What remained before the breaking of the wine bottle seals and the festivity was two-thirds of an out. And as they had risen, the 35,205 religionists, to begin the celebration.
But by the time that out had been achieved, the feat had been postponed. In the meantime, as even Henry Kissinger put on a Red Sox hat, what had been anticipated as a certain sensuous moment--and a 2-1 victory--was whisked away to a quietude of astonishment, as the 108-win Big red Machine finally turned over.
The Red awoke softly at first in that ninth inning, getting a game-tying infield chopper from that sort of manifest destiny the Red Sox seemed to have cornered. Then Cincinnati achieved two firsts: a stole base, followed by a Ken Griffey double that, on the third bounce, was their initial tickle of The Wall, and thus was two-thirds of an out from a Boston sweep curdled to a 3-2 red victory that sent the series to Cincinnati tied at one game apiece.
In its emotional drain, it was a game and advantage lost, but a vision for the people who make the World Series films, a game of attitudinal and psychological juxtapositions to be remembered over many a one-more-round from Braintree to San Rafael.
For the Red Sox, there were frustrated chances and base running errors adding up to ifs and maybes. There was Bill Lee, out of the celestial doghouse, who brilliantly worked into that ninth ahead, 2-1. A turn of events in the sixth inning, including Carlton Fisk cutting down Joe Morgan, Fred Lynn’s diving catch of a Johnny bench liner and Rico Petrocelli singling in what at the time appeared to be the game-winning run. To chants of “Ree-Co, Ree-Co.”
But, as hundreds of people preferred the wind, the cold, the rain (a 27-minute delay) and sitting on billboards to being at home in front of the television, the Reds had their heroes: Jack Billingham, like Lee a late season exile, who started and did well until Rawley Eastwick could win it; and Johnny Bench, who in addition to his defensive plays, led off the ninth with a double that sent Lee away; and Dave Concepcion, whose chopper and stolen base set up the eventual game-winning double by Griffey.
Lee (“This is like ‘A Clockwork Orange’”) came into the ninth in this weather a hero, throwing hard, well and even tossing in an occasional Moon Curve. His first pitch of the ninth was not a bad one; “One inch above the knee and two inches outside,” he said, only Bench was looking to go to right, fight the shift and forget the wintry gales coming over from The Wall. He drove it off the end of his bat to the right field corner, and Darrell Johnson immediately went to Dick Drago.
Drago could not really have done much better. He got Tony Perez to hit a bouncer up the middle, on which Rick Burleson made a good play and Bench went to third. Then, as Pete Rose and Joe Morgan hollered from the top step of the dugout, he got George Foster to pop up to Carl Yastrzemski in short left field. And when he threw the first strike past Concepcion, they rose. Two-thirds of an out away.
But at 1-and-1 Concepcion took and high, tight fastball and banged it down, off the ground, over Drago’s head and enough up the middle so that when Denny Doyle fielded it, there was no play. And, thinking of a similar Carl Yastrzemski chopper in the first inning that Billingham stabbed to prevent what could have been the filling to a big inning, the crowd sat down, bequieted. With lefthanded-hitting Ken Griffey at the plate, Concepcion then tried to do what no Oakland of Cincinnati rabbit had done in the five postseason games: Steal second.
“My foot slipped a little,” said Fisk, “but that didn’t mean that much. I’m not going to make perfect throws every time.” His throw hit up in front of the bag, Burleson went up, grabbed it and tried to tag Concepcion. Safe but...” The umpire (Dick Stello, NL) said he was safe because I never tagged him,” said Burleson, “and that’s not true. I tagged him.” It appeared the Concepcion was safe, then went off the bag, Stello’s confusion aside. Concepcion had been thrown out at second four times in two years.
Drago then tried to blow the ball by Griffey, but after fouling off two pitches the little right fielder drilled a fastball up and away up the alley in left center, easily scoring Concepcion and, on the third hop, giving the Reds their first feel of The Wall. Eastwick, whose moving fastball make obvious his 23 saves, ran down Boston 1-2-3 in the ninth. It was over.
What remains to be seen is what this all means. The Red felt they had to win a game here, and they did. The Red Sox have not lost a game like this since the pennant race became serious in August. We shall see, as the best home team in baseball (64-17) entertains the best road (48-21) team -- a team that all season has won most games away from Fenway.
What it meant yesterday was the dilution of a weekend’s enthusiasm and one superb performance from Lee. Like El Tiante on Saturday, he retired the first 10 batters, and after being nicked for a tying run in the fourth on a walk, a Bench single and groundball, worked to the ninth as if September had never happened. He threw some Moon Curves; on one Merv Rettenmund swung like Tiant. Rose, the only guy on the field in bare arms, single on one.
The Sox opened against Bellingham, who had won one game himself after mid-August, as if Sparky Anderson would be emptying his bullpen in a hurry. Cecil Cooper rapped the first pitch to left, whereupon Foster looked like Don Cherry crossing the ice to the dressing room. It sailed over his head, bounced against The Wall for Boston’s only touch of the monster that was supposed to be razed, and when Doyle got an infield hit there were runners on first and third and Anderson had warm up action.
But when Yastrzemski hit his chopper, Billingham speared it and went right to second. Now the principle say Cooper breaks for the plate and tried to draw away the DP, and Billingham followed it by going to second. Only Cooper stopped, started, and when Concepcion fired to the plate, he stopped again, got run down, and tagged out. DP anyway. It eventually didn’t mean too much, for Fisk singled in Yastrzemski anyway. With first and second, one out in the second.
Dwight Evans was picked off second when Lee missed on a bunt attempt.
(Aside to Pete Daley Fan Club members: Watching Bench, who made one helluva scoop on Concepcion’s throw in the first and threw out Lee on a near perfect bunt, and Fisk is one of the great shows of this series.)
Going into the sixth, it seemed that momentum was with Cincinnati, and Rose led off the inning with a single off the slow curve. Morgan slapped a grounder to the right hole, which Cooper, on his knees, stabbed and forced Rose at second. And next came what we had waited for: Morgan took off and with a big jump on a slow curve it seemed he had the base with ease, only Fisk’s throw, completed with Doyle’s difficult tag, cut down the game’s premier 1975 runner. And as the park roared its approval, Lynn, having slipped (“I should have had it easily”) starting for Bench’s shallow liner, came in a dived for a catch that he finished with his nose two inches deep in mud.
In the bottom of the inning, Yaz led it again with a one-out single. Running on a 3-and-2 pitch, he forced Concepcion to take a step towards second, a step that caused Fisk’s otherwise perfect double play ball to speed to his right and force an error. Petrocelli singled up the middle, making it 2-1. And the tablecloths were unpacked, the win chilled.
But two-thirds of an out from it lustrous ending, the Reds rose, filched what seemed to belong to Boston, and sole away the night back to Cincinnati, knowing it’s now a thee-out-of-five series with three games in Riverfront Stadium.
Yet, two people outside Fenway at 9:35 yesterday morning should chance your perspective. “It’s no good if the Red Sox win it in four or five games,” they said, cognizant of the 57 years since last Boston was World Champion, “they’ve got to lose enough games to get back here for the clincher next weekend.”