- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Yankees trailed the Red Sox 2-0 with two on and two out in the seventh inning when their slap-hitting shortstop lofted a lazy fly ball toward left field.

“Good - that’s an out,” Boston manager Don Zimmer thought. Then he remembered that the wind was blowing out and Fenway Park’s Green Monster wall was a mere 315 feet from home plate.

The date was Oct. 2, 1978, and the two teams were conducting a one-game playoff for the American League East title. As the batter, Bucky Dent, ran toward first base, he lost the soaring baseball in the shadows. Only when he saw the umpire waving his hand in a circular motion did he realize he had made baseball history.

Contrary to popular retrospective belief, Dent’s three-run homer did not win the game. Bona fide slugger Reggie Jackson went deep in the eighth to provide the actual margin in the Yankees’ 5-4 victory. But it was Dent whose name provokes an obscenity from the lips of many veteran Red Sox fans to this day.

And when he appeared for a game at Fenway several years ago, he was introduced as “Bucky Effing Dent” - a somewhat more polite version of his hardcore nickname in Boston and environs.

No wonder the denizens of Red Sox Nation still take it so hard. A marvelous fielder who made the majors with the White Sox at age 21 in 1973, Dent was anything but a power hitter. He poked 40 homers over 12 years and just four during a 1978 regular season when he batted a sickly .243. But all he needed was one to achieve lasting fame or infamy, depending on rooting interests.

“Every kid dreams of hitting a big home run,” Dent told Hal Habib of the Palm Beach Post last year. “[Mickey] Mantle was my hero, so I used to imitate him. Two out, bases loaded in the ninth, World Series, and you hit a home run. That happened to me. Those dreams do come true.”

Not exactly, but close enough.

As usual with epic events, there was a story behind the story for Dent. Several, in fact.

For one thing, his blast, if that’s the word, came off Red Sox right-hander Mike Torrez, a Yankees teammate the previous season. Later, the two became close friends and make many joint appearances a year to kid each other about their fateful encounter three decades ago in Back Bay.

“That home run has kept us both in the news, so I’m kind of tickled pink that I gave it up,” Torrez told the Palm Beach newspaper. “What the hell. He got lucky, but that’s all part of the game.”

As he went to the plate, Dent toted a bat belonging to teammate Mickey Rivers because he had batted just .143 with zero home runs in his previous 20 games. A few moments later, Bucky was writhing on the ground after fouling a ball off a tender left leg in which he had suffered a blood clot during spring training.

While Dent was being treated, Rivers called out from the on-deck circle, “Hey, homey, you got the wrong bat - that one has a crack in it.”

A batboy ran out of the dugout and handed Dent new lumber. On the next pitch, Torrez hung a slider and… instant horsehide history.

Despite all the Yankees’ previous pennants, this one was special. In mid-July, they trailed the Red Sox by 14 games, prompting owner George Steinbrenner to fire rock-rumped manager Billy Martin and replace him with easygoing Bob Lemon. The Yankees caught up by sweeping a four-game mid-September series at Fenway that became known as sporting circles as the “Boston Massacre.”

After their dramatic playoff victory, the Yankees rushed past the Royals in the ALCS and the Dodgers in the World Series for their 22nd championship. In the Series, Bucky Dent batted .417 and was named MVP. That fall, it seemed, wonders never ceased.

Dent retired as a player in 1982 and served as the Yankees’ interim manager during parts of the 1989 and 1990 seasons. Now, at 58, he runs a baseball school in Delray Beach, Fla. - and he still knows how to make Red Sox fans feel the pain.

In left field of the school’s baseball field, there is a replica of Boston’s Green Monster erected by Dent in 1988, and the scoreboard relates his impossible dream anew every time someone looks that way. It reads Yankees 3, Red Sox 2, bottom of the seventh.

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