No one would ever try to call this starting pitching good, or even decent. “Scattery” is the word Ralph Houk most often chooses to use, and yet, somehow, somewhere the Red Sox keep finding ways to put the starters behind them and bring the majority of their games down to the bullpen.
Sometimes, it’s been their defense. Sometimes, it’s been their woodpecker attack of two-out singles. Last night, after Bruce Hurst was knocked out in the first and the Blue Jays handed Dave Stieb a 7-1 lead by the third inning, the Red Sox reached into Little Walter’s Time Machine for two blasts from the past. With rains closing in and Ralph Houk admitting that he was “praying for rain,” Dwight Evans followed what appeared to be an innocuous third-inning homer with his fifth-inning three-run shot. And when Carney Lansford greeted reliever Roy Lee Jackson with another three-run smash, Bob Stanley came leaping over the bullpen fence for four shutout innings to save this rabbit- out-of-the-hat 9-7 victory over Toronto before 18,627 in Fenway Park. The win kept Boston a half-game behind Milwaukee.
“You think of where we are and you think of all the wins that Stanley, (Mark) Clear and (Tom) Burgmeier are responsible for,” said Houk, who was immediately thinking of the 19 wins and 20 saves his Troika has totaled - roughly two-thirds of the club’s victories (21 and 23 including Luis Aponte).
What is remarkable is the Red Sox’ ability to find ways to get the Troika on the line, and last night, like in the game nine days previous when they erased a 5-0 Texas lead by scoring nine runs over two innings in a span of one out, they charged back with two three-run homers - the second time this season they’ve hit two in a game.
Stieb, who had won four in a row as the front man for the league’s best young starting rotation, found himself with the rare 7-1 lead in the bottom of the third. When Evans hit a towering home run in that inning to make it 7-2 and Stieb breezed through the fourth, it seemed as if he were on cruise control. Then, all of sudden, with the rains bearing down in the fifth, Stieb gave up hits to Glenn Hoffman and Rick Miller (is he always in the middle of these things?) and found himself with Evans at the plate. “This may sound strange,” said Evans, who has 12 homers and 31 RBIs in his last 36 games, “but I prefer playing behind to playing ahead. For some reason, it’s a motivation factor.” And he took a Stieb fastball and rifled it to left, a shot that at the last instant just found the elevation to make the screen inside the foul pole. 7-5.
At that point, Houk had Stanley warming up and was going to bring him in after Ojeda’s solid two inning throw-in. Then Jim Rice hit a pea through the middle and Carl Yastrzemski lined a single to right, and Toronto manager Bobby Cox had had enough. He brought on Jackson, but Lansford jumped on the fireballing reliever’s third fastball and screeched it to the top of the screen. It was 8-7, Red Sox.
And that’s how it was turned over to Mr. Stanley. “I knew I was in as soon as Lansford hit the homer,” said Big Foot. “I hadn’t worked but four innings in 10 days, so I was really strong. Fortunately, I had a really good spitter.” After four horrid innings, things quickly changed - what with a fine Rice running catch and a Rich Gedman throw that cut down Damaso Garcia - but Stanley had what he had to have, and once again the bullpen had found a way to win.
How long can this continue? As the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson would say, God Only Knows. Since May 23, when the Sox were 29-28, the four organization- produced starters - Hurst, John Tudor, Chuck Rainey, Ojeda - have made 37 starts, won nine, lost 15, had one complete game victory and compiled an ERA of 5.11. “I stunk,” was Hurst’s honest explanation. He got behind Garcia leading off, and Garcia singled. Garth Iorg got an infield hit up the middle. Two singles and a walk later, it was 2-0, the bases were loaded and Aponte was in. While Luis got out of that jam with only a run, he gave up four more in the second and third and turned the garbage time baton over to Ojeda, who has a picture over his locker with the caption, “Wanted: Dead or Alive.”
“I’ve been taking a lot of abuse,” said Ojeda. “People think because we wear funny clothes and work on a diamond, they can say whatever they want. Maybe they can. I know I’ve had my troubles, but I’ve had two injured shins and a hamstring pull on the leg I push off. But I’ve worked hard in the bullpen, and think I’ve started to find some things.” It was easy to get work while the Sox were behind, although as soon as Evans hit his homer, Houk was getting Stanley into the game.
“That’s the idea,” smiled the manager. What’s astounding is how they keep finding ways to turn it over to Stanley, Clear and Burgmeier.