Folklore and stats follow fans to Game 6
New York — The Los Angeles Dodgers, hoping to put the finishing touches on an amazing string of postseason comebacks, are one victory away from the biggest triumph of all as the World Series resumes here with Game 6 tonight. But just as they realized when this whole thing began a week ago, they still have to win a game in Yankee Stadium - and that's something Dodger teams haven't done very often lately.
New Yorkers, in fact, like to think that Steve Garvey, Ron Cey & Co. are ''psyched'' by the whole Gotham scene - that when they leave their relatively serene Tinseltown environment for the hustle and bustle, the hassles and the unruly crowds of this city, something happens to their game.
There's evidence to support this theory, too, especially in recent years. Counting the 1977 and 1978 World Series between these teams plus the five games played so far in this one, L.A. has a a 6-3 record at home but only a 1-7 mark (including six losses in a row) in Yankee Stadium.
The Dodgers, of course, pooh-pooh any suggestion that they have a mental block about playing in New York.
''We hit a lot of balls hard in some of those losses,'' Garvey says. ''It just seemed they always went right at somebody, or that Graig Nettles was making great plays. We can't do anything about that. We just have to keep hitting the ball hard. If you do that, sooner or later some go through.''
Indeed, L.A. has seemed to get every bad break here the last few years, and that trend continued in Games 1 and 2. On the first play of the Series, Davey Lopes smashed what looked like a certain double down the third-base line. But Nettles knocked the ball down, then although Lopes appeared to have the throw beaten he was called out at first.
And that was just the beginning of two days in which the ball always seemed to bounce the wrong way for the Dodgers, and every close umpiring call went against them. They might even have complained about ''bad luck,'' except that a Dodger team can't really do that, since it was their own paterfamilias, Branch Rickey, when the successful Brooklyn franchise was accused of the same thing, who coined the famous phrase ''Luck is the residue of design.''
So the Dodgers just gave credit to the Yankees - and returned home to launch their comeback bid. This was a team, after all, that had rallied from an 0-2 deficit to defeat Houston and a 1-2 margin to overcome Montreal. And now it has come a long way toward doing it again by winning all three weekend games in Los Angeles for a 3-2 lead.
Tonight's pitching matchup sends New York's Tommy John against Burt Hooton in a reprise of Game 2, when John won a sterling mound duel 3-0 (it was just 1-0, via an unearned run, until Hooton left for a pinch-hitter).
Should the Dodgers win, of course, that would be it - the fifth world championship for the franchise, the fourth since the team moved to L.A. in 1958, but the first since 1965 after failures against Oakland in 1974 and New York in '77 and '78.
If the Yankees force it to a seventh game, it's expected to be the same all-rookie pitching matchup of Game 3 in which Fernando Valenzuela of the Dodgers bested Dave Righetti.
It was Valenzuela's courageous 5-4 victory on a night when he obviously didn't have his best stuff that launched the comeback. L.A. won again, 8-7, in a mistake-filled contest, then made it three straight when homers by Pedro Guerrero and Steve Yeager enabled Jerry Reuss to nip Guidry 2-1.
Thus it is the Yankees who find themselves in the unfamiliar position of facing possible elimination in Game 6. And Reggie Jackson, for one, isn't happy with the prospect.
The Yankee slugger said before this Series that he'd rather play Montreal - that when you go against a team you've beaten twice you can't help feeling that sooner or later they might get you. And now he's doubly worried.
''It's a bad feeling to have someone come back on you,'' said Reggie, who missed the first three games with a leg injury but leads all Yankee hitters with a .571 average. ''It's a different feeling when you've tasted it and then all of a sudden it seems like it's the other guy's turn.''
Cey, the batting and fielding hero of Game 3 and a key man for L.A., had to leave Game 5 after being hit on the head with a Goose Gossage fastball, but is expected to be able to play tonight. The Dodgers have one other thing going for them, too, if they want to check the baseball history books. No Series has ever been decided by a team winning all its home games while losing all its road games - which of course is the only way the Yankees can now win this one.