The Red Sox’ preoccupation with lefthandedness, an issue that has dominated the team from Babe Ruth to Mark Langston, was never so acute as last night, when California’s Chuck Finley came within a Jody Reed bloop single of pitching the first no-hitter at Fenway Park by an opposing southpaw since 1917.
Later Reed almost apologized for the hit, which fell about 10 feet in front of center fielder Devon White with two out in the eighth inning. It was the only one allowed by Finley, who used a searing fastball and often breathtaking forkball to beat the Sox and Roger Clemens, 5-0.
It was the third consecutive defeat for Clemens (5-4, 3.14 ERA), his second in nine days to the Angels. There were scattered boos when he left with one out in the ninth, but his performance was improved: He allowed seven hits, and he was victimized by a freakish and controversial double by Claudell Washington in the sixth, a bloop, run-scoring Johnny Ray double in the same inning and, finally, a Lance Parrish home run in the seventh that may have landed next to your newspaper.
“I don’t feel like I’m dominating people,” Clemens acknowledged. “But as far as tonight, they hit one ball on the chalk, another ball on the chalk, and the only ball that really was crushed was by Parrish. That’s the story right there. That, and the other guy pitched a game you like reading about.”
Finley had allowed a hard-hit foul ball by Ellis Burks in the first inning, four walks and nothing else when Reed, Boston’s hottest hitter over the past week, came up with Jim Rice on first in the eighth and the tension palpable inside swollen (32,417) Fenway.
In the Angels’ dugout between innings, Finley said his teammates had started to scatter much earlier, so that before he went out to pitch the eighth, “There were about 10 feet on either side of me. I was thinking about standing up and saying, ‘Anybody here got a no-hitter going?’ “
With the count 0-1, Reed hit a fastball near the trademark of his bat. ‘’When I took off after it, I already had decided that if it was close enough for me to dive, I would,” said White, a Burks-like player who won a Gold Glove last season. He started to lunge, then pulled up when it became apparent that the ball would fall.
“He threw it exactly where he wanted to throw it,” said Reed. “I should not have swung. I knew it was a bad swing from the get-go. I just held it out, and it fell through. I consider myself lucky.”
Just four no-hitters ever have been thrown against the Sox at Fenway. Jim Bunning’s, for Detroit in 1958, is the only one since 1926. New York’s George Mogridge (April 24, 1917) is the only lefthander ever to throw a no-hitter against the Red Sox at Fenway.
If less than solid, Reed’s hit was an exciting climax to a riveting performance by the 26-year-old Finley (7-2), a converted reliever whom the Red Sox briefly coveted during spring training. Only now does it appear he is coming into his own. In 1987, before he was moved out of the bullpen, the Angels were 4-31 in his 35 appearances. Last season he was 9-15, the most losses by an Angels lefthander since Frank Tanana lost 19 games in 1974, and he won successive starts just once.
This year he is 5-0 in his past six starts, allowing just six earned runs in 45 innings, and last night was further evidence of why. He struck out a modest five, but two were against Wade Boggs, who chased Finley’s riding fastball, and one was against Dwight Evans, who chased a fastball around his neck in the fifth inning.
The only real hard-hit balls were Burks’ line drive in the first, which landed just outside the left-field line before Burks hit into a double play, and a hard grounder by Nick Esasky to lead off the sixth. For their part, the Sox helped Finley maintain his stamina; they went down on eight pitches in the sixth inning and four in the seventh.
Finley contrasted interestingly with Clemens, who is immersed in his longest losing streak since he went 0-5 last August. That slump was attributed largely to injury, but so far, there has been little explanation of why Clemens has allowed five runs in each of his past three starts after pitching a relentless two-hitter May 13 in Seattle.
Last night he gave up hits to the first two batters of the game, Brian Downing and Washington, then did not give up a hit until Dick Schofield hit a single up the middle with one out in the sixth.
For the second out of the inning, Burks made an unreal backhanded sliding catch on Downing with Schofield running, but Washington then pulled a line drive that hit about a foot inside the first base line.
The ball moved into foul territory, where the ballboy, apparently thinking the ball had gone foul, started for it. By the time he realized his mistake, it glanced off his left ankle and rolled behind him, and Schofield scored the Angels’ first and, as it turned out, only necessary run.
Sox manager Joe Morgan, arguing that the ballboy intentionally had touched the ball, was ejected for the first time this season, by first base umpire Larry Barnett. When the field was cleared and Rac Slider took over as manager, Ray hit a bloop double to left, scoring Washington.
“So now they’ll say the game was 5-0 and it didn’t make a difference,” said Morgan. “But it did matter because you don’t know what would have happened. It might still be 0-0 in the 12th inning and we’re still playing.”
Morgan has come to be known for his common sense, and in some circles, he still is fashioned as something of a sage. But on this night, with the tall (6-foot-6-inch), confident Finley throwing fastballs and forkers that evoked images of Langston and Bruce Hurst and John Tudor et al, he sounded only removed.