At first sound, it comes off as faint praise for the damned. There were too many games lost by a power shortage or a costly error by the Red Sox bench last year to change many opinions overnight.
But, if one game tells you anything about what kind of season Don Zimmer’s troops might have this year, it could very well be yesterday’s 7-1 victory in the season opener at Fenway Park over the Cleveland Indians before 34,433.
Sure, Dennis Eckersley lived up to his billing as the Red Sox’ best, stopping the Indians on two hits in seven innings. Certainly, one can point to a tremendous three-run homer by Jim Rice, the league’s Most Valuable Player in 1978, and two lesser ones by Dwight Evans and Fred Lynn as evidence that the new Sox lineup has awesome power. And who can quarrel with the aggressiveness of a club that gives a hitter (Evans) the green light on a 3-0 count, or allows a hitter to swing away in an obvious base-stealing situation?
“I knew in my heart,” said Red Sox manager Don Zimmer, “that Remy had stolen that base in the third, and I yelled to Rice, ‘Take It.’ He took it, all right. He took it right over the wall.”
However, one of the most encouraging aspects of the game was that two of the prime movers were players who probably will be sitting on the bench a month from now. That Jack Brohamer and Bob Montgomery realize this and still go out and perform like regulars instead of bench-warmers is one of the reasons the Sox feel that the sorrow of last year’s classic loss to the Yankees will be quickly forgotten. Brohamer went 2-for-4, with a double and a triple, and made five sparkling fielding plays at third. Montgomery was 3-for- 4, including a triple and a double, and caught a flawless game. It made you wonder why he appeared in only 10 games last year and earned the dubious tag of “teacher’s pet.”
“Both of them played solidly defensively,” said Carl Yastrzemski. “But what really amazes me is that they were both hitting so well. They couldn’t have gotten in that much time playing, but they were right on the ball.”
Brohamer and Montgomery. They held the spotlight yesterday. They took advantage of this moment to remind anyone who asked that the Red Sox are a 25- man club, and it takes 25 men to win and lose. Brohamer was playing in place of Butch Hobson, whose throwing arm is still tender, and Zimmer didn’t want to risk it in the cold weather. Montgomery started in place of Carlton Fisk, who also is getting over arm problems.
Brohamer and Montgomery. Both men heard names bandied about as possible replacements for them. The Sox are still high on Larry Wolfe, picked up from the Twins, but Brohamer, who batted .269 this spring, got the nod. Montgomery originally had been assigned the role of third-string catcher, while rookies Gary Allenson (.320) and Mike O’Berry (.200) battled for the No. 2 job. But, as soon as it became apparent that Fisk wasn’t quite ready to play, the opening spot went to Montgomery, who batted only .111 this spring.
“I’ve heard what people have been saying all winter about our bench,” said Brohamer, who is still wondering why they’re not remembering that he played third base in the last nine games down the stretch when the Red Sox had to win to get to the East Division playoff game that the Yankees eventually won. “I don’t think anybody should blame what happened to the Red Sox last year strictly on the bench. A lot of people contributed to what happened to us last year. We win with nine guys; we lose with 25. That’s all I heard last year.
“But I thought I had a pretty good year last season, even though my average went down (to .234) in the second half. I knew I was helping the club defensively, and the fact that I could play two positions (30 games at third, 22 at second) helped the club overall.
“That was the way I went about my job this spring. I hit only .269 and came in mostly in the late innings of exhibition games. But I was pleased with my defense. I thought I got a lot of good work done defensively.”
The fact that other people were being showcased didn’t bother Brohamer. After all, he knows Hobson will return to third base as soon as possible.
“If I was trying to make the club,” he said, “I might be worried. But I know my job, and the club wouldn’t even have me around if they didn’t think I could do it. It’s my job. I enjoy it. When you come to the park and just sit down, I don’t. But when you get to play once in a while and have days like today, it makes it enjoyable once more.”
Montgomery, whose fourth-inning triple probably made him run farther than he did during all of spring training, has never worried about anything but how well he does the job, and that doesn’t mean hitting.
“The thing I want to do is catch well,” Monty said. “I’m in there for defense and not offense. If I go 0-for-4 and we win but I do my job behind the plate, then I’m happy.”
Montgomery still isn’t sure how he got to start yesterday.
“Ten days ago, I was the third-string catcher. The next thing I know I’m told to be ready to catch opening day. But that’s my job. That’s why I’m here.”
The game was decided by Rice’s home run, and, if anybody thinks he’s slowed down from last year, they weren’t watching yesterday.
“Two-for-four isn’t a bad day,” Rice said. “I’m still not in a good groove yet. It’s only one game and it’s just too early to tell whether I’ll have the same kind of start this year as I had last.”
Rice’s concentration seems the same, and the fact that he ignored Zimmer’s pleas to take a pitch proved it. “To tell you the truth,” he said, “I didn’t hear him. But it might not have mattered, anyway. If I get a pitch that I think I can hit, I’m going to swing at it. The runners moving doesn’t bother me at all with one strike. With two, it might be another thing.”
Rice’s line-drive home run was spectacular and dwarfed the one hit by Evans in the fourth. Evans’ round-tripper was a Bucky Dent shot, a fly ball that started foul and blew back fair into the nets. “I never thought about Dent,” said Evans, whose .154 average this spring might be misleading.
“All I know is that I had a good pitch to hit and I missed it. I thought it was going to be caught, and the next thing I knew it was in the nets. Sure, I didn’t hit well this spring. But spring training is only to get your mind and body ready for the season. This is when it counts.”