John Dopson was on his way to a complete-game shutout. Well, not really.
There was little chance Butch Hobson was going to let Dopson pitch the ninth inning last night at Fenway Park, despite a brilliant eight innings in which he threw only 95 pitches and had the New York Yankees pounding the ball into the ground.
“They’d have hung me if I hadn’t brought Jeff Reardon in,” said Hobson after a 1-0 win over the Yankees in the start of a four-game series.
So Reardon came into a tight spot and chalked up his 342d save -- one more than Rollie Fingers -- for the all-time lead. But if not for Phil Plantier’s fifth-inning homer off Scott Sanderson, it might never have happened as the Sox’ weak offense produced only three hits in support of Dopson, who improved to 3-2.
Reardon, 13 saves ahead of former Sox reliever Lee Smith, will receive lots of requests and demands on his time after the historic accomplishment. The Hall of Fame will ask Reardon to provide a ball, a cap and perhaps a uniform to put on display in Cooperstown.
Especially meaningful was that Reardon broke the record against the Yankees, the team he dreaded as a Red Sox fan growing up in Dalton. He retired the heart of the Yankees’ order -- fellows such as Mel Hall and Roberto Kelly, who made his life miserable at times last season.
Reardon faced nemesis Hall to start the ninth. Hall stroked a game-winning three-run homer off Reardon on Memorial Day last season at Yankee Stadium. Last night, Reardon retired him on a ground out to first base.
Reardon went 2-and-2 to Kelly, another painful subject. Reardon allowed a game-tying homer to Kelly last Sept. 22 to blow a big game. Last night, Kelly flied to left field.
The third man he pitched to, Don Mattingly, was quickly in the hole 0-and- 2, sending two line-drive foul balls down the right-field line. Tony Pena went out the mound to have a quick word with Reardon, then Mattingly stroked a single to right field, bringing up Kevin Maas.
Reardon, after some off-speed pitches, threw the gas by Maas for a swinging strike three, his 15th save in 16 chances this season.
Reardon, who saved 152 games for the Montreal Expos, 104 for the Minnesota Twins and 10 for the New York Mets, notched his 76th for Boston and 12th against the Yankees.
“I was the most nervous I’ve ever been other than a World Series,” Reardon. “My heart was pumping. I was happy about the fans’ reaction. They usually don’t get too excited like that. They were nice to give me a nice ovation. And all the stuff really counts and really gives the edge to do it.”
Long before the save was secured, Frank Viola, Tom Brunansky and Roger Clemens had outlined a game plan to celebrate the achievement.
“We had no idea when it was going to happen, so it was tough,” said Viola, like Brunansky a former teammate of Reardon’s in Minnesota. “But we decided we were going to lift him on our shoulders and take him to his wife. You know Jeff, he’d just walk back to the dugout.”
Champagne was out because Reardon is allergic to it.
Right after Reardon struck out Maas, the trio stormed out of the dugout to congratulate him, then hoisted him on their shoulders and carried him in the direction of Phebe Reardon.
Clemens, who has known Reardon for some time because they have the same agent, said Reardon balked, and asked to be put down, but the trio refused.
“I told him he was going for a ride,” said Clemens. “He kept saying, ‘Put me down,’ and I kept saying, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to drop you.’ “
The only things that dropped all night were Dopson’s pitches. The righthander, who missed nearly two years because of reconstructive elbow surgery, improved to 3-2, allowing five hits. He continued to follow the master plan of not overthrowing his sinker.
“I didn’t have the kind of velocity I did the last time out vs. Baltimore last week,” said Dopson, “but I got the ground balls and I did pretty much what I did the last time. About 75 percent of my pitches were sinkers.
“These are probably the best two games I’ve put together in my career, after probably the worst two games of my career.”
Dopson struck out two, walked two and was helped by Yankee base runners. Two were thrown out trying to steal, and Mike Greenwell nailed another -- Mike Gallego -- with his first outfield assist, as Gallego tried to stretch a single into a double in the eighth inning.
“I slid and my right hand stuck,” said Gallego. “I didn’t get it to the bag. It took a perfect throw to get me, and he made a perfect throw.”
On Opening Day, Plantier belted a 2-and-1 Sanderson pitch into the right- field stands at Yankee Stadium on his first at-bat. One hundred and seventy-six at-bats later, Plantier struck again, this time flicking a 2-and-0 fastball into the net leading off the fifth inning.
“I was just trying to make contact,” said Plantier. “Actually, I was trying to hit it more toward center field.”
It was the first hit off Sanderson, and it marked Plantier’s third homer off the righthander in six at-bats.
“I did not know that,” said Plantier in his best Johnny Carson.