New York

Reggie Jackson is acting like "Mr. October" again, George Steinbrenner is throwing tantrums, and even Billy Martin is back in the act as he returns to Yankee Stadium for a dramatic confrontation with both of his old tormentors. And these are just the semifinals!

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Yes, it's a scriptwriter's dream as Martin's brash, young Oakland A's take on the Yankees in a best-of-five series opening here tonight to determine the American League's World Series representative. And with this cast of characters you can be sure not all the excitement will take place on the field.

Jackson will be a focal point as always in these post-season clashes. The Yankee slugger hit only .237 this year, but as he has shown so frequently in the past, Reggie possesses in uncanny ability to rise to the occasion.

Who can forget, for instance, his World Series MVP performance for Oakland in 1973, or his three home runs for the Yankees in the decisive game of the 1977 classic?

And already this fall he is up to his old tricks again. He hit .300 and made several fine defensive plays in New York's pulsating five-game victory over Milwaukee for the AL East title, and with his usual dramatic flair, he picked the right spots for his heroics -- smashing a two-run homer to nail down a 3-0 second game victory, and blasting a two-run shot that tied the climactic fifth game and triggered the Yankees' 7-3 triumph.

But Jackson was hardly the whole show -- or even the main reason for New York's success in the divisional playoff. That accolade goes to an imposing array of starting pitchers and relievers who combined to shut down the vaunted Milwaukee offense time and again.

The biggest guns were fireballing rookie Dave Righetti and veteran reliever Goose Gossage, who throws even harder. Righetti struck out 13 Brewers in nine innings and won two games, while Gossage, whose 6 ft. 3 in., 217-pound frame and stern, mutton chop-adorned visage would be enough to intimidate the hitters even if he didn't throw a 98 m.p.h. fastball, fanned eight in 62/3 innings while saving all three Yankee victories.

Starter Ron Guidry and middle relief man Ron Davis also pitched well, while Tommy John and Rick Reuschel add more depth to a staff that is beginnng to look truly awesome.

The Yankees need such pitching, too, for the rest of their game is frequently less than championship caliber, as they showed by a almost letting the Brewers off the hook after winning the first two games. The offense, which has been erratic all year, just about disappeared in Games 3 and 4. And on two of the rare occasions when they got something going, they ran themselves out of possible big innings via amateurish blunders on the basepaths by Dave Winfield and Rick Cerone.

The 2-1 loss in Game 4 triggered the latest of Steinbrenner's of childish tirades. The owner stormed into the clubhouse after the game and berated the entire team, with special emphasis on Cerone, fro 10 minutes.

"You're all a bunch of overpriced fat cats," he reportedly said, adding that the team was "an embarrassment," and that if they lost the series, "all of you will be gone." He also reportedly got into a shouting match with Cerone, who left the clubhouse in tears.