Fernando Saves His Best for the Yankees in 1981 World Series
The situation looked dire on Oct. 23, 1981. The Dodgers trailed the World Series 2-0 to their rivals, the New York Yankees. For Game 3 the venue had shifted to Dodger Stadium, and on the hill was Fernando Valenzuela, the rookie sensation who with the flip of his screwball, created the phenomenon called Fernandomania.
But for the first three innings he hardly resembled the 20-year-old wunderkind who almost magically won his first eight starts and would go on to be named that year’s NL Cy Young winner. The Yankees scored four runs in the first three innings to take a 4-3 lead, and it looked like Valenzuela might be headed for an early shower.
Then almost as quickly as you could say, “El Toro” (Valenzuela’s nickname), the left-hander found his rhythm and became his dominant self. He allowed just three hits the rest of the way and the Dodgers came back to take the lead. When Valenzuela got Lou Piniella to flail away at his final pitch, the momentum had clearly shifted to the Dodgers, who would then rip off three more straight victories to take the World Series in the 11th time these two teams met.
In the euphoria that was Dodger Stadium that day, Dodger Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully summed it up best when he said, “This was not the best Fernando game. It was his finest.”
Valenzuela recalls that game quite clearly.
“It wasn’t a dominant game,” said Valenzuela. “It was a tough game. I had to work hard. Playing against the Yankees at their best was difficult. It was a battle to win that game, but I had the confidence that I would regain my form and try to come out ahead and win.”