By 1 p.m. the rain had stopped. It was misting a little and the wind was whipping from the northeast, but Bill Lee was in Fenway, pitching.
“We should have played,” he said, cranking one pitch after another to his catcher. “This is my weather. We could have played, and no one could have hit a home run.”
Unfortunately for Wet Willie his catcher wore a brown leather jacket and Bally shoes. It was his father.
The throwing was being done on the side; Game 6 had again been drowned and now, despite his protestations, there is the possibility that 20 minutes of throwing to his father could be the last pitching he does this season.
For tonight, if the weather bureau is wrong and the weather clears, the sixth game (8:30, Chs. 4 and 38) will not have Lee pitching against Cincinnati. Red Sox manager Darrell Johnson has flip-flopped Lee and Luis Tiant, who has Boston’s two wins, so Tiant will go tonight against the Reds’ Gary Nolan, with Lee facing Don Gullett tomorrow IF there is a Game 7.
Incidentally, if there is a game tomorrow, baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn indicated it may be played in the afternoon, depending on the weather forecast.
“Tiant is our best,” Johnson said yesterday morning in his office. “We’re down 3-2. We have to win the sixth game first, and Luis now has enough rest. I don’t think it’ll make that much different with Lee to have a couple extra days. He went what – 23 days? – last time and pitched the best game outside of Gullett in the series thus far.”
But Lee, who was called in for a closed-door meeting by Johnson yesterday for some remarks he had on Saturday night, doesn’t agree. “You know why I did well that last night?” he said. “Because I had known in advance, and had a chance to work really hard two days before the start.
“You have to walk before you can run, and who cares if we lose in six or seven games? The idea is to win, and I think we’re better off with me pitching a sixth game. Luis can use that extra day, and then you have him matched up with Gullett. I’m sure I can beat Nolan; I think I can beat Gullett, but with that extra day, Luis would be all that stronger against him. I remember, Luis threw 160-some pitches on Wednesday on three days rest. Plus it’s cold.
“The biggest reason Johnson is going with Tiant is to satisfy certain elements of the media. If I lost tonight, he’d get ripped. If I lost tomorrow, it’s OK. Then he can’t be second-guessed. Of course, I realize honestly Bill Lee has an ego, that I’d like to play. But I just feel this is a mistake. I want to win.”
Johnson actually can be second-guessed no matter what he does with his pitching. If Tiant pitches tonight and should lose, he should have had the extra day. And vice versa. As always, a manager’s genius runs in direct opposition to his winning percentage.