It seems with each performance’s bows. each night’s salaams, the point has come where we must have seen every angle of Luis Tiant’s magical mystery tour.
That he has reached the point where it is beyond anyone’s imagination that there’s an original nuance loft in him.
Then he steps on the stage again, and yesterday it was on a stage he has dreamed of gracing during his entire career. The first opening game of the World Series, with Fenway Park and its 1912 birthmark lined with bunting, the Windsor Canadian sign lined with bodies and that peculiar aura of history that the event evokes, and El Tiante cranked out another spectacular we’d never imagined.
He not only bedazzled the Big Red Machine of Cincinnati into thinking the vertical hold dial in their eyes had lost control, but as 35,205 roared the now-familiar “Loo-eee, Loo-eee,” he also began and ended the six-run seventh inning rally that gave him his 6-0 victory and the Red Sox the first game of The Series.
For all the hoopla, all the analyzing, like the American League playoffs, the game the antithesis of what was SUPPOSED to happen. The two teams that were “supposed to delay the Saturday “Tonight Show” left The Wall a virgin without even an adolescent pass. No one stole a base.
Oh, there was a balk to keep the National League umpires feeling useful, but what El Tiante accomplished he accomplished not with the fastball of his great Baltimore, Cleveland and Oakland performances of the last month, but with his intelligent knavery. “In the National League,” said Pete Rose, “we don’t face anyone who throws a spinning curve that lakes two minutes to come down.”
But Tiant, using his fastball only in certain situations set up by his 23 pitches with 57 varieties and 101 varying speeds, did exactly what he had to do in achieving the first complete World Series game since 1971.
N0 Red reached third base, and in the troubles he did have, mainly caused by Joe Morgan - one Red who did what was expected of him -- he made the pitches he had to make, in one case, 13 of them to Johnny Bench before getting him out. And then he struck out Tony Perez with Morgan at second.
When he went into the bottom of the seventh in a scoreless tie he took his fate into his own hands.
To that point, lefthander Don Gullett had matched Tiant’s shutout pitching, blowing what he had to blow when he had to blow it. But he made one immediate and costly mistake, hanging a high changeup to Tiant. That slip set up the six-run three-pitcher deluge in an inning that included not only a succession of important Boston hits but three mistakes by the Reds which had much to do with their unraveling.
Much is made annually of the fact AL pitchers have not hit during the season. But, Ken Holtzman led opening game rallies for the Oakland A’s in the previous two series and here Tiant -- whose last hit came in 1972 when he was 6-56 (.107) -- slapped a single past third baseman Pete Rose into left.
Dwight Evans than bunted down along the right side, and Gullett, on Bench’s scream, went to second. As Tiant slid, or really folded, into second, the ball bounced off him. Men on first and second, and then followed two key plays.
As the New England mind drifted back to ‘67 of a rally begun by Jim Lonborg and keyed by a punch single by someone named Dalton Jones, Denny Doyle fouled oft the first pitch trying to bunt. Now the Reds’ setup had shortstop Dave Concepcion almost on second, and Doyle tried to punch the second pitch there, only Gullett made a perfect pitch. A high, tight fastball. Doyle missed and it was 0 and 2. But Doyle rammed the next pitch into left, the bases were loaded and Carl Yastrzemski came to the plate.
Yaz singled to right, but there was a problem. “I was going back to tag up,“ said Tiant, who thought at first the ball might be caught, and suddenly there was a play at the plate. “I didn’t realize it,” said right fielder Ken Griffey. “I presumed Tiant had scored.” His throw was cut off by first baseman Tony Perez, which seemed the right thing to do, only Luis missed tagging the plate (“by a half-inch” -- Tiant). As Concepcion raced across the infield trying to holler to Perez above the Fenway roar, Tiant went back and touched the plate for the game’s first run.
With Cincinnati’s all-hands-on deck staff, that was it for Gullett. In came Clay Carroll, the other Hawk, to pitch to Carlton Fisk. He walked him, and the score was 2-0. In came lefthander Will McEnaney, who struck out Fred Lynn. But Rico Petrocelli smashed a two-run single to on a 3-and-0 pitch on which left fielder George Foster missed the cutoff man -- Cecil Cooper’s sacrifice fly drove in the sixth run. Tiant, who had started the rally, struck out to end it.
Burleson had three hits. Doyle two and two good defensive plays. Rico a double and a single: “I got four hits the entire 1967 World Series,” he said, “and now I get two in one game.” Lynn had two hits and once again, as has been the case for months now, the cutoff men were hit, the sacrifices made, the execution accomplished.
It appeared early that the Red Sox might unstring Gullett. Dwight Evans led the bottom of the first with a single, and after a sacrifice, walk and two out, Lynn got an infield hit on which Evans tried to score from second because he misunderstood third base coach Don Zimmer’s instructions. They had two on, none out in the second, two on in the fifth, two more in the sixth but could not score.
Meanwhile, Tiant, who in his last five Fenway games has allowed one earned run, a ninth inning homer to the Tigers, began by retiring the first 10 batters. Morgan then singled, and the Great Move Controversy began. Actually, Tiant had Morgan picked off once. Cecil Cooper, in sweeping the tag, had his glove hit the dirt and he got Morgan high.
The ensuing move by Tiant was called a balk by National League umpire Nick Colosi for twitching his left knee and “attempting to deceive” the runner. NBC replays notwithstanding, Morgan was thus at second, and El Tiante had his first problem.
What is so great about the man, Cincinnati’s comments to the contrary, is that he can adjust from young Tiant to Elder Cuellar so easily. “He just didn’t have the kind of fastball he’s had in the last few starts,” said Fisk, “so we tried to do a lot of different things. He’s a great pitcher, and the key to his success today was not being intimidated by their big hitters.”
In both the fourth and the sixth he had to get Bench and Perez with Morgan at second, and both times he did. In the fourth, he threw 13 pitches before Bench fouled out, then he struck out Perez with a fastball up and in, followed by a fastball on the outside corner. The next time Petrocelli made a good play going to his left on Bench’s grounder, then Tiant struck out Perez again. On breaking pitches. Not only does Tiant never throw the same pitch twice in a row he never pitches the same man the same way twice in a season.
Tiant had defensive help. Yaz, still 26 again, made a diving, tumbling catch off Concepcion in the seventh after a Foster single. Fisk then cut down Foster trying to steal. Luis could thank both, because Griffey then doubled.
But when it was over, and dark began to settle over the 1912 birthmark and it was getting quiet again on Jersey and Lansdowne streets, the huge envoy of journalists still enveloped El Tiante.
What would happen in this series, like the playoffs, to this brash, swashbuckling team if he were beaten is something that may turn out to be the key to both series. But he has not been beaten. The clubhouse blackboard’s daily reminder is now “Three Wins In October,” and after laughing through batting practice the Big Red Machine this morning may wake up and realize it.
The euphoria, character, passion and pagan hierology that painted the background for yet another performance by El Tiante for sentimentality. The Red Sox are here for so many other reasons one of whom is called Luis Clemente Tiant, Jr.