Lyle became the Yankees’ bullpen ace, and established himself as one of the best relief pitchers of the 1970s, helping the Yankees to three straight pennants from 1976–1978 and winning the World Series the last two years. In 1972, he saved 35 games, an American League record at the time, and a major league record for left-handers; Ron Perranoski had set both marks in 1970, but John Hiller would surpass Lyle’s total with 38 in 1973. In 1972, Lyle also became the first southpaw to collect 100 saves in the American League. He also finished 3rd in the 1972 MVP voting.
He again led the league in saves in 1976, and in 1977 became the first AL reliever ever to win the Cy Young Award. He was named an American League All-Star in 1973, 1976 and 1977. In 1976, he broke Hoyt Wilhelm’s American League record of 154 career saves, and the following year eclipsed Perranoski’s major league mark for left-handers of 179 career saves. Through 1977, Lyle had compiled 201 career saves, and was within range of Wilhelm’s career big-league record of 227.
Much as later Yankees closer Mariano Rivera has entered games to the tune of “Enter Sandman,” Lyle has also been associated with a trademark song to herald his entry into games, “Pomp and Circumstance” played by the stadium organist, the late Ed Layton.
But despite the fact Lyle had won the 1977 Cy Young Award, the Yankees signed Goose Gossage as a free agent during the 1977 off-season, and Gossage followed with an outstanding 1978 season which made Lyle expendable. On November 10, 1978, Lyle was part of a major trade that sent him, along with four other players and cash, to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Juan Beníquez and four other players, including a young Dave Righeti. During the 1978 season, Yankees teammate Graig Nettles famously quipped that Lyle went “from Cy Young to sayonara.”