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September 28, 2008

Terre Haute natives cherish memories of ‘House that Ruth Built’

Yankee Stadium was packed as usual on Easter Sunday in 1979.

George Steinbrenner’s Yankees were one loss away from being swept by the Milwaukee Brewers to start the season. That was no way for the two-time defending World Series champions to perform, so the boss had a conversation with his new veteran left-handed starting pitcher prior to the game.

“He told me ‘This is the biggest game of the year,’ ” Terre Haute’s own Tommy John recalled earlier this week.

In the first inning, Steinbrenner didn’t see the same John who, pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers, shut the Bronx Bombers out for the first six innings of the 1978 World Series, putting the Yankees in an early deficit.

In his Yankee debut, John walked Brewers’ leadoff man Paul Molitor on four pitches and threw a fifth straight ball to designated hitter Don Money, drawing boos from the Yankee faithful. John allowed an RBI single by Cecil Cooper that drove home Molitor, but scattered five hits and held Milwaukee scoreless the remainder of his seven innings. Goose Gossage locked up the Yankee win with two scoreless innings for the save.

John’s first game in Yankee Stadium is his favorite memory of the “House that Ruth Built,” which was home to its last game Sept. 20.

It was also the first start of John’s best two seasons during his 26-year major league career. John went 21-9 in ’79 with a 2.96 earned-run average, 17 complete games and three shutouts. He one-upped himself with a 22-9 mark, a 3.43 ERA and six shutouts in 1980.

John’s 808 1/3 innings in Yankee Stadium were second only to the 809 1/3 he tossed in Comiskey Park.

John first pitched there in 1964 as a 21-year-old Cleveland Indian.

“I remember going out and seeing how huge the stadium was,” John said of the ballpark that had its capacity reduced from more than 70,000 to its current 57,546. “It was bigger than it is now.”

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