The Red Sox are a gallant, indomitable and exciting team, but they will be confronting the world champions sorely handicapped. Near the end of a season in which so many of the breaks came their way, they suffered a bad one—Jim Rice's left hand. Rice was batting .309, had hit 22 home runs and had driven in 102 runs. He would have been a cinch for Rookie of the Year had he not been a teammate of Fred Lynn, who will surely win it. Lynn and Rice gave the Red Sox contiguous batting power unrivaled in the league. With Dwight Evans they formed a young outfield that some vintage Bostonians dared even compare with the legendary trio of Duffy Lewis, Tris Speaker and Harry Hooper. Evans, who will not be 24 until next month, is the elder statesman, so the future, even the immediate future, fairly shone on the horizon.
Although Rice is disarmed there are still some big guns left; it is just that without your best weapons you play Oakland at your peril. Lynn is certainly a pistol, though. The former USC star enjoyed a rookie season that compares favorably with the best in history. He hit .331, drove in 105 runs and scored 103 while playing center field with the energy and grace of a young Joe DiMaggio. Although Lynn will be subject to an unaccustomed level of pressure in the playoffs, chances are it will not affect his play, since he is notably imperturbable. He has even affronted baseball canon by dismissing "experience" as an overrated quality.
The brilliant and fragile catcher, Carlton Fisk, had a productive year at the plate when he was not licking his multiple wounds, and Carl Yastrzemski, at 36, remains a valuable asset in the clutch. Second Baseman Denny Doyle, rescued from the lowly California Angels, responded with his best year at bat and in the field, and Cecil Cooper, used primarily as a designated hitter, has hit .311 despite head and hamstring injuries. Third Baseman Rico Petrocelli, troubled for part of the season with an inner-ear malady, is still dangerous in home games with his uppercutting "Fenway swing." Evans fought off an early-season slump to establish himself as a hitter of promise, and Rick Burleson has proved to be not only an excellent shortstop but a valuable RBI man as well. For the playoffs Manager Darrell Johnson may move Yaz from first base to left, Rice's position, and Yaz plays the "Green Monster" left-field fence at Fenway as well as anyone ever has.
The Sox have power and defensive strength in the middle with Fisk, Burleson, Doyle and Lynn. And their pitching may be better than it looks in the stats. The wily Tiant (18-14), the team's stopper down the stretch, will probably start the first game of the playoffs, followed by Rick Wise (19-12) and Reggie Cleveland (13-9). None of the Sox starters has an impressive earned run average, but Fenway is hardly a pitcher's paradise. As Yaz says, "Their ERAs would be at least a run lower in any other home park. Our pitching has been better than O.K. It's been very good."
Relievers Jim Willoughby and Dick Drago are surely overmatched in comparison to their Oakland counterparts. A Sox sleeper, either as a starter or in relief, may be Dick. Pole, a hard-throwing righthander who came back strong after being hit in the face by a line drive in June.
Just as the National League contenders did, the Sox and A's broke even during the season, the Sox winning four of six at Fenway and losing four of six at the Oakland Coliseum. In the A's last visit to Fenway, Manager Alvin Dark started three righthanders, Stan Bahnsen, Glenn Abbott and Sonny Siebert. It was a strategy to which he attached no special significance, although the A's won two of the three games. The Red Sox surmised that Dark was experimenting with his righthanders, all second-line pitchers, in a ball park historically inhospitable to southpaws. At the time Dark said that, no, he intended to start his best available pitcher in the playoffs, be he right- or lefthanded. Last week he selected lefthander Ken Holtzman (18-14), a decision obviously based on postseason performance. In playoff appearances Holtzman has won two and lost one; in the World Series he is 4-1. Vida Blue, also a lefthander, had a better season than Holtzman with 22 wins and 11 losses and pitched five innings of Sunday's unique four-man no-hitter over the Angels, but he is 1-2 and 0-3 in the playoffs and Series. Blue will get his start, although Dark may use reliever Jim Todd, a righthander, as a surprise starter in the second game, reserving Blue for the more capacious Coliseum. Rollie Fingers, the league's premier reliever, has also been mentioned as a possible starter. Todd, Fingers and the lefthanded Paul Lindblad formed baseball's most effective relief corps this year, and it will be astonishing if they do not get considerable duty in the playoffs.
Like the Red Sox, the A's have power, only more. The charismatic Reggie Jackson, Gene Tenace, Billy Williams and Joe Rudi all hit at least 20 home runs, Jackson slamming his 35th and 36th Sunday to tie for the league lead. Sal Bando, who endured a miserable slump for much of the season, came on mightily in September. Bando is usually at his best in pressure games. All of the A's are.
Surely the A's are one of the great money teams in the game's history. They behave cavalierly on occasion, but when it is time to compete for the long green they are prepared and poised. "We win when we have to," says Tenace. The experience gained from four consecutive playoffs and three World Series gives them a huge advantage over the Red Sox. This year, too, the A's are healthy and rested.
The A's have yet another advantage over the Bosox—speed. Centerfielder Billy North and Shortstop Campy Campaneris are among the most prolific base stealers in the American League with 29 and 25, but this year they did not steal as many as 21-year-old Claudell Washington (40). Washington also led the team in hitting (.309) and his play in left field has been improving steadily. Jackson is also a threat to steal, and in Tommy Harper, Cesar Tovar and Matt (The Scat) Alexander the A's have a veritable fleet of pinch runners.
Defensively, the A's are stronger with Joe Rudi in left field and Tenace at first base, but it is unlikely that Dark and the man who tells him what to do, Charles O. Finley, will go with this combination in the playoffs. Tenace is merely an adequate catcher and vulnerable to base stealing. But the Sox are not a running team, and Tenace will probably remain behind the plate. Rudi, a Gold Glove outfielder, is only competent at first, but his bat is a constant threat. Williams, the designated hitter, and Harper can also play first if needed. Campaneris is still a quick and agile shortstop, and rookie Phil Garner filled in admirably for the retired Dick Green at second. Bando has minimal range at third, but he had a good year defensively. North and Jackson are frequently spectacular in the outfield. Both are also somewhat erratic, although they tend to make their biggest plays in crucial situations.
Finley himself is a factor in the A's postseason play. It is to be expected that he will set some controversy to boiling. The A's do not see much of their madcap boss until October, but then the mere sight of him in his verdurous costume seems to goad them on. As opponents ruefully concede, the A's are beautiful when they are angry.
Strange things can happen in so short a series, but no one is better equipped to deal with things strange than the feisty young men from Oakland. Expect Boston to suffer their wrath.