It’s always something like this on Opening Day in Fenway. Some Cecil B. DeMille, some Knute Rockne and even some Zero Mostel.
Yes, Tony Conigliaro returned. He singled in his first at-bat in 3 ½ years and in a double steal helped bring in the first run of the season. (The sun broke through the clouds for each at-bat.) Luis Tiant debuted again as El Conquistador, protecting his lead like it were one’s homeland, getting Henry Aaron and George Scott on two pitches with two on in the eighth and a three-run lead.
Yes, there were the countless standing ovations and brawls out in Boone’s Farm Country – the bleachers – but this year there was something added. What began as a normal pregame, preseries meeting turned into a very serious open discussion about this club’s attitude and leadership, led by Carl Yastrzemski, who among many things said “this is the worst attitude in spring training of any team I’ve ever been on. If it continues like this, we’ll finish in last place.”
So, when it was all over, it was a 5-2 victory over Aaron and the Milwaukee Brewers. The 34,019 had its Conigliaro-Aaron show, its heroics from Tiant, Bob Montgomery, Tony and Yaz and had seen their Olde Towne Team charge the field like impassions North Vietnamese guerrillas.
Tony edged Aaron, 4-2, in standing O’s, but Henry’s American League debut means little to the Brewers in comparison to his return to Milwaukee Friday. Fenway’s Prodigal received his first standing O in the pregame introductions, but the one following his hit (nearly three minutes) was his best.
“After spring training,” said Conigliaro, “I was really relaxed. I had my best sleep in months the night before. I guess I had all the tension drained out of me with the pressure in Florida, and tomorrow I’ll be completely normal again. The ball looked like a basketball. That’s what counts.
He came in to the plate in the first against Jim Slaton, Yaz on first and two outs. On a 3-1 count, they got the sign for a hit-and-run and Tony drove it into right for a single. Then with a 2-2 count on Rico Petrocelli, Tony took off for second. The pitch was outside, Brewers catcher Darrell Porter’s late throw tailed off toward shortstop and Yastrzemski raced home.
It was Conigliaro’s only hit in four at-bats. He once tried to bunt for a hit unsuccessfully but once Slaton was gone and rookie Williams Castro (5.1 innings, no hits) was on, no one did a thing.
Meanwhile, Aaron managed only a walk in four trips to the plate, although he hit three long fouls to left.
Tiant defended the lead.
“Hopefully the good spring training and his job today is an indication that Luis is off to a good start,” said Darrell Johnson, “because we need him. Luis was fortunate in the first when Don Money’s fly was held up by the wind from being a three-run homer. But when he had to have it, like a good slider to Aaron for the infield tap in the eighth, he had it.
The game was played with Yaz’s words in heart. “We’re not going to overpower people,” said Yastrzemski, “we have to scrap, execute run and pull together.” Thus they got the hit-and-run, double steal, Fred Lynn’s throw in the ninth to cut off a run and good defensive plays by, among many, Griffin, Evans, Juan Beniquez and Burleson.
That maybe the double steal wouldn’t work with a good catcher’s throw, that a run scored on a 73-foot single, that Money’s ball was kept in by the wind … no one cared.
For a day, the Red Sox are a 1.000 club. One of the other beauties of Opening Day at Fenway.