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'Put a fork in them'

Football season is here to distract mourning Nation

Posted: Tuesday August 22, 2006 1:15PM; Updated: Tuesday August 22, 2006 2:45PM
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Jim Rice didn't have much to say during the original Boston Massacre in 1978.
Jim Rice didn't have much to say during the original Boston Massacre in 1978.
Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images
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I have a friend, a transplanted Red Sox fan, who recently moved to Cleveland and was losing his mojo. There are transplanted Red Sox fans all over, some, like Ben Affleck, as far away as L.A., so I'm imagining this taking place from coast to coast. Anyway, my friend couldn't get a hold of The Boston Globe, so before the recent Yankees series he sent a plaintive e-mail to a group of us looking for words of encouragement.

The BoSox could do it, right? All they needed was some quality starts from Curt Schilling, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett. The defense was fine. The offense, led by Big Papi and Manny, was strong. The closer, Jonathan Papelbon, could finish the deal.

The Sox were just a game and a half back at the time. But no knowledgeable baseball fan in the Hub was really fooled. Boston's pitching reeks. Thus one of the e-mails my friend got back said: "I know a journalist who did a Lexis-Nexis search of the Globe archives. He found the phrase 'Put a fork in them, they're done' had been used something like 100 times with regard to the Red Sox."

This was before the Yankees swept the five-game series at Fenway, a drubbing already being referred to locally as the Boston Massacre, 2006.

I happened to be in my first summer writing for Sports Illustrated during the first Boston Massacre, in 1978. The Sox had a four-game lead in early September, and my editors, looking ahead to the playoffs, sent me and veteran SI scribe Ron Fimrite to Fenway Park to prepare features on two of the Red Sox stars. Fimrite drew Carl Yastrzemski, the team captain and a famously churlish man. My assignment was to profile slugger Jim Ed Rice.

The Red Sox lost the first game of that series 15-3. Their lead, which had been as high as 14 games in July, was now down to three. I pulled into Boston in time to see them drop Game 2 13-2. By the mood in the Red Sox clubhouse, you'd have thought Johnny Pesky had died.

I waited by Rice's locker. He eventually showed up having just showered. He was dripping wet and stark naked, save for a towel around his powerful shoulders. I introduced myself, trying to inject the proper amount of sensitivity to the occasion, an acknowledgement that his team was now in a full-fledged pennant race. Then I got down to business. "My editors have asked me to do a story on you which they can run in the next couple of weeks," I said. "Do you think you might have some time to talk away from the park?"

This was before ESPN or sports radio, back in the good old days when athletes were actually flattered to receive attention from a national magazine. Generally they were happy to oblige your interview requests. Rice, however, gave me a long, penetrating look. I would not describe the look as aggressively hateful, but it was one I personally reserved for cockroaches or surprises left by dogs beneath my shoe. Rice then put his towel over his head and began to vigorously rub his hair dry. Without uttering a syllable, he spun on his heel and retreated into the bathroom. Those were the last words he never said to me.

I was younger and more sensitive then, so this was a terribly hurtful experience. Fortunately, the highly respected Fimrite went through much the same thing with Yazstremski. So it wasn't just me. The Red Sox, deservedly I thought, were swept by the Yanks in the next two games, 7-0 and 7-4. They committed 12 errors in the series and were outscored 42-9. Eventually, of course, they lost a one-game playoff to the Yankees on Bucky Dent's pop-fly home run.

No such theatrics await the team this year, I'm sorry to say. Put a fork in them, Globe archivists, they're done. Nearly a quarter of the season remains, and a wild-card slot is within reach, but they leave town a beaten team. The last time the Red Sox suffered a five-game sweep at Fenway Park was in 1943, and to have that shellacking administered by the hated Yankees has broken the spirit of the team. Outscored 49-26 in the series, it marked the first time in the team's history the pitching staff gave up 12 or more runs in three straight games. As I said, the pitching reeks.

My friend in Cleveland? Like the rest of us, he's moving on. His latest e-mail? "It's football season, fool. Go Pats."

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