It was a picture to be forever in your mind’s eye.
Carl Yastrzemski stood there, the bat dangling off his right hand, his head up, his eyes fastened on the flight of the ball that had just come off his bat. He took one tentative step down the first base line. And another. A third. A fourth. Then he broke into a trot. By now the ball had been caught (on the fly) in the Oakland bullpen - about 400 feet away - by pitcher Craig Minetto. He gave it to Bill Campbell in the Red Sox bullpen, who gave it to Yastrzemski.
“What was I going to keep it for? “ asked Minetto.
It belonged to Yastrzemski, his 400th home run, the magnificent ball player - and man - who came into our neighborhood 19 years ago.
The crowd of 30,395 rose with one voice. The Red Sox came charging out of the dugout, led by catcher Carlton Fisk, clapping his hands. First base coach Johnny Pesky held out his hand and Yastrzemski grabbed it as he began to circle the bases.
Ten years from now the crowd of 30,395 will have swelled to 300,395 who will say they were at Fenway Park The Night Yaz Hit No. 400. That’s all right, such an historic, dramatic moment should be shared vicariously.
From that game-winning homer - it came with a man on base in the seventh inning of a 7-3 victory over the hapless A’s - he continued to show his stuff. In the Oakland eighth he made a leaping catch off a line drive to start a double play, then ran to the edge of the stands to catch a foul fly.
But the home run (17th of the season) was the thing for this marvel of a man, who will be 40 on Aug. 22.
“The pitch, “ said the man who threw it, “was a fast ball I got up high. If I had gotten that pitch by him I would have thrown a breaking pitch next. No, I didn’t know it was his 400th homer. I’d rather give it up to him than anybody. He’s a great ball player, one of my heroes. I must have 10 or 15 baseball cards of Carl Yastrzemski. “ The pitcher was Mike Morgan, who wasn’t 2 years old when Yastrzemski hit his first major- league home run.
I was just waiting for the next batter to come up, “ he said, “and I wondered when the crowd was going to sit down. He came out again and again. A pitcher is sitting out there by himself after a home run. I just found out now when you guys (the media) told me it was his 400th. I wondered if the people always did this at Fenway Park. “
The people at Fenway Park have been waiting since June 30 for this 400th. He hit his 399th that day against the Yankees. Yastrzemski had tried to shut it out of his mind. “I had dinner at Felicia’s (in Boston’s North End) and I ran into 400 people who told me I missed the 400th Sunday by less than 12 inches. He (Morgan) got me out on the same pitch in my previous time at bat. I had a 3-0 count and I was looking for a single, but I tried to muscle the ball, “ and flied out to right. Morgan threw it again, his first pitch to Yaz in the seventh. “I knew it was gone. I saw the right fielder backing up. I saw how hard the fans were pulling for me and I just wanted to hit it here (at Fenway), but you don’t really think milestones. “
Milestones? The next one will be 3000 hits. He needs around 39 hits. Four hundred homers and 3000 hits? “One without the other . . . er . . . I’d want the two together, “ he said. He would be the first American Leaguer to reach those levels. Three National Leaguers, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Stan Musial, reached it.
How long will Yastrzemski continue to play the summer game? “I’ll play until I’m 45, if I can still do the job, “ he said. “If my reflexes . . . I’ve been lucky. I’ve been disabled only once in 19 years (30 days in 1972, knee injury). But I’ve paid the price. I take only a couple of weeks off in the off season. “
That 400th homer put the Red Sox and Dennis Eckersley ahead 5-3 in a rather struggling night against Morgan and the A’s. And Dwight Evans added a clinching two-run homer (over the screen) in the eighth.
Said manager Don Zimmer: “I was choked up when Yastrzemski hit that homer. I thought, hey, I was 320 short of 400. And the way he hit that ball. He crushed that ball. I just watched him. He looked up and didn’t move. “
Yastrzemski was surrounded at his locker after the game. One face was on the fringe of the crowd. “Hello Pop, “ said Yastrzemski to his father, “it’s about time, huh? A beauty, a beauty. “
The kind of beauty that will be a picture in your mind’s eye forever.