Nothing creates heroes in baseball quite like a winner-take-all matchup, and few heroes in baseball history were more unlikely than Yankees shortstop Bucky Dent.
It was 40 years ago today when Dent hit a three-run homer over Fenway Park's Green Monster in the seventh inning, giving the Yankees a lead against the Red Sox in the one-game 1978 American League East tiebreaker that they would not relinquish. One of just 40 homers that the light-hitting Dent would hit over his 12-year career, the dinger turned the momentum in a fierce rivalry game and made Dent infamous in New England to this very day.
Dent's unlikely homer is one of the most famous plays in history, but plenty more happened in this Game 163. Here are nine things you might not know about the Yankees' tight 5-4 victory over the Red Sox.
• Dent's homer was unexpected for a number of reasons, including the mere fact that he hadn't gone deep in six weeks. His last homer had been hit Aug. 16 against the A's, and he hit just .199/.250/.235 between that game and the winner-take-all tiebreaker.
• The bat Dent used to clear the Monster wasn't his own. Teammate Mickey Rivers noticed that Dent's bat had a crack in the handle, and so he lent his lumber to Dent midway through his pivotal plate appearance.
• Dent is the only player to homer in a one-game tiebreaker out of the No. 9 spot in the lineup. He hit out of the ninth spot in all but 12 of his appearances during the 1978 campaign.
• Dent wasn't the only player who homered that day at Fenway. Future Hall of Famers Carl Yastrzemski and Reggie Jackson also went yard, with Jackson's eighth-inning solo homer proving to be the difference in the one-run contest.
• Speaking of Hall of Famers, Yankees closer Goose Gossage had to retire back-to-back Cooperstown-bound players to end this game. With two men on and one out, Gossage got Jim Rice to fly out to right and then induced Yastrzemski into a game-ending popup to third.
• The Hall of Fame talent extended to the broadcast booth as well. Former Dodgers ace Don Drysdale called the game alongside Keith Jackson in the ABC booth, while Phil Rizzuto was on hand for the local Yankees broadcast. Ford C. Frick Award winner Ernie Harwell did play-by-play for CBS Radio, and Ken "Hawk" Harrelson was also present in the Red Sox booth.
• Yankees right fielder Lou Piniella showed off some of the wits that would make him such a successful manager later on. After Rick Burleson walked with one out in the bottom of the ninth, Jerry Remy hit a fly ball that Piniella lost in the sun. Piniella alertly pretended to have a read on the ball before it dropped in front of him, which caused Burleson to hesitate on the basepaths. Piniella's heads-up play kept Burleson from advancing to third base, ultimately saving what would have been the game-tying run for Boston.
• Yankees ace Ron Guidry maintained the form he showed all season, keeping the Red Sox to two early runs over 6 1/3 innings. The outing actually raised Guidry's season ERA by two points to 1.74, but he still improved his record to an MLB-best 25-3. Guidry was the most recent AL pitcher to lead the league with 20-plus wins and a sub-2.00 ERA until Rays starter Blake Snell equaled that feat in 2018.
• Dent's moment in the sun didn't end in the tiebreaker. After a quiet ALCS performance against the Royals, the upstart hero hit .417 (10-for-24) with seven RBIs to claim World Series MVP honors in the Yankees' six-game triumph over the Dodgers.