And all of a sudden the ball was there, like the Mystic River Bridge, suspended out in the black of the morning.
When it finally crashed off the mesh attached to the left field foul pole, one step after another the reaction unfurled: from Carlton Fisk’s convulsive leap to John Kiley’s booming of the “Hallelujah Chorus” to the wearing off of the numbness to the outcry that echoed across the cold New England morning.
At 12:34 a.m., in the 12th inning, Fisk’s histrionic home run brought a 7-6 end to a game that will be the pride of historians in the year 2525, a game won and lost what seemed like a dozen times, and a game that brings back summertime one more day. For the seventh game of the World Series.
For this game to end so swiftly, so definitely, was the way it had to end. An inning before, a Dwight Evans catch that Sparky Anderson claimed was as great as he’s ever seen had been one turn, but in the ninth a George Foster throw ruined a bases-loaded, none-out certain victory for the Red Sox. Which followed a dramatic three-run homer in the eighth by Bernie Carbo as the obituaries had been prepared, which followed the downfall of Luis Tiant after El Tiante had begun, with the help of Fred Lynn’s three-run, first-inning homer, as a hero of unmatched emotional majesty.
So Fisk had put the exclamation mark at the end of what he called “the most emotional game I’ve ever played in.” The home run came off Pat Darcy and made a winner of Rick Wise, who had become the record 12th pitcher in this 241-minute war that seemed like four score and seven years.
But the place one must begin is the bottom of the eighth, Cincinnati leading, 6-3, and the end so clear. El Tiante had left in the top of the inning to what apparently was to be the last of his 1975 ovations; he who had become the conquering king had been found to be just a man, and it seemed so certain. Autumn had been postponed for the last time.
Only out came an Implausible Hero, to a two-out, two-on situation against Rawlins J. Eastwick III, and Carbo did what he had done in Cincinnati. Pinch-hitting, he sent a line drive into the center field bleachers, and the chill of lachrymose had become mad, sensuous Fenway again. Followed by the point and counterpoint.
In the ninth, a Denny Doyle walk and Carl Yastrzemski single had put runners at first and third, which sent Eastwick away and brought in lefthander Will McEnaney. Who walked Fisk to load the bases and pitch to Lynn.
Lynn got the ball to the outfield, but only a high, twisting fly ball down the left field line that George Foster grabbed at the line and maybe 8- feet in back of third base. Third base coach Don Zimmer said he told Doyle not to go, but he went anyway, and Foster’s throw got to Johnny Bench. As the Red Sox shook their heads, mumbling “bases loaded, nobody out in the ninth,” the Reds had their hero in Foster, who had put them ahead in the seventh with a two-run double.
Then in the 11th, the Reds had it taken away from them by Evans. With Ken Griffey at first, one out, Joe Morgan crashed a line drive towards the seats in right. Evans made his racing, web-of-the-glove, staggering catch as he crossed the warning tracks. (”It would have been two rows in” - Reds bullpen catcher Bill Plummer), then as Griffey in disbelief stopped halfway between second and third, Evans spun and fired in. Yastrzemski, who had moved to first for Carbo’s entrance, retrieved it to the right of the coaches’ box, looked up and guess who was standing on first base, waiting for the ball? Rick Burelson. Who had raced over from shortstop. So Dick Drago, who worked three scoreless innings, the Red Sox and a seventh game all had been saved.
When it was over, it was almost incomprehensible that it had begun with Tiant trying to crank out one more miracle. But it had, and for four innings, the evening was all his. They had merchandised “El Tiante” tee shirts on the streets, they hung a banner that read “Loo-Eee For President” and everything the man did, from taking batting practice to walking to the bullpen to warm up to the rhumbas and tangos that screwed the Reds into the ground for four innings brought standing ovations and carol, “Loo-Eee, Loo-Eee . . .”
El Tiante had had a 3-0 lead from the first inning, when Lynn had followed Yastrzemski and Fisk singles by driving a Gary Nolan kumquat into the bleachers over the pitching mound of the Boston bullpen. Nolan did not last long, followed by a succession of seven, but the Billinghams’ Carrolls and Barbone had apparently done what they had to do.
And the abracadabra that had blinded the Reds before began to smudge. In the fifth, after Boston had lost two scoring opportunities, Luis walked Designated Bunter Ed Armbrister, and before he could hear his father incant Grande Olde Game No. 56 (”Walk . . .”), Pete Rose singled and Griffey became the first player in three games here to hit The Wall. Not only was it the first time anyone had scored off Tiant in Fenway in 40 innings, but as the ball caromed away to be retrieved by Evans, the park went silent. In his running, leaping try for the ball at the 379-foot mark, Lynn had crashed into the wall and slid down to the ground, his back hurt.
Lynn eventually was able to stay in the game, but by the time the inning was over Bench had become the second to tickle The Wall, with a single, and it was 3-3. Then when Foster sent his drive off the center field fence in the seventh, it was 5-3, and when Tiant was left in to start the eighth, Cesar Geronimo angled a leadoff homer inside the right field foul pole. El Tiante left to his chant and his ovations. And in the press box, Sport Magazine editor Dick Schaap began collecting the ballots that determined which Red got the World Series hero’s automobile.
So, if the honey and lemon works on the throat and the Alka-Seltzer does the same for the heads, Fenway will not be alone tonight. She has one drama, and it is perhaps sport’s classic drama.
Bill Lee and Don Gullett, the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Red Sox, and a long night’s journey into morning, a game suspended in time as Fisk’s home run was suspended beyond the skyline, a game that perhaps required the four-day buildup it got.
Summertime has been called back for just one more day - for the seventh game of the World Series.