Only yesterday, Johnny Pesky was eating breakfast at his regular spot on the North Shore when someone else reminded him of a moment that has stayed with him for 58 years. The 85-year-old Pesky was getting ready to ride to Fenway Park, where the Red Sox held their final workout before they open the 100th World Series tonight against the Cardinals on Yawkey Way.
“You think they’re going to hold the ball?” the wise guy cracked.
On Oct. 15, 1946, the Sox and Cardinals were deadlocked, 3-3, with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning in Game 7 of the World Series at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. Enos Slaughter of Cardinals was running on a pitch that Harry Walker hit to left-center for a double. By the time Sox center fielder Leon Culberson weakly threw the ball to Pesky, and Pesky fired to the plate, Slaughter had scored the decisive run, lifting the Cardinals to a 4-3 victory and a world championship.
“If I had a [Nomar] Garciaparra arm, I might have had him,” Pesky said. “I knew as soon as I got the ball, I couldn’t get him.”
The loss was the first of four straight for the Sox in the seventh game of a World Series. They also lost Game 7 in 1967 (again to the Cardinals), ‘75 (to the Reds), and ‘86 (to the Mets). And Pesky was blamed for holding the ball too long, though he was exonerated from the start by his teammates, and since then by historians.
“I hope it doesn’t break the kid’s heart,” Pesky said he heard his manager, Joe Cronin, utter at the time.
Pesky and Bill Buckner, who committed a game-turning error in Game 6 of the ‘86 Series, have served as the chief scapegoats for Boston’s 86-year championship drought even though countless factors have contributed to the phenomenon. So the Sox would love to win the 2004 Series, in part, for Pesky.
“For all the people who had to suffer from 1918 until now, this is for them, especially Johnny,” hitting coach Ron Jackson said.
Pesky, who still keeps a corner locker in the Sox’ clubhouse, remains a favorite among the players.
“Someone gets blamed in every World Series, and it just happened to be him,” Alan Embree said. “I think he’s relishing the fact we’re back.”
Indeed, he is.
“I want to see them win because it’s been a long time coming,” Pesky said. “I can die happy then.”