Marty Noble

Will history repeat itself in Bronx?

Thirty years later, Jays, Yanks battling for first place

Will history repeat itself in Bronx?

NEW YORK -- Has anyone noticed? We've been down this road. These coordinates might be vaguely familiar to folks of a certain age. The first-place Blue Jays are in the Bronx for a four-game series against the second-place Yankees in the second week of September. The visiting team has played 139 games, the home team 138. And the year ends with a five. Remember?

The identical scenario developed 30 years ago. Honest.

Seems history is repeating itself. The Yankees hope it's not. But the similarities are striking, not to mention more than a tad eerie.

And more context, albeit unrelated: the Mets are in first place.

It is as though Major League Baseball has Xeroxed circumstances that existed in September 1985, made a few minor modifications, one of them a rainout, and inserted it all in the final month of the current American League schedule. Jays at Yanks for four games in 2015. By the way, the Mets are in first place.

Yes, remember, if you can. The Mets, with all that young pitching, were taking over the city 30 years ago. The Yankees were serious contenders as well, and their lineup was to die for -- Rickey, Donnie Baseball, Winny, Groove, et al. But the Mets were the more compelling story ... at least until the second week of September.

In so many ways, it is now as it was then. The parallels have been cited. What happened next in 1985 can't be happening again. Can it?

If history does repeat, then the Yankees will prevail in the first game of this delayed series against the talented team from Toronto, now to be played Friday because of the weather Thursday. The outcome in 1985 was Yankees 7, Blue Jays 5. A six-run rally in the seventh inning, initiated against the Jays' No. 1 starter Dave Stieb, turned the game. David Price, the Blue Jays' ace, is to start Friday night. Another set of dots connected.

Phil Niekro started the second game for the Yanks. He was undone by his defense -- Don Mattingly, of all people, and Ron Hassey committed errors -- and he allowed no earned runs in a 3-2, complete-game loss. Alas, another parallel would have developed had the Jays scheduled another knuckleballer, R.A. Dickey, to start the second game of this series. But we can't have everything. He is to start Sunday.

The third game, a 7-4 Blue Jays victory, was the most noteworthy of the series, though hardly for baseball reasons. It was on Saturday night, Sept. 14, that Mary O'Dowd, an accomplished singer with a Carnegie Hall resume, flubbed the Canadian national anthem. She twice began "O Canada" to the tune of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Oh say. O'Dowd. Oh boy. It was her Bill Buckner moment 13 months early.

Embarrassed, O'Dowd apologized, found a page of lyrics and the score for "O Canada" she had left in the Yankees' dugout and then sang both anthems flawlessly. The following day, Yankee Stadium public address announcer Bob Sheppard read an apology to Canada he had prepared -- he declined to read the one George Steinbrenner had written -- and the episode ended. Kind of.

Years later, when Runyon's, a popular Manhattan saloon and hangout for baseball writers and umpires, closed, O'Dowd sang that night. Oh yeah.

What happened later in the third game has had greater shelf life. O'Dowd now is a trivia answer. "Mr. May" is much more than that. Any extended account of the career of Dave Winfield is obligated to mention that wounding nickname Steinbrenner hung on him that night.

A common mistake about the nickname that played off Reggie Jackson's "Mr. October," involves the when of it. Many folks wrongly believe Steinbrenner's insult was delivered during the 1981 World Series when Winfield was amassing fruitless at-bats. But Mr. May was coined Sept. 14, four years later.

The Yankees' impulsive owner made an unplanned visit to the press box, took a seat next to Murray Chass of The New York Times and stuck Winfield with an unwanted identity that has stuck to him. Hall of Famer sticks better.

The final game went to the Blue Jays, 8-5. Former Yankee Doyle Alexander was the winning pitcher. The Jays left the Bronx with a 4 1/2-game lead that shrunk to two games before they clinched the division title on the second-to-last day of the season, with Alexander beating the Yanks again.

That eventful series was only the beginning of the end for that tormented, Billy Martin-managed Yankees team. Within the ensuing week, Martin had allowed reliever Brian Fisher to surrender six runs in the ninth inning of a 9-5 home loss to the Indians, had ordered the left-handed-hitting Mike Pagliarulo to bat right-handed against Mickey Mahler of the Tigers with two runners on base and battled his own pitcher Ed Whitson in a protracted bar brawl in the team hotel in Baltimore.

And the Mets were in first place.

Marty Noble is a columnist for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.