Red Sox History: Ranking the biggest ‘What Ifs’ in franchise history

BRONX, NY - OCTOBER 16: Pedro Martinez #45 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the New York Yankees in the first inning during game 7 of the American League Championship Series on October 16, 2003 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
BRONX, NY - OCTOBER 16: Pedro Martinez #45 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the New York Yankees in the first inning during game 7 of the American League Championship Series on October 16, 2003 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) /
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NEW YORK – CIRCA 1978: Lou Piniella #14 of the New York Yankees swings and watches the flight of his ball against the Kansas City Royals during a Major League Baseball game circa 1978 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. Piniella played for the Yankees from 1974-84. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
NEW YORK – CIRCA 1978: Lou Piniella #14 of the New York Yankees swings and watches the flight of his ball against the Kansas City Royals during a Major League Baseball game circa 1978 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. Piniella played for the Yankees from 1974-84. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /

3: What if Lou Piniella didn’t win his battle with the sun?

What people remember when they think about the 1978 AL East pennant race is the Red Sox blowing a 14.5 game lead to the Yankees and Bucky Dent’s improbable home run to win the one-game playoff. What often gets forgotten is the miraculous defense of Yankee’s right fielder Lou Piniella that allowed the Yankees to win the game.

In the inning before Dent’s home run, the Red Sox had a chance to extend their 2-0 lead with Jim Rice on second, Carlton Fisk on first, and former MVP, Fred Lynn, at the plate. Lynn hit a long fly ball to right field, directly into the late afternoon sun. With limited visibility, Piniella ranged deep into the right-field corner and made a basket catch to prevent two runs from scoring.

The Yankees scored five runs in the top of the seventh and were still clinging to a one-run lead as the Red Sox came to bat in the bottom of the ninth. Rick Burleson worked a one-out walk and looked sure to advance to third when Jerry Remy ripped a line drive to right field.

With the blinding sun in his eyes, Piniella miraculously stuck out his glove and played the ball perfectly on one hop. Burleson was forced to stop at second, and when Jim Rice flew out to deep right-center, he could only advance to third base rather than scoring. Yastrzemski followed with a weak pop-up to third base, finishing off the worst single-season collapse in baseball history.