It began in section 29 and unfurled to a unison, a capella refrain. It was “Goodby Charlie, Goodby, Goodby Charlie, we hate to see you go...and even when Charles Oscar Finley stood, turned and waved, his smile was forced.
Yesterday was the game Charles Oscar’s World Champe’en A’s could not lose. But as one-third of the 33,578 rose in derisive song, it was the ninth inning and indeed, Oakland was going to lose and go down, 2-0, in this AL Championship series.
It was a 6-3 Boston victory, one chipped out of the same kind of marble used in sculpting the A’s statue. It required coming back from a 3-0 Oakland lead and, amid defensive point after counterpoint, came down to what was the pre-series analytical impossibility; Beating Roland Fingers. Which they did.
This was an 11-on-a-scale-of-10 Fenway game: Sal Bando home runs turned into singles, critical double plays and individual heroics from which souvenir picture books are made. From Carlton Fisk’s double and tie-breaking single in the sixth to Rico Petrocelli’s home run to a painful double play turned by Denny Doyle to Cecil Cooper’s two doubles to key hits and defensive plays by Fredrick Michael Lynn to Dick Drago’s save of Rogelio Moret’s victory.
But in all the complexity and group heroics, the dusk belonged to one man, Carl Michael Yastrzemski. The man who in his personal dusk remains one of the great money players of this generation was 25 again. Twice he held Bando line drives, (homers in any other park) to singles. He threw out Bert Campaneris at third on one of them to end a third inning that might have been a disaster. He broke Vida Blue for a two-run homer into the net, doubled off Fingers and scored the winning run in the sixth.
“I don’t know,” said Yaz, reminded of the personal brilliance in the races of ’67 and ’72, “if i am different in clutch situations, but i guess it brings out the excitement and concentration in me. I know this--I love it.”
The game began as Oakland expected it would. Reggie Jackson sent a two run homer off Reggie Cleveland screaming way up into the bleachers in the first for a 2-0 lead, and by the top of the fourth it appeared it would be a rout but for two superb defensive plays. When Bando (4-for-4) rocketed one off the wall in the third, Yaz cut down Campaneris to end the inning. Good thing Jackson led off the next inning and Butkused Doyle in the middle of a double play that 163-pound Denny turned away.
After the play, Doyle weighed 154 (nine pounds of flesh lay in center field), and Cleveland was willing to offer him some of his as Joe Rudi and Claudell Washington each doubled. 3-0.
“They really came out smoking with the lead,” said Fisk. “I mean, they were really flying. Vida (Blue) was blazing...” Only, smoke and all, Vida, who those halcyon years tried to shake a reputation shrouded in an October cloud, could not defend that 3-0 lead. If you think back, you realize this, the short series dominated by the great pitcher, is where Oakland may miss James Augustus Hunter. And where Boston exults in Luis Clemente Tiant, Jr.
Doyle singled to lead the fourth and Yaz drove a high fastball into the net in left-center, symbolically his first net job of 1975. Before Blue left, Fisk had smoked a double to left-center, Lynn had singled, and Fisk had scored on Rico Petrocelli’s rocket of a double-play ball off of Jim Todd.
Fingers came on in the fifth and preserved the lead as Jackson cut down Cooper at the plate on a Juan Beniquez fly ball. Then in the sixth came two plays that perhaps decided the game. Oakland is the experienced team in these dramas, but when you run down two days of bunts and defense, it is the Red Sox who have performed the fundamentals.
When Bando drilled his second homer-turned-single off the wall to lead the sixth, Cleveland departed for Moret, but because of Yaz’s PhD in Wall Studies, Bando was on first. And two outs later Joe Rudi drilled a shot to right-center that Lynn cut off, keeping it to a double. “We’ve won an awful lot of games in our outfield,” said Darrell Johnson. “An awful lot.”
So it was still 3-3 after 5 1/2, and the man who dominated this series before it was played, Fingers, was where he was supposed to be. In that sixth, however, Yaz doubled off the wall and Fisk came to the plate. “He was throwing as well as ever,” said Fisk, “it’s just that he kills you when he gets ahead. He threw me some nasty sliders, I just laid off them.” It got to 3-and-0 then 3-and-1 and Fisk drilled a single to left-center, 4-3.
Petrocelli then clinked the light tower in left in the seventh and a Lynn single in the eight completed the deflowering of Mr. Fingers and inspired the ballad to Charles Oscar. But Drago made his contribution in the meanwhile.
On the clubhouse bulletin board right near to the blackboard that now reads “5 Wins in October,” is positioned a cover of Sports Illustrated with Jackson on the cover with the headline “Four in a Row?” In that issue was the flat statement that Drago, who down the stretch was the dominant reliever in the AL East, is “surely overmatched” against Fingers.
Drago came in during the seventh with old friend Tommy Harper on first and not only fanned pinch hitter Billy Williams, but held Harper on first. No mean feat. And he finished the victory, albeit allowing a couple of line drives (“once we had a couple of runs I just wanted them to hit the first pitch.”)
So the stage switches to Oakland. “We can win three straight in the Mausoleum,” says Bando, but like Charles Oscar’s smile, it seems forced. Not only are the A’s behind 2-0 now, but they are behind 2-0 because of a game that was one they no only had to win but one in which circumstances said they should win. A game taken from their defended position atop the hill.
The situation is left to this: The A’s must now beat someone else. It is a long road back.
The ballad of Charles Oscar Finley was very plain. His empire is within one Boston victory of its omega.