Last year, while their fans were mourning the loss of Carlton Fisk, Fred Lynn and Rick Burleson, cursing their fate and invoking the ghost of Tom Yawkey, the Red Sox were quietly finishing 2½ games back in the tightly packed division standings. This year those same fans should have plenty to cheer about, most notably an unusually deep bullpen (Mark Clear, Tom Burgmeier, Bob Stanley, rookie Luis Aponte); Third Baseman Carney Lansford, the American League batting champion; First Baseman Dave Stapleton, Rightfielder Dwight Evans, Second Baseman Jerry Remy and Centerfielder Rick Miller, all of whom are coming off their best years; and Catcher Rich Gedman, who was one of the league's top rookies.
The everyday lineup for 1982 is so sound that Carl Yastrzemski and Tony Perez will be used only as designated hitters and backup first basemen. Much depends, however, on 23-year-old Shortstop Glenn Hoffman. The regular third baseman and a .285 hitter in 1980, Hoffman had to replace Burleson at shortstop last year and hit only .231 while fielding erratically. "I was nervous and underweight," he says. "First, I thought too much about my fielding, and my hitting slipped. Then it was the other way around." Hoffman was especially nervous at Fenway where he has batted 51 points lower (.232 to .283) than he has on the road.
To contend for the division title, the Red Sox will need help from their young pitchers, and Bruce Hurst, Bob Ojeda, John Tudor and Chuck Rainey insist they aren't overawed. "Ojeda and I were talking about it," Hurst said one afternoon before an exhibition against the Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla. "The first time we came in here, the park looked huge and we'd face lineups we thought we'd never get out. The next time the park got a little smaller and the players looked almost human. Now the park's regular and the players are normal guys. We've gotten perspective."
And major league arms. Hurst shortened his motion and had a 1.87 earned run average his last two months in Pawtucket. Ojeda developed a lively fastball and won six of eight decisions for Boston after being called up on Aug. 9. Tudor is a natural ground-ball pitcher—a big help in Fenway—and Rainey seems to have overcome arm trouble. Significantly, Hurst, Ojeda and Tudor are lefthanders; Boston hasn't had more than one good southpaw starter since 1975.
Another encouraging sign: Without Fisk's delay game on offense and defense last year, the time of an average Boston game declined a full 7½ minutes.
The Red Sox aren't without problems. They need a stopper, and the most logical candidate, Dennis Eckersley, has been 22-27 since mid-August of 1979. Leftfielder Jim Rice (17 homers in '81) must hit for more power again. The infield lacks range, and the starting rotation, for all its promise, may be a year or two away. In baseball's deepest division, all of this suggests a first-division record and a second-division finish.
In 1981 the Red Sox won 11 games in which they trailed their opponent after seven innings. By contrast, the Yankees didn't win any, and Milwaukee, Baltimore and Detroit won only 12 among them. Eight of Boston's 11 comeback victories were against contending teams: Four were from margins of three runs or more and seven were on the road. Overall, Boston's record was 59-49.