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The 1981 American League Division Series (ALDS), the opening round of the 1981 American League playoffs, began on Tuesday, October 6, and ended on Sunday, October 11. The Division Series were created on August 6 in response to the 1981 Major League Baseball strike, which caused the cancellation of roughly one-third of the regular season between May 29 and August 8; by the time play was resumed, it was decided that the best approach was to have the first-half leaders automatically qualify for postseason play, and allow all the teams to begin the second half with a clean slate.

The first-half and second-half champions in both the East and West divisions would meet in best-of-five series, with the winners advancing to the AL Championship Series (ALCS). If the same team won both halves, a wild card team—the second-place team from the second half—would qualify for the postseason, but this proved unnecessary in both leagues. There were no plans to continue the format in later seasons, although the Division Series resumed in 1995 after both major leagues realigned into three divisions. The teams in the 1981 ALDS were:

The second-half champions played the first two games at home, with the first-half champions potentially hosting the last three; the first-half champions all posted better records in their half of the season than the second-half champions did.

The Yankees and Athletics went on to meet in the AL Championship Series. The Yankees became the American League champion, and lost to the National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1981 World Series.


Oakland Athletics vs. Kansas City Royals

New York Yankees vs. Milwaukee Brewers

Oakland vs. Kansas City

Game 1, October 6

Royals Stadiummarker in Kansas City, Missourimarker

Mike Norris faced Dennis Leonard and the defending AL Champions in Game 1. Both pitchers were on their game and the game was scoreless through three innings. But in the top of the fourth, the A's got a boost on a three-run home run by Wayne Gross. Then Dwayne Murphy's solo homer in the eighth put the game away as Norris went on to pitch a four-hit complete game shutout.

Game 2, October 7

Royals Stadiummarker in Kansas City, Missourimarker

Steve McCatty and Mike Jones dueled in Game 2. After giving up an RBI double to Tony Armas in the first, Jones settled into a groove and kept the A's from scoring for the next six innings. McCatty would give up a run in the bottom of the fifth on Willie Wilson's RBI hit. In the eighth, Armas again delivered the game winning RBI double to make it 2–1 A's. McCatty went on to pitch a complete game masterpiece.

Game 3, October 9

Oakland-Alameda County Coliseummarker in Oakland, Californiamarker

Game 3 pitted Larry Gura against Rick Langford. With their backs to the wall, the Royals and Gura ran into trouble in the first. Tony Armas would come through once again with another RBI hit that scored Rickey Henderson. Then an error by Frank White in the third allowed another run to score to make it 2–0 A's. The Royals would scratch out a run in the fourth on Amos Otis's forceout. But in the bottom of fourth the A's scored two runs on a Dave McKay solo homer and an RBI double by Dwayne Murphy. Langford would allow only one run in innings despite giving up ten hits. Dave Beard would close out the series with a save in the ninth.

Composite box

1981 ALDS (3–0): Oakland Athletics over Kansas City Royals

New York vs. Milwaukee

Game 1, October 7

County Stadiummarker in Milwaukee, Wisconsinmarker

In Game 1, Ron Guidry faced Moose Haas. In the bottom of the second, the Brewers struck first on Charlie Moore's RBI single. Then Robin Yount's sac fly made it 2–0 in the third. But the Yankees would break through and take the lead for good in the fourth. Designated hitter Oscar Gamble tied the game with a two-run homer. Then the Yanks would take the lead on a two-run double by Rick Cerone. But the Brewrs would cut the lead in half with an RBI single by Ted Simmons. In the ninth, the Yankees managed to score a pivotal run off Rollie Fingers. The run scored due to an error by Yount. Goose Gossage shut the door in the ninth.

Game 2, October 8

County Stadiummarker in Milwaukee, Wisconsinmarker

Dave Righetti faced Mike Caldwell in Game 2. The Brewers needed to win this game to stay in contention and it certainly looked good with Caldwell having allowed only run in the fourth on Lou Piniella's homer. But the decision to allow Caldwell pitch the ninth proved costly as he surrendered a two-run homer to Reggie Jackson. Dave Winfield collected three hits while Righetti pitched a dominant four-hit shutout for six innings and Goose Gossage got his second consecutive save.

Game 3, October 9

Yankee Stadiummarker in Bronx, New Yorkmarker

Randy Lerch faced Tommy John, who was looking to end the series with a sweep. Both pitchers were on their game and John got a run in the fourth thanks to Bob Watson's RBI hit. The Yankees were closing in on a sweep in the seventh when the Brewers came back. Ted Simmons gave the Brewers the lead thanks to his two-run homer. Then Sal Bando's RBI hit made it 3–1. The Yankees would waste little time in responding as back-to-back RBI singles tied the game in the bottom of the seventh. But Paul Molitor's leadoff homer in the eighth seemed to turn the tide as John then allowed a single to Robin Yount. His night was done but Simmons came through once again with an RBI double to make it 5–3 Brewers. Rollie Fingers won in relief and slammed the door on the Yankees in the ninth. The Brewers' win in Game 3 was their first ever postseason win.

Game 4, October 10

Yankee Stadiummarker in Bronx, New Yorkmarker

Having taken Game 3, the Brewers looked to Pete Vuckovich to take Game 4. Opposing him would be Rick Reuschel. In the top of the fourth, the Brewers jumped in front 2–0 on a sac fly by Cecil Cooper and an RBI double by Ben Oglivie. The Yankees would get a run in the sixth on a fielder's choice by Lou Piniella. The Yankees would get chances in the seventh and ninth to win the series but Rollie Fingers escaped with the save and evened the series at two games apiece.

Game 5, October 11

Yankee Stadiummarker in Bronx, New Yorkmarker

No team had ever come back down two games to none with the first two losses at home. And with their backs to the wall, the Yankees called on Dave Righetti once again. Again opposing him would be Moose Haas. Gorman Thomas's solo homer in the second gave the Brewers the lead. Then Cecil Cooper's sac fly made it 2–0 in the third. The Yankees looked helpless until the bottom of the fourth. Reggie Jackson's titanic home run in the fourth tied the game. Oscar Gamble followed Jackson's homer with a solo homer to give the Yankees a 3–2 lead. A forceout later in the inning scored Graig Nettles to make it 4–2. The Brewers would strike in the seventh on Cooper's second RBI of the game to close the gap. That was as close as they would get. Rick Cerone's homer in the seventh made it 5–3. The Brewers mounted a threat in the eighth. After recording two quick outs Goose Gossage walked Bando and Howell before getting Don Money to fly out to left. A double and a sac fly put the series away as the Yankees took a commanding 7–3 lead to the ninth. Gossage shut the Brewers out in the ninth for his third save of the series and to keep a historical collapse from happening.

Series quotes

Composite box

1981 ALDS (3–2): New York Yankees over Milwaukee Brewers


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