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But where is the hot hitter a winner almost always has? Yaz was that man the last time Boston won, getting 10 hits in his last 13 times at bat. He could be that man again, even though his overall statistics are far below the standards of excellence he has set for himself. Through last weekend he was batting only .268 and had but eight homers and 55 runs batted in. His career averages are .293 and 23 home runs and 85 RBIs.
Of Baltimore, Yastrzemski said, "Everything I read about Frank Robinson interested me. He was the guy you feared. I suppose they do miss him. The thing that might be missing most is that he helped their young players learn the game. There are a lot of things about leadership that fans don't truly understand. And you have to remember, we were pretty close to Baltimore in August of last year and then lost a tough game to them and fell away. This year two of our young pitchers, John Curtis and Lynn McGlothen, have done a fine job and Fisk has come on to be a heck of a good catcher and a good hitter. Those elements were not with us in 1971."
"We are a team that found itself," he says. "We have discovered that if we play the way we are capable of playing we can win it all. The central figure is Yaz, and he is in a tenuous position. Everyone looks to him to be the leader, but he really isn't that kind of guy. Everyone pushed the leadership on him and Yaz did not seem to want it." He just went out and played the best he could. Then, all of a sudden, it seemed that Yaz was excited. I know that when I pitched and he started playing first, no one pulled harder for me. The other veterans got excited, too. I would read in the papers where Luis [Aparicio] said we had a chance at the pennant or that Rico [Petrocelli] said we could win it. The guys who had not been through it saw the veterans get enthused. Then we did, too. It was both a spontaneous and contagious thing."
Eddie Kasko, Boston's manager, is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Great Race. He just doesn't seem to get any respect, at least not in some parts of the Boston press. Earl Weaver, Ralph Houk and Billy Martin have signed contracts for 1973. Kasko's contract had not been renewed by the end of last week, even though his team was out ahead with only 16 games left to play.
Kasko is a quiet, scholarly man with a fondness for pistachio nuts. His handling of Fisk and Boston's other young players has been exemplary, but his best move came very late. It was on Aug. 19 that he shifted Yastrzemski from left field to first base, a position Yaz has played in the past and prefers. "When I'm playing left," he says, "I tend to bring a bad time at bat to the outfield with me and brood. At first base there isn't any time for that because you are in the game all the time." And lo, the Red Sox have won 19 of the 25 games he has played at that position.
Reggie Smith, Petrocelli and Yastrzemski are the only Red Sox remaining of the 1967 vintage. "We were so young then," Petrocelli reflected last week. "Everything seemed so good. We thought it would never end, that the good times would go on forever. They didn't even last through 1968."
In echo of Petrocelli, a small banner hung from the top deck at Fenway last Saturday: REMEMBER '67. The crowd was small (17,335) by Fenway standards, but if the Sox noticed the empty seats they did not let on, playing perhaps their finest game of the season as they beat the Indians 10-0. Tommy Harper led off the Boston first by reaching the nets above The Wall. Fisk pumped a high homer to left center in the second, and when he returned to the dugout the first man to greet him was Yaz. His cap was off and a huge smile lit his face. In the third Yastrzemski came to bat with Aparicio on first and homered into the center-field seats. Yaz produced another RBI, and another, and then Kasko sent a runner in for him so the crowd could give him an ovation as he trotted off the field. It was a nice touch that, for Boston fans have been dinning boos upon his head for months because of his so-so hitting.
Fisk's home run was his 22nd of the season, the most ever for a Boston catcher, and his arm is so strong that he may elect one day to throw a ball from Bellows Falls, Vt. to Dedham, Mass. without letting it bounce in Lowell or Keene. He is strong-willed, too, in the pattern of New England's baseball stars. In August, Fisk suggested publicly that the Red Sox would be a much better team if Yastrzemski and Smith played up to their potential and salaries instead of moping their way through the summer. Fisk said he was misquoted when he saw his words in print, but since then Boston has played close to .650 baseball. A number of players and newsmen had said much the same thing; it was not until Fisk weighed in that they were taken seriously.
Unlike most catchers, Fisk hits a lot of triples and runs the bases well. He constantly plays down his abilities as a catcher—properly so; a Johnny Bench he is not. Yet. But he has assumed one of the toughest jobs in baseball, taking over a pitching staff as a rookie. Quite successfully, too. Today, in the huge souvenir shop across from Fenway, large stacks of Fisk color photographs are positioned right next to those of Yaz.