The 1981 American League Championship Series was a best-of-five series between the New York Yankees and the Oakland Athletics.
Due to a strike-shortened season, each team had to win two playoff series to reach the World Series. Oakland had swept the Kansas City Royals three games to none and the Yankees had beaten the Milwaukee Brewers three games to two in the 1981 American League Division Series. The Yankees swept the Athletics three games to none in the Series and moved on to the 1981 World Series, where they would lose to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
New York won the series, 3–0.
Tuesday, October 13, 1981, at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, New York
In Billy Martin's return to Yankee Stadium (for the first time since the Yankees fired him in 1979), the Yankees drew first blood in front of their old skipper. Graig Nettles' three-run bases-loaded double in the first inning was all the run support that Tommy John needed.
John gave way to Ron Davis after six innings. Davis had an easy seventh, but the A's mounted a threat in the eighth where Martin tried some of his "Billyball" tactics. After Dwayne Murphy walked with one out, Davis ran up a 1–2 count on the next batter, Cliff Johnson. During the at-bat, Johnson stepped in and out of the batter's box (on Martin's orders) on each pitch to break Davis' rhythm. After fouling off a pitch, Johnson showed his bat to plate umpire Nick Bremigan and asked to get a new one. Johnson walked slowly to and from the A's dugout in the process, and Bremigan ordered him to get back to the plate more quickly. Subsequently, when Davis tried to compose himself on the mound, Bremigan ordered him to pitch immediately, and Davis began to loudly complain that he should have been granted time as Johnson was. Both Graig Nettles and Yankee manager Bob Lemon, coming out of the dugout, tried to calm Davis down. Bremigan then exacerbated the situation by charging Lemon with a mound visit. A clearly rattled Davis threw three straight balls well out of the strike zone to walk Johnson. Lemon then removed Davis and brought in closer Goose Gossage earlier than expected to face Tony Armas. Armas was the tying run at that point and was also the A's leading home run and RBI man. Gossage retired Armas and Wayne Gross to end the inning and closed out the win the rest of the way.
Wednesday, October 14, 1981, at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, New York
With a 3–1 lead after 3 1⁄2 innings and American League ERA leader Steve McCatty cruising, the A's seemed headed for a 1–1 tie going back home to Oakland. It could have been worse, but Dave Winfield made a leaping catch in the second to rob Tony Armas of a homer.
But, Graig Nettles led off the bottom of the fourth with a single and Rick Cerone was hit by a McCatty pitch. After Willie Randolph singled in Nettles, Jerry Mumphrey walked. Dave Beard came on in relief and proceeded to give up an RBI single to Larry Milbourne, a two-run double to Winfield, and a three-run homer to Lou Piniella. Beard gave up two more hits and loaded the bases after that, but Cerone flied out to end the disastrous inning. The Yankees now led 8–3.
The Yankees added five more runs, three coming on a Nettles homer in the seventh, to complete the rout.
Thursday, October 15, 1981, at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California
Prior to the game, Bob Lemon inexplicably dropped Willie Randolph from the leadoff spot in the batting order to ninth. Randolph kept any ill feelings to himself and broke a scoreless pitching duel between Dave Righetti and Matt Keough with a solo homer in the sixth. That run would be all Righetti would need through six innings. Series MVP Graig Nettles plated three more runs in the ninth with a bases-loaded double resulting when A's center fielder Rick Bosetti turned the wrong way on his fly ball.
Dave Righetti pitched six shutout innings and Ron Davis pitched two scoreless innings before giving way to Goose Gossage, who retired the side in the ninth to clinch the pennant.
The most widely accepted debut of "the wave" occurred during Game 3, led by Krazy George Henderson.
1981 ALCS (3–0): New York Yankees over Oakland Athletics