It came, simply, a ground ball between first and second base past the lunge of Yankee Willie Randolph in the eighth inning of a 9-2 game that had nothing but Carl Yastrzemski.
It came, simply, after an agonizing wait, like Odysseus limping home across the bed of coals. It had taken three days and 13 trips to the plate since hit 2999, each time limping out with his cleat on his left foot, his sneaker on his right, but when he pulled the pitch of a Dartmouth man named Jim Beattie through into right field, Yaz had reached home.
And the first to him as he pulled up at the first base bag was his son, Carl Michael Yastrzemski Jr., followed by teammates and coaches and fans and security people and Yankee players. The megaboard flashed “3000, 3000” and “Yaz is the first American Leaguer to have 3000 hits and 400 homers,” and the 34,337 people stood and cheered and tiredly relaxed.
By last night the Yaz Watch had gotten like covering the Paris Peace Talks. On Yawkey Way the scalpers were getting $12 for $5 seats; Monday night they were asking $50. Last night there were no planes circling with flashing messages, only two signs remained in the bleachers and even the press box had thinned out.
“How many times can I say I can’t wait to get it over?” he had said beforehand, and tried passing the time by making a TV spot for the US Navy, pitching to his son and giving friend Abby Gordon a hotfoot.
The stories of his first hit, April 11, 1961 - his first game, also the first game of Charles Oscar Finley as owner - of Kansas City pitcher Ray Herbert unfolded again. The irony of Carl Michael Yastrzemski now playing for the then A’s catcher, Haywood Sullivan, and Carl Michael Yaztrzemski, Jr., now playing for the then A’s shortstop, Florida State coach Dick Howser, were dragged out again. Herbert, now a sporting goods salesman, slow pitch softball star and batting practice pitcher for the Tigers, had told writers four days before that he’d be listening every night on WTTC in Hartford.
With Fred Lynn sick with a virus, Yastrzemski was put in the third spot, so when Ted Sizemore, Boston’s second hitter, moved towards the plate, Yaz emerged from the dugout, cleat on left foot, sneaker on right, to a warm, standing ovation. It wasn’t like it was Monday night, but it had been a long wait.
However an old nemesis, Catfish Hunter, against whom Yastrzemski batted but .209 in this decade, wouldn’t mess with The Captain the first time up. He dangled four pitches around the plate - fastball away, slider in, fastball low, slider in - and walked him on four pitches. The crowd roared its disapproval. Jim Rice hit Hunter’s next pitch into the net in left center for a 2-0 Boston lead.
When Yastrzemski came up again leading off the third, there was an uneasy calm, a kind of polite applause, reverent, not demonstrative, and when he jumped on an 0-1 pitch and sent it towering towards the Red Sox bullpen, the entire audience stopped en route to its feet. But Reggie Jackson slowed down as he reached the warning track, turned, tapped his glove and caught the ball, looking up at the flag indicating the wind that held it in. Some bleacherites chanted obscenities to Reggie. The wait had begun to become a tease.
Try No. Three - and tenth since hit 2999 Sunday - came in the fourth, with two outs, Sizemore at third and the Red Sox ahead, 5-1. Hunter, at that point, was struggling like a man two weeks from his retirement and 2-8 on the season. And as even Mike O’Berry (whose 3000th hit at his present pace will come in the year 2579) had gotten a hit the crowd figured this had to be it. They rose, trying their best to muster noise to their “We want a hit,” and again, after Yaz pulled himself out swinging at an off-speed pitch, he seemed to have a hit. He rapped a hard grounder inside the first base bag, but Chris Chambliss stabbed it, beat him to the bag and prolonged the agony. It made Yaz 13 for 78 in the last 21 games, 0 for 10, and even more tired.
The agony continued when Yastremski’s fourth chance in the sixth inning was a ground ball that second baseman Willie Randolph backhanded. He appeared tired as he limped back to the dugout. The crowd sounded tired.
He stood at the microphone, simply, a 40-year-old man who grew up on a Long Island potato farm, a mile and a half from the nearest house. His arm was around his son, his father to his left, and he waved his right arm to his wife Carol behind home plate.
There were awards and a few kind words but the crowd chanted for him. “I know one thing,” he said, “this was the hardest of the 3000. I took so longbecause I enjoyed all those standing ovations you gave me the last three days.
“I don’t know what to say, except to thank everyone for these 19 years.” As he thanked his teammates and Don Zimmer and the owners and his family, he slowly broke down, until, choking on every word, he talked of how he wished “two people who helped me more than anyone - my mother and Mr. Yawkey - could have been here. They deserved to be here.”