In a game that stresses individual talents, it is virtually impossible to explain how an entire team can suddenly, explosively, get hot. Baseball players do not block for one another; they do not set each other up for goals or basets or kill-shots; they do not exchange batons. They are seldom exposed to locker-room orations on the imperatives of winning one for the Gipper. They stand alone at their positions and at bat, drawing nothing more from their comrades than verbal encouragement. And yet baseball teams are more given to streaks, hot and cold, than those in any other sport. And there is simply no explaining this.
No one anywhere had been hotter lately than the Boston Red Sox. No, "hot" is not really the word. "Incandescent," maybe, "brilliant," surely, or even "radiant," or "luminous." And those blinded by their light could only blink in wonder. Pete Rose, the flower of Cincinnati and a man rarely lacking in elucidative skills, was one such blinking victim after the Red Sox shut out his Reds 6-0 in this opening game of the 1975 World Series.
"We'd hit the ball hard and they'd catch it," he said, bewildered. "They'd hit it hard and it would fall in."
"You open the door," said Rose's equally befuddled colleague Johnny Bench, "and they score runs."
Or more to the point, you open the gates of Fenway Park and they score runs, particularly behind Luis Tiant's pitching. In a ball park so snug that for most pitchers it is the stuff that nightmares are made of, Tiant has been unbeatable for a month. His win in the Series opener was his fifth in succession at Fenway, and he had not allowed an earned run in 36 innings. The smart, experienced, hard-hitting Reds were no more successful at solving his baffling assortment of off-and on-speed pitches than the smart, experienced, hard-hitting Oakland A's had been before them in the American League playoffs.
Tiant, however, is but one of a trio of Red Sox ancients who have found youth and inspiration in the pressure cooker of postseason play. The Red Sox are definitely a young team, but the over-30s—Tiant, Carl Yastrzemski and Rico Petrocelli—lighted their way Saturday. Both Yaz and Rico endured subpar regular seasons, partly because of illness and injury. Yaz played much of the year with a sore shoulder and Petrocelli's career was imperiled by an inner-ear ailment that has affected his balance. But aching and dizzy, they were at their finest in the Series opener, driving in runs at bat and preventing them in the field.
It appeared for a while that the game might not be played. It was a gray, damp, drizzly day and rain fell softly on the 35,205 in Fenway and the 50 or more perched on billboards outside it. But the rain never fell hard enough to stop play. And once the game was under way, it looked as if neither team would score, so taut was the pitching by Tiant and Cincinnati's Don Gullett. The Red Sox threatened frequently, but they were as frequently repelled by the outstanding Reds defense. In the first, Fred Lynn, the boy wonder centerfielder, got an infield single with Dwight Evans on second base, the ball bouncing crazily away from Joe Morgan. An alert Dave Concepcion finally retrieved it in time to toss out Evans, attempting to score. In the sixth, with one out, Lynn singled and Petrocelli doubled him to third. Rick Burleson was then walked to load the bases and set up a possible double play. But Cecil Cooper lofted a fly ball to short center field instead. Cesar Geronimo made a running catch and with singular dexterity threw home to Bench, who tagged out Lynn.
Tiant, meanwhile, was holding the Reds at bay with a little help from his friends. In the seventh, with a group of their fans brandishing pennants and calling for them to "Go," the Reds almost got in gear. George Foster led off with a ground single to left, the ball eluding Burleson's groping glove. Then Concepcion hit what appeared to be a bloop single to left. Unfortunately for him, this is where Yastrzemski is playing these days, and it is likely that no one has ever patrolled left field in Fenway the way Yaz does. Playing shallow in this shallowest of major league outfields, he hurried in and made a diving, rolling catch. Foster promptly squelched the little rally he started by getting thrown out by Carlton Fisk on a steal attempt. That, too, was unfortunate, since the next hitter, Ken Griffey, doubled down the right-field line. Only another fielding gem, this one by Second Baseman Denny Doyle on Gullett's tricky rainbow liner, preserved Tiant's shutout.
Angered by this impertinence, the Red Sox turned on the heat in their half of the inning. They had already gotten seven hits off Gullett, a left-handed fireballer, but all had been unproductive. No more. When you're hot, you're hot. Tiant himself opened the door with a lead-off single to left. It was his first base hit since Oct. 3, 1972. Gullett threw Evans' succeeding sacrifice bunt into center field, and Doyle bounced a single past shortstop after first failing to sacrifice. With the bases loaded, Yaz hit a soft liner to right that caught Griffey and, for that matter, Tiant in a moment of indecision, both operating under the delusion the ball would be caught. Griffey misjudged it and when he finally charged after it, he was tardy. When the ball dropped at his feet, Tiant was still standing on third, preparing to tag up after the catch. He eventually arrived home safely, but only one run scored when two should have.
Gullett was removed by Reds Manager Sparky Anderson, a man famously impatient with his starters. But Gullett's successors, Clay Carroll and Will McEnaney, fared poorly at the hot hands of the Red Sox. Carroll survived only long enough to walk Fisk with the bases loaded. McEnaney then entered and struck out Lynn, but Petrocelli singled to left, scoring two runs, Burleson singled in another and Cooper's sacrifice fly scored the sixth and final run.
Tiant, who started the inning, ended it by popping out. The Sox had batted around, gotten five hits and scored all the runs they would need. It was the biggest World Series inning since Detroit scored 10 times against the Cardinals in the third inning of the sixth game in 1968. Tiant, the "Loo-ey, Loo-ey" chant from his fans spurring him on, retired the Reds in order in the remaining two innings. His was the first complete game in a Series since Steve Blass finished one for Pittsburgh in 1971. His shutout was the first in a Series opener in seven years.
Tiant and his 70-year-old father, Luis Sr., shared the attentions of the press in the steamy Red Sox clubhouse. The elder Tiant had arrived in Boston from Cuba in time to see his son, who at 34 is himself no chicken, pitch the Sox to a division championship, a pennant and now a win in the World Series. Luis Sr.'s thin copper face fairly shone with pride under a floppy fedora. Asked facetiously if his son learned his famous corkscrew windup from him, the father solemnly replied, "No." The son sat in the training room soaking his right elbow in ice water and responding dryly to myriad inquiries. "I never give up," he said, effectively summarizing his day. "I had pretty good stuff when I wanted it."
The Reds did score one minor triumph over Tiant. For several days before the game, Anderson had complained that Tiant had a pickoff move to first base that was clearly a balk. Meetings were held on the matter with umpires and Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. At the time, it seemed little more than routine harassment. And in the first three innings Saturday, Tiant's move to first base went untested since no one from Cincinnati got that far. But with one out in the fourth, Morgan singled and Tiant was called for a balk on one of his pickoff attempts. According to First Base Umpire Nick Colosi, he had been guilty of "a double dip with the knee.... Moving the knee is the breaking point to throw [to home plate] and he moved it twice." Colosi, significantly, is a National League umpire.
But the balk was a mere trifle. Nothing the Reds did hurt Tiant all day. Although they played well on defense, the visitors did not seem as well prepared or as inspired as the Red Sox. Yaz, probably the most inspired of them all, had an explanation for this early advantage: "We had constant pressure from Baltimore at the end of the season and this prepared us for the playoffs and the World Series."
That may be, but what was even more obvious was that on this day the Red Sox were still the hottest team in creation. All the Reds could hope to do was observe Anderson's sage counsel: "Stay calm."
His club has its "ugly" moments, Sparky Anderson conceded, sounding the way Clark Gable must have when talking about his ears. "But over the course of a year, you won't see a better baseball team than the Cincinnati Reds." On Sunday, at least, that appraisal seemed accurate enough. The Reds had a few ugly moments, most of them occurring while they swung impotently at Red Sox lefthander Bill Lee's tempting blooper changeup, but when they had to be, they were what they have always claimed to be, The Best Team in Baseball. Not that the Red Sox, in losing 3-2 to a ninth-inning rally, embarrassed themselves. Far from it. They were as plucky and tenacious as ever, but their luck finally ran out, as it had to.
This was a superb game of baseball, played in conditions better suited to a staging of The Hound of the Baskervilles. If Saturday's opening-day weather was unsuitable for baseball, Sunday's was impossible. As Sunday dawned, the black of night became the black of day. It was cold. It was windy. And it was raining. There were more yellow rain hats at Fenway than Red Sox caps, although one fan, a Harvard man named Kissinger, dauntlessly wore one through the heaviest downpours, fearlessly, if undiplomatically, advertising his allegiance to another overflow crowd of 35,205. Kissinger and his fellow fans should be applauded for their durability on a day that would seem inclement in Green Bay, Wisconsin. But television commitments left no question that the game would be played, even if the field were under three inches of water.
Once again, the Reds and Red Sox seemed unaware of their surroundings, playing as if on a dry track. There were fully as many defensive marvels performed on this muddy sward as on the somewhat firmer surface of the day before. In a remarkable sixth inning, the Sox staved off three of the Reds' best hitters with a series of uncanny stabs and throws. With the score tied 1-1, Rose timed one of Lee's bloopers properly and hit a sharp ground single to left field. Morgan, after arguing unsuccessfully that he was brushed by a Lee pitch inside, followed with another ground ball that was headed through the hole between first and second and toward right field until it was intercepted by a flying Cecil Cooper. Since Cooper had been holding Rose on first base, it is amazing that he could even reach the ball, let alone do what he did, which was scramble to his knees and throw Rose out at second. This still left Morgan on first. To counteract him, there was Lee, who had picked off 11 runners this year. The cat-and-mouse game was played only halfheartedly, however, as Lee did not make a serious effort at catching Little Joe napping, contenting himself with soft, precautionary throws.
Then, suddenly, Morgan was running. He did not bargain on two other formidable opponents, however—the heavy base paths and the hard-throwing Fisk, who fired perfectly to Doyle on the first-base side of second to catch the Red. The bases were now empty, but Bench, who can round them with one swing, was up. The Red Sox had kept Bench off their green wall by pitching him outside, away from his awesome power. He had adjusted, however, by going with the pitch and hitting to center and right. This time he dropped a dying little liner into center, a certain base hit. But no—Lynn, the game's newest superstar, was chugging through the mud after it with a look of fierce determination. At the last second he launched himself through the air, caught the ball inches from the soggy grass and slid forward with it firmly in his possession. Fenway was a madhouse. Seldom has a single inning produced three such splendid plays.
There were others, too. Bench, the big cat of a catcher, made a magnificent pickup and throw on Lee's near-perfect bunt in the fifth; Burleson ranged far for a Perez hopper up the middle in the ninth; Lynn made another running catch of a Concepcion drive in the fourth. Oddly enough, the game began with a notably bad play. Cooper, leading off for the Red Sox, sliced a liner toward the wall in left that George Foster overran and could only wave at as it sailed past him for a double. Cooper was eventually run down in a freakish pitcher-to-second-to-home-to-third-to-home double play, but Yastrzemski, whose grounder to Reds starter Jack Billingham had begun the complicated sequence, reached second when it was completed. Yaz quickly scored on Fisk's line single to right.
The first 10 Reds went down in order, just as they had in the Series opener, but in the fourth Cincinnati tied the score when Morgan walked, reached third on Bench's single to center and scored on Perez' forceout. With the rain falling on them and the mud boiling beneath them, the two teams settled into a defensive struggle. The Red Sox broke the deadlock in the sixth. With one out, Yastrzemski singled to right and reached second when Concepcion bobbled Fisk's brisk ground ball to short. Lynn flied out, but Petrocelli, like Yaz a star two days in a row, singled in the tie breaker.
By now the rain was falling in wintry torrents and, after the Reds were retired meekly in the top of the seventh, the umpiring crew called for a recess. The rain delay lasted 27 minutes, long enough, apparently, for the Reds to gird themselves for a socko finish. Will McEnaney was their pitcher when play resumed, having replaced Pedro Borbon, who replaced Billingham. McEnaney proved to be a much more valuable reliever this day than he had been on Saturday, pitching flawlessly in the seventh.
Lee, meanwhile, was covering himself with unexpected glory. He had not won since Aug. 24 and had not started since Sept. 19. His 17-9 won-lost record was flawed by a 3.95 earned run average. Furthermore, he had outraged the fans with his comments on the town's school-busing crisis, suggesting that Bostonians were both bigoted and "gutless." He was the only Boston player booed when the team was introduced on Saturday. In Sunday's gloom, however, he emerged a titan. Entering the ninth, he had allowed only four hits and the single run and had struck out five. His bloopers had made buffoons of the mighty Reds sluggers and he had been all business on the mound. At the start of the final inning, the crowd rose to applaud him. He had been accepted.
Unfortunately, the inning began badly for him. Bench, leading off, crashed a line double down the right-field stripe. Manager Darrell Johnson called for the intrepid reliever, Dick Drago. The selection of Drago seemed at first a wise one. He induced Perez to ground out, Bench moving on to third. Foster hit a fly to left that was too short for Bench to score on. The crowd was now cheering every Drago strike, moaning over every Drago ball. But there was silence as Concepcion hit a hopper up the middle that Doyle could only field, not throw. Bench scored the tying run.
There was worse to come. Concepcion stole second, the Reds' first theft of the Series, despite Burleson's angry complaint that he had tagged him. And Ken Griffey sent a rocket to left center that not even Lynn could haul down, Concepcion scoring the winning run. Red Sox fans have come to expect miracles from their young men, but there was to be none today as Rawly Eastwick, who entered the game in the eighth, retired Burleson, pinch-hitter Bernie Carbo and Cooper on three fly balls in the ninth.
The fans plunged moodily into the darkening day, fearing the worst in Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium, where the Reds rarely lose. A single win there would, however, return the Series to friendly Fenway. This was a prospect the Reds did not relish for sundry reasons, not the least of which was Rose's: "I just don't want to come back here because of the hotel. We don't have hot water there."
There was none of it in Fenway, either, save what the Reds got their opponents into.