The pitcher waved both arms over his head and again described a pitch that cost him a World Series no-hitter. “It was a slider - a high slider - and I’ve said it a thousand times.” That was Jim Lonborg in the dressing room, happy and relaxed.
On the mound he was something else. That’s where he pitched a one-hit 5-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals at Fenway Park Thursday.
The batter stood on top of a chair, a horde of reporters clawing to hear this words. “I passed up batting practice Thursday and took a 45-minute nap instead.” That was Carl Yastrzemski in the dressing room, happy and relaxed.
In the batter’s box, too, he was something else - two home runs, four RBIs, a single and a walk in five times at bat.
And because they were something else, the Cardinals and the Red Sox went winging to St. Louis tied 1-1 in the World Series. They’ll play three games at Busch Stadium, starting Saturday.
Manager Dick Williams of the Red Sox said: “Gary Bell will pitch Saturday, Jose Santiago on Sunday and Lonborg will wrap it up Monday.”
Manager Red Schoendienst of the Cardinals wasn’t as positive. He named Nelson Briles or left-hander Carlton for Saturday’s game. He was positive about Sunday’s pitcher. It will be Bob Gibson, who blinded the Red Sox in the opening game.
Thursday at Fenway Park, a crowd of 35,188 saw Lonborg take charge from the opening pitch. He whistled it past the right ear of Lou Brock, Wednesday’s hero - and the pattern for Lonborg’s performance was established.
He was in charge. “He challenged the hitters all day,” said Williams.
Lonborg threw only 93 pitches in the game - and in the third retired the Cardinals on just six tosses.
Lonborg’s command of the Cardinals was so complete that he retired 19 consecutive batters and through everyone’s mind ran the thought, “He’s on his way to a perfect game.”
It wasn’t to be, for he walked Curt Flood on a 3-2 count. The fourth ball broke low and outside. Now the thinking was “no-hitter.” That was not to be, either, for Julian Javier slashed a first-pitch double to left with two out in the eighth. The pitch was a slider that was up too high.
Yastrzemski had staked Lonborg to a one run lead in the fourth with a home run into the grandstand - 30 feet inside the right field foul line. His homers usually go anywhere from left center to the bleachers in right, behind the bullpens. He hit a more usual homer - over the Red Sox bullpen - in the seventh with two men on to give the Sox a 5-0 lead.
The Sox had scored a run in the sixth, in a manner that has become fashionable with them. Two bases on balls and an error produced the run. With one out, George Scott walked. Reggie Smith also worked Cardinal starter Dick Hughes for a walk. Jerry Adair’s bounding ball was kicked around by third baseman Mike Shannon and the Sox had the bases loaded. Ron Willis came in to pitch and Rico Petrocelli hit a long drive to center that Flood caught, Scott scoring.
The Red Sox picked up three more runs in the seventh. Jose Tartabull, starting in the right field in Dick Williams’ rearranged lineup Thursday, walked. Dalton Jones tried to sacrifice on the first pitch. He didn’t make it - so the bunt sign came off, and Jones chopped a ground-ball single past the charging Shannon.
“That’s one of our regular plays,” said Williams later. “The situation is that the third baseman is charging down the batter’s throat. The first baseman is racing in. The second baseman is moving over to cover first and the shortstop is going to cover second. That means there are few holes in the infield and with someone like Jones at bat who had such fine bat control, we can take the bunt sign off.”
Now the Sox had two men on and no outs. Yastrzemski, facing the Cardinals’ third pitcher, Joe Hoerner, had a count of two strikes and a ball. He swung from his heels on the next pitch. The ball soared beautifully and majestically up over the bullpen. Roger Maris, the Cardinals’ right fielder, started back, then stopped and looked at it.
The crowd that roared again and again for Lonborg, cheered Yastrzemski even louder.
In the top of the eighth when Javier spoiled Lonborg’s bid for a no-hittter, the crowd applauded Lonborg. It was saying, “You’ve still pitched a great game.” After that the crowd yelled after every out and when Curt Flood ended the game with a routine fly to Reggie Smith in center, the crowd gave its last cheer-for both Lonborg and Yastrzemski.
Yastrzemski had stayed on the field after Wednesday’s defeat (he had gone hitless) for extra batting practice. He joked with team photographer Jerry Buckley, “I’ll hit a couple tomorrow.”
“I said that,” said Yastrzemski, “but I was only kidding. My timing was off Wednesday. I felt so good at bat in that little practice, though, that before today’s game I took a little nap - about 30-45 minutes.”
Lonborg raised a blister on his right thumb about the sixth inning and began cutting down-the number of breaking pitches he threw for the remainder of the game.
In the seventh inning catcher Elston Howard spoke to him, was satisfied that Lonbord could still throw the breaking pitches- but decided to reduce the number.
Nobody talked about the no-hitter that seemed to be in the making, according to Williams.
Each inning when Lonborg came back to the bench, the players would say, almost in unison, “Nice going Lonnie.” And the going got nicer and nicer for Lonnie and Yaz and the big crowd.
And Yaz, according to Williams, kept saying, “Thank you, thank you.” When he came into the excited Red Sox dugout after his homers.
Lonborg had some great support in the field, especially from Rico Petrocelli at shortstop and Jerry Adair at second.
In the fourth inning Lou Brock hit a grounder toward center field, on the right hand side of second. It bounced three times and somehow there was Adair backhanding it. Brock, one of the fastest men in baseball, was steaming down the first base line. Adair fielded the ball and threw it, all in the same motion, to nip Brock at first.
Adair also had a hand - or rather a word - in another defensive play. This one came in the seventh. Flood was St. Louis’ first base runner (with a walk). He was on first with one out. Maris flied to Yastrzemski for the second out and Orlando Cepeda was the batter.
The first baseman hit a drive toward center - this one was to the left of second. Petrocelli reached the ball, stabbed it in his glove on the first bounce and was able to flip it to Adair at second to force Flood.
“I didn’t have a play at first,” said Petrocelli. “I couldn’t have thrown him out. Jerry let me know. He yelled at me, ‘second, second’. I think the ball was past me when I fielded it.”
There was the pattern in the first two games: the games belonged to the pitchers, Bob Gibson of St. Louis and Jim Lonborg of Boston. It also belonged to the left fielders, Lou Brock - and isn’t it nice to know he’s only human after all - and to Carl Yastrzemski - and isn’t it nice to think that maybe he’s super human?