... the Carlton Fisk home run game, when the Red Sox catcher's blast off Fenway Park's left field foul pole decided that dramatic 12 inning nail-biter.
Most New England baseball aficionados whose memories go back four decades and more, when asked to name their choice for the greatest single game of their lifetimes, opt for Game Six of the 1975 World Series. That's the Carlton Fisk home run game, when the Red Sox catcher's blast off Fenway Park's left field foul pole decided that dramatic 12 inning nail-biter.
That was a great game, but it's not my choice for the greatest one that I ever witnessed.
I didn't like it's outcome, but I think the greatest game I ever saw was the 1978 playoff game between the Red Sox and Yankees. The Bucky Dent game.
To set the scene, the Red Sox had opened up a 14-game lead on New York by the middle of July, but then fell into a prolonged slump, which was exacerbated by health problems, and the only two weeks left in the season they trailed the Yankees by three and a half games. Then, miraculously, they got hot and caught New York on the final game of the regular schedule behind the pitching of Luis Tiant.
It came down to one final playoff game, winner take all. The Sox starter was 16-game winner Mike Torrez, who was matched against the best pitcher in baseball that year, Ron Guidry, who would win the Cy Young Award with a record of 25-3, while leading the American League in ERA.
In the first inning with two runners on, Reggie Jackson sliced a long fly to left that looked like it would clear the wall for a homer, but a brisk breeze was blowing in and knocked it down. Yastrzemski made an outstanding catch in the corner and the threat passed. In the bottom of the second, Guidry gave up only the second home run hit off of him all year by a left handed batter when Yaz parked one in the right field grandstand. The Red Sox added another run in the sixth and carried a 2-0 lead into the seventh inning. Torrez, perhaps tiring, gave up singles to Chris Chambliss and Roy White but had two out when the Yankees number nine hitter came up. It was Bucky Dent, who had hit only four homers that year. Ominously, though, the wind had shifted and was now blowing out to left field.
Dent fouled the second pitch of the at-bat off of his foot and went down in a heap. The New York trainer raced out to tend to him and it looked for several minutes like Dent would be unable to continue. Maybe Torrez was trying to conserve his energy, but he did not throw a single warm-up pitch during the five-minute delay. When Dent did step back into the batter's box, Torrez threw a slider and -- well you know what happened. Dent hit what appeared to be a routine fly to left, so much so that Torrez pounded his glove and headed for the dugout, but the ball got caught up in the brisk autumn breeze and barely cleared the wall. Suddenly the Sox trailed, 3-2. Before the inning was over, New York had scored one more on a Thurman Munson double and the Yanks were now in command.
In the eighth inning, Jackson extended the lead to 5-2- with a long home run to center field. With New York's fearsome Hall of Fame closer, Goose Gossage, in the game, things looked bleak for the home team. But the Red Sox got to Gossage for two runs in the bottom of the eighth and went into the last of the ninth behind by only a run.
Rick Burleson drew a one-out walk and up came Jerry Remy. Remy hit a hard line drive to right, where Lou Piniella was blinded by the sun, which set behind the third base grandstand in the late afternoon. As Piniella stood stalk still in fairly shallow right field (Remy was not a long ball threat), Burleson, thinking the ball might be caught and not wanting to end the season by getting doubled off at first base, held up.
Piniella finally saw the ball as it skipped off the ground about six feet in front of him, and, looking more like a hockey goalie than an outfielder, reached out and stabbed it as it was about to go by him. Had he not made that desperate grab, the ball would have gone all the way to the bullpen wall a hundred or so feet behind him, Burleson would have scored the tying run and Remy, a speedster, would have had at least a triple. As it was, Burleson, who had held up, could advance only to second base and Remy was held to a single. Jim Rice, that year's American League MVP, followed with a long fly to right field. The ball was hit high enough for Piniella to see it clearly and he made the catch while Burleson easily tagged up and advanced to third base.
With the tying run on third, two outs, and the season in the balance, Carl Yastrzemski, who by this time in his career had become a beloved elder statesman, and who had already played a pivotal role in this game, came up. It had all come down to this, in baseball's most historic park, in a do-or-die situation between the game's fiercest rivals, with two future Hall of Famers, Gossage and Yaz, facing off against each other; it was the most intense moment I have ever felt at a ballgame.
Then, in an instant, it was over. On his second pitch, Gossage threw a fastball on the inside corner at the knees and Yaz, trying to turn on it, got underneath it and popped it up just to the foul side of third base where Graig Nettles squeezed it for the final out.
I will never forget watching from my seat behind first base as Yaz returned glumly to the dugout while in the background, right by third base where Nettles caught the final out, the New York Yankees celebrated gleefully.
I was anything but gleeful but it was the greatest game I ever saw.
- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.
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