Bucky Dent hoping for new hero to emerge in Yankees-Red Sox

BOSTON — Of course he monitored the multiple ballgames Sunday afternoon, and of course his phone blew up when the results of those games produced the first one-game, Yankees-Red Sox, “winner goes on, loser goes home” matchup since Oct. 2, 1978, at Fenway Park. Of course he caught up with Goose Gossage, breaking down the plays of that amazing contest from 43 years ago as if they had occurred last week.

They don’t call him Bucky Bleeping Dent up here for nothing.

“Here we go again, Yankees-Red Sox,” Dent, the team’s ninth-place hitter whose seventh-inning, three-run homer against Mike Torrez gave the ’78 Yankees a lead they never relinquished that day, told The Post on Monday morning. “There’s nothing better. It’s great for the sport.”

So great, in fact, that the 69-year-old Dent, who lives in Florida, was working with his representative, Andrew Levy (whose agency Wish You Were Here Productions owns a luxury suite at Yankee Stadium,) to try to attend Tuesday night’s American League wild-card contest in person at Fenway. Even if that couldn’t work out — the short turnaround made the logistics challenging — Dent will be watching the game and lining it up with the memories of his legendary moment.

Just as Aaron Bleeping Boone’s 2021 Yankees reported to Yankee Stadium on Sunday with their suitcases packed and their itineraries uncertain, the ’78 guys did the same on Oct. 1, although they aimed to fly from New York to Kansas City that day to prepare for the American League Championship Series against the Royals. Instead, the Yankees blew their one-game AL East to the Bosox in Game 162, future Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter dropping a 9-2 decision to the Indians as future (fingers crossed) Hall of Famer Luis Tiant blanked the Blue Jays, 5-0, at Fenway to set up the Yankees-Red Sox play-in to decide the division crown — and, in those pre-wild-card days, the lone playoff berth from the East.

Bucky Dent's legendary home run against the Red Sox in 1978.
Bucky Dent’s legendary home run against the Red Sox in 1978.
AP

(Speaking of “in those days,” the Red Sox earned the right to host not by virtue of head-to-head record, as the Yankees prevailed in nine of their 15 meetings, but rather a coin flip, George Steinbrenner reportedly berating team president Al Rosen when his “heads” call didn’t pay off.)

“After we lost the game [to Cleveland], we were like, ‘We lost the toss? We have to go to Boston? Really?’ ” Dent said. “We didn’t have time to think about it. We got dressed, got on the plane and went to Boston. That night, a bunch of us went to [famous restaurant/bar] Daisy Buchanan’s to get something to eat and drink. The buildup of the intensity, the nervousness of the game, didn’t start until the next day.”

Bucky Dent in 2018.
Bucky Dent in 2018.
Paul J. Bereswill

Tuesday night’s contest and the ’78 event aren’t identical apples, as Dent pointed out. After all, every year features two wild-card games, while Dent’s Yankees competed in the rare 163rd game, one that hasn’t been held as a “Win or go home” affair since the Rays and Rangers did so in 2013. These Yankees have a day to settle in at Fenway — and whoever wins will receive a day to settle in at Tropicana Field before opening the AL Division Series against the Rays on Thursday — whereas the ’78 Yankees played Game 162 in The Bronx, Game 163 at Fenway and, after their thrilling, 5-4 victory over Boston, ALCS Game 1 at Royals (now Kauffman) Stadium in successive days.

They’re close, though, the game’s biggest rivalry settling their business in just one game, a contest 43 years ago that, Dent said, “was the most pressure in a game that I ever played in.” And he played in two World Series and three LCS.

“There’s nothing like playing in a one-game playoff,” said Dent, whose late homer, with Mickey Rivers’ bat, vaulted the Yankees from a 2-0 deficit to a 3-2 lead. “It’s totally different from anything else. It still has the same impact [as the play-in]. You’re trying to win to go on. And it’s Boston and New York. The big thing is, you want to be mentally ready to play. Shoot, it’s the greatest thing that there is. It’s what you play for.”

Asked if he saw someone joining him and Boone (whose 11th-inning homer in 2003 ALCS Game 7 sent the Yankees to the Fall Classic and sent the Red Sox home) in the Beantown “Bleeping” club, Dent said he had been discussing that very subject with his wife and friends on Sunday night: “I picked Brett Gardner. He’s a classical warrior. He’s played for so many years. He’s come up with so many big hits. He wasn’t supposed to play much and he wound up playing a lot. Plus he’s got a B in his name.”

We’ll see if Dent can call ’em as well as he hits ’em in do-or-die Yankees-Red Sox games, and whether these Yankees can produce the sort of lifelong rivalry memories that Dent and his teammates still cherish whenever there’s an excuse to do so.

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