It was not only the Red Sox getting back into first place, but who got them there.
Youthful exuberance has dominated this young season. But you know and I know and so does your sister Kate that if the Red Sox are going to be there in September, Luis Tiant and Carl Yastrzemski are going to have to have a lot to do with it. So last night meant something.
For Tiant played with the White Sox as if they were his rhumba partners and Yastrzemski ended a long streak of Punch and Judy hitting as Boston rolled up an 8-0 victory before 20,404 at Fenway Park. Thus, coupled with Milwaukee’s loss in Oakland, they move into first by a half-game.
If anyone can make you look overmatched against eephus pitches in this ballpark, it is Tiant. And last night he did it. He finished with a five-hitter and let only one man reach second base for his fourth straight win (6-5 on the year), 30th career shutout – and all done against a team that had gone 59 games without having been shutout, or since Sept. 19, 1973.
“I feel as though I’m pitching much better now than I was at this time last year,” said El Tiante afterwards. “I feel so much better now that it’s getting a little warmer. This was the first time in years I didn’t pitch winter ball, and it’s making a difference. Last year I’d throw good one game, bad the next. Good one, bad the next. Until July, I guess.”
Over the last five or so starts, Tiant has been consistently good, albeit not overpoweringly fast. “They call it experience,” said Tiant. “I don’t care if I don’t strikeout a batter. They can hit 27 fly balls, 27 grounders, or 27 line drives. As long as they’re outs and I win.
“I’m older now. I need to save myself a little more, and I try to set hitters up. When I have to, I have the fastball to throw past anyone.” Perhaps his best case study was a fastball he threw by Dick Allen in the first inning for strike three.
But while Tiant has been getting better and better, Yaz has had his problems. He hadn’t had a home run since April 22, and in the entire month of May he had only one extra-base hit, a double. But last night, June 1, he had two singles, a homer into the centerfield bleachers and three RBIs.
“Don’t believe all that business about holding his hands high or low or whatever,” said Mgr. Darrell Johnson, “We laid one thing out in spring training – we don’t have a hitting coach. Hitters go into slumps, and things multiply. But batters come out of them just – snap – like that, too.”
The fact that Boston beat Stan Bahnson is good for some kind of applause, for Bahnson came in 17-8 lifetime against the Red Sox. And was gone after four innings.
Yaz had some help, obviously, as Cecil Cooper had two hits and he and Juan Beniquez each scored a pair of runs. Tommy Harper finally got a long-deserved hit in the eighth, and did a tango all the way to first base.
And the White Sox? Well, Mgr. Chuck Tanner spent the last three innings talking to his general manager, Roland Hemond, who was in a box next to the dugout. Their team looked like the Luis Alvarado all-stars, so perhaps they were discussing getting Luis from the Indians.
Three strange (to use a nice word) things happened:
1. When Carlos May failed to run out a fly that ended the third, Tanner went right out on to the field for a chat, which was for all public consumption, to discuss whether or not Carlos’ leg kept him from reaching the bag.
2. Pat Kelly stepped into a double play when he missed the second-base bag scurrying back around to first on a fly to left.
3. Kelly casually lobbed a return throw to the infield over second baseman Ron Santos’ head in the eighth, which allowed Beniquez to complete a jaunt from first to home.
But the Red Sox really aren’t interested in that right now. It may only be June, but it is first place.