It started out to be a rebuilding year, but it grew faster than a castle in the sky. The Red Sox, with all their youth, are in the World Series after beating the Twins, 5-3, Sunday at Fenway Park.
They have the Most Valuable Player in the American League in Carl Yastrzemski, who played like a Babe Ruth when it mattered. They have the Manager of the Year in Dick Williams, and they quite likely have the winner of the Cy Young Award in Jim Lonborg, who beat his toughest rival, Dean Chance, in this big game.
The game was won in the sixth inning, and handsome Lonborg started it with a 50-foot bunt down the third-base line. Chance had blanked the Red Sox, 2-0, until then. But once Jim beat out his bunt, the 35,770, sitting on their hands, started to go wild.
“Go! Go! Go!” started the chant, and soon the singles started to pour off the Red Sox’ bats and before long Chance was headed off the field, beaten in the biggest game of his life.
And when it was over Rico Petrocelli had taken a short pop fly, the players made a mad dash from the dugout. They barely got there in time. There were wild fans -- including girls -- rushing onto the field.
Mike Andrews and George Scott hoisted the handsome guy aloft on the mound and Lonborg owned the city. The man who held the key, Yastrzemski, somehow escaped the grabbing and tugging in what had to be the wildest sports scene in Boston’s history.
And a little bunt started it.
The California Angels made it official, some three tense hours later, when they erased the Tigers from contention by taking the second game of their doubleheader, 8-5.
So the Series will start Wednesday against the Cardinals here. It is 21 years since the two last met. This time the Red Sox will be the underdogs. In 1946 Ted Williams and his crew were huge favorites to win -- and lost. This team will definitely be the underdog and will ... ?
And this little bunt started it.
It just came to Lonborg’s mind as he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the sixth while everyone was wondering if all that great effort over the year had gone to waste -- with Chance leading 2-0.
The Twins had scored a run in the first inning when the Red Sox -- as they did all through the two games-- pitched around Harmon Killebrew and Lonborg walked him on four pitches.
Better than to have the big guy lose one. But then Tony Oliva lined a drive to leftfield and the ball was a couple of yards above Yastrzemski’s wild leap. It went for a double, and on came Killebrew to score. He never should have.
Killebrew sensed that he should stay at third, but he was waved home by coach Billy Martin. The folly was apparent when the throw came toward the plate and George Scott grabbed it. Killebrew would have been out by yards if Scott had rolled the ball to Russ Gibson.
But George threw it wildly, high and to Gibson’s left and the Twins had started something.
In the third with two out, Cesar Tovar was walked and Killebrew lashed a single to left center. Carl -- daring as always -- tried to make a quick play on the ball to hold Tovar at second. The ball went through him and to the wall and Tovar scored. Carl bit his lip then -- but it was the last time he did.
So now we come to that sixth and Lonborg came out of the dugout with his jacket over his right shoulder, and he headed to the on-deck circle.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” said the bright guy later. “But when I got to the plate I saw that Tovar was back a little. So I bunted.”
Chance might have had it, but he didn’t get to the ball and Tovar made a belated bid. He grabbed the ball, fumbled it, and Lonborg was safe. A base hit. The “Go! Go! Go!” chant started.
Jerry Adair heard them. He singled through the infield to center field, and Lonborg was at second. Dalton Jones heard ‘em too. He made a pretense at bunting, and then as the Twins’ infield broke in, Jones lined a single to leftfield to load the bases.
Carl has been hearing the crowd for a long time now. And he responded by lining a single to center. The score was tied, 2-2, Carl was on first and Jones on third.
Ken Harrelson was down to 3 and 2, and Chance broken a fast ball in on him. Ken bounced it high to Zoilo Versalles near second. Zoilo had a play at first. But no, there goes his throw to the plate! There was no chance, and Jones was safe and the Red Sox were ahead.
“I saw the man going home for the money,” said Versalles later. “And I always play for the money. So I throw home. It was the only play that I had.”
That ended Chance, and Al Worthington came in. Obliging guy, Worthington. He made a wild pitch to move the runners ahead. Then he made another and Carl scored the fourth run. Scott fanned. But Rico walked and when Reggie Smith’s grounder banged against Killebrew’s left knee and rolled 15 feet back toward the plate, Harrelson scored.
That was all for the Red Sox -- and that little bunt started it.
“It turned the game around,” both Williams and Mgr. Cal Ermer of the Twins said later.
Lonborg had to dig out of a little trouble later. Rich Reese pinch hit for Versalles in the eighth and singled. Tovar grounded to Adair, and Jerry tagged Reese coming down the line and threw to first for a double play. Jerry got seven stitches in his leg for his troubles, and he limped off the field and got a fine hand.
The importance of Jerry’s play was soon to be seen. Killebrew and Oliva singled and then Bob Allison hit a soft liner down the leftfield line. The ball went into the corner. It would be a double 95 times out of 100, and Allison turned first base and didn’t look out toward Carl until he had gone 20 feet towards second.
A run had scored, Oliva was at third, but Carl’s throw to second was yards ahead of Allison to Mike Andrews, Adair’s replacement. Allison slid away from Mike, but when he tried to reach for the bag, Mike got him.
“I was out,” said Allison. “Andrews just tagged me. I never did see what happened out there. I just thought I had two and I looked at Carl and I saw the throw coming and I had to try and make it. But I didn’t.”
“It was just another great play by Yastrzemski,” said the outfielder.
In the ninth, Ted Uhlaender grounded to Rico, who had been superb all day. This time the ball took a bad hop and struck Rico under the right eye. He toppled over and Uhlaender had a single. Rod Carew grounded to Andrews and here was the same setup Adair had.
Mike tagged the runner and Uhlaender tried to dump Mike. He succeeded in locking Mike’s left leg, but the second baseman still got the throw away to Scott. It was in the dirt. George one-handed it for the double play. Then came Rich Rollins’ game-ending pop fly to Petrocelli.
There have been scenes at the Garden when the Celtics won the N.B.A. but this was mass delirium, focusing on Lonborg. Andrews and Scott were there fast and hoisted the fine pitcher onto their shoulders.
The man was grinning his best. Proud of his work, but thinking guy that he is, probably remembering that dinky little bunt he dropped down the third base line.
Yastrzemski … Williams … Lonborg … tops at their jobs all year.
It even brought an announcement from Gov. John A. Volpe that this pennant victory would give the city a new stadium.
A 50-foot bunt made sure of it. Your grandmother could hit it as far, but it changed a whole ball game around at Fenway Park Sunday afternoon.
Bright guy, that Lonborg.