As this year’s World Series makes it into the record books, we remember a local athlete who pitched in several memorable MLB games, including a Fall Classic.
Topeka High’s Mike Torrez made a mark in history having pitched, and won, two complete games in the 1977 World Series for the Yankees. Back then, pitchers were really pitchers. Throwing 400+ pitches on game days (practice and warmups included) was not unusual.
Royals fans will remember the seesaw 1977 ALCS that ran all the way to a fifth and deciding game. Torrez pitched in Game 3 on October 7 and lost 7-2. The Yankees brought him back for 5 1/3 innings in Game 5 in Kansas City on only 48 hours rest, relieving starter Ron Guidry. The Yankees scored three runs in the top of the ninth. Sparky Lyle closed the door in the Royals’ half of the ninth; the inning ended with a double play. The Royals lost the game and the series. It was a bitter pill, especially a loss in front of an energized home crowd. There was a touching photo in Sports Illustrated of the Royals’ Freddie Patek alone, anguished and slumped over in the dugout. Torrez then went on to pitch (and win) Games 3 and 6 of the 1977 World Series, leading the Yankees to victory over Tommy Lasorda’s L.A. Dodgers.
The following year, Torrez again found himself pitching in a crucial moment. As a free agent at the start of the 1978 season, he moved to the Red Sox. The Yankees’ path to the 1978 postseason hinged on a one-game playoff with Boston on October 2. Torrez was the Red Sox starter and still on the mound in the seventh inning when Bucky Dent launched a three-run homer over the Green Monster, putting the Yankees ahead 3-2. Torrez walked the next batter and manager Bob Lemon replaced him with Bob Stanley. Stanley gave up another run before Lou Pinella flied out to end the fateful inning. Reggie Jackson added another run with a homer in the top of the eighth. Boston would add two runs in the bottom of that inning but still come out short, losing 5-4.
Royals fans lament meeting the Yankees in the ALCS for the third straight year; they lost 3 games to 1. The Yankees then took the 1978 World Series from the Dodgers, winning Games 3 through 6.
Mike Torrez played 18 seasons for 7 Major League teams: the St. Louis Cardinals, Montreal Expos, Baltimore Orioles, Oakland A’s, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets and the Yankees. He finished his professional career as a free agent with the Oakland Athletics in 1984.
A 2006 inductee into the Shawnee County Sports Council Hall of Fame, Mike Torrez was named the top athlete in the history of Shawnee County by the Topeka Capital Journal. He is the namesake of the baseball complex at Hummer Sports Park.
The New York Yankees, 1977 World Series on 7 discs (907 minutes)
The New York Yankees, Essential Games of Yankee Stadium, including: 1976 ALCS game 5 vs. Kansas City Royals — 1977 World Series game 6 vs. Los Angeles Dodgers — 1995 ALDS game 2 vs. Seattle. This collection is on 6 discs (17 hours 47 minutes)
The Bronx is Burning. In the summer of 1977, New York was a city in crisis. Paralyzed by a citywide blackout, political strife and the Son of Sam killing spree, the Big Apple was burning. Rising out of this troubled urban landscape to bring hope and inspiration came one of baseball’s most storied franchises, The New York Yankees. Traces the amazing-but-true story of how the New York Yankees single-handedly helped raise the spirits of a city in a time of darkness and uncertainty.