All these years later the memory remains evergreen of a near perfect New England Autumn weekend punctuated by moments one insists have never been surpassed in the long storied history of Boston Baseball ...
For much of September that unforgettable year it was like the veritable calm before the storm; a lingering spell of uncertainty in which many dared not believe that what was happening was actually happening. Such had been the depths of this team's long and dreary malaise. Bursts of hope mixed with lapses of brooding as the four-team pack at the top of the American League standings remained packed.
By mid-September, Tony Conigliaro had been declared lost for the duration although he did wander by one day; even tried some swings at soft batting-practice lobs before heading to the clubhouse to chat with his old mates. But it was awkward. In a brief encounter with Manager Williams -- with whom he'd never been close -- there was a discernible chill.
Relentlessly true to form, Williams was pressing buttons furiously in near manic attempts to find a sustaining lineup meeting his ever mounting demands. No one save Yaz, Lonnie, Adair and maybe Reggie Smith seemed spared from his harsh judgments and occasional wrath as the suspicion among Knights of the Keyboard up in the Press box rises that maybe he's panicking himself, squeezing his overachieving troops too tight. Meanwhile Owner Tom Yawkey -- totally out of his shell -- is giving interviews and declaring his team will never move while he's in charge, no matter how long they're "forced" (his word) to play in their old beat-up ballpark. Everyone cheers. The stage is set.
With precisely two weeks and 14 games left they are tied for first with the Tigers and Twins, a game ahead of the White Sox. Only to blunder horrendously by getting swept by the totally-out-of-it Orioles. They score just five runs in three games in their own chummy ballpark looking dead in the process. It's a lost weekend that clearly looks ruinous.
But the season's governing pattern -- that just when things look bleakest they instantly revive -- obtains again. In Detroit, trailing by a run with two gone in the ninth in their most vital game yet of the season, the by-now irrepressible Yastrzemski cranks a majestic homer to tie it, his 40th and arguably lustiest. In the 10th, the often inscrutable Dalton Jones homers for the winner, dealing as well a near death-blow to the Tigers. They are staggering unquestionably. But they make it back home still very much viable for the last week starting with the Indians who, as usual, are going nowhere.
Hapless perhaps, but the Indians have pitching. They always have pitching. Luis Tiant -- soon to be a Fenway favorite but not on that day -- stones them, besting Gary Bell 6-3. Williams then panics asking the near-impossible of the near-matchless all- season Lonborg on only a two-day rest. It's the implacable Stanford lad's worst outing, getting shelled in the second en route to a 6-0 whitewashing by Sonny Siebert. In the Clubhouse afterwards, Gentleman Jim rages and Yaz skips early. Cracks are forming. But once again, when things get darkest they brighten. Just hours later, the moribund Royals sweep Eddie Stanky's White Sox, effectively eliminating them. But the Tigers are still alive and the Twins are one up with two games left; both against Minnesota.
All these years later the memory remains evergreen of a near perfect New England Autumn weekend punctuated by moments one insists have never been surpassed in the long storied history of Boston Baseball; not in 1912 for all its glorious legend, or 1975, its high drama notwithstanding, nor even in 2004, no matter the merits of the argument.
When on Saturday they beat the Twins 6-4 on a gutty Jose Santiago effort and another titanic 3-run blast by the by now out of orbit Yaz, the stage was set for the grand finale. Jim Lonborg against Dean Chance; young, stylish and rakish right-handers on top of the world being both 20-game-winners and the AL's best that season. A classic was promised. At St. Eulalia Church in Winchester that morning Father Fay began with a prayer seeking divine intercession on behalf of the Red Sox and the entire congregation rose and chimed in. The place was shaking.
It of course all came down to that one half-inning; last of the sixth, down 2-0 with Lonborg pitching terrific but Chance a tad luckier. Every wonderful detail of that immortal frame remains forever etched. And it all began with a bunt.
Leading off, Lonnie takes note of Cesar Tovar playing deep at third so the ever enterprising fellow promptly shortens-up and drops the ball down the line and when he crosses first safely the massive crowd (had to be at least 45,000 there) explodes into a colossal din that never dips the rest of the inning, rattling the Twins fiercely. A little bunt lit the fuse.
Adair singles. So does Jones bringing up Yaz whose single screams to center driving home Lonborg and Adair. Harrelson's high-bouncing squib somehow confounds Versalles as Jones scores. Worthington replaces Chance and uncorks two wild pitches as Yaz scores. Smith's liner hobbles Killebrew and Tartabull scores.
It's 5-2 and while the Twins would have one last gesture, which the valiant Lonborg gracefully withstands, it's soon enough the ninth and Rico Petrocelli is circling under a high pop-up off the bat of Rich Rollins praying for the thing to come down and it does, right in his glove. Whereupon as Ned Martin artfully observes, "All hell is breaking loose on the ballfield."
There was a little matter of a World Series yet to consider. But as the jubilant mob bore Lonborg and his mates off on their collective shoulders it almost seemed irrelevant.
Clark Booth is a renowned Boston sports writer and broadcast journalist. He spent much of his long career at Bostonís WCVB-TV Chanel 5 as a correspondent specializing in sports, religion, politics and international affairs.
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