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WHERE THERE'S SMOKE, THERE'S LUIS
Myron Cope
May 07, 1973
Once a baseball tragedy and now the object of adoration in Fenway Park, Luis Tiant puffs dollar cigars everywhere but on the playing field. There he fires tantalizing fastballs from astonishing angles
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May 07, 1973

Where There's Smoke, There's Luis

Once a baseball tragedy and now the object of adoration in Fenway Park, Luis Tiant puffs dollar cigars everywhere but on the playing field. There he fires tantalizing fastballs from astonishing angles

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In any event, while in the process of winning his sixth consecutive game for the Twins, Tiant fired a fastball with such force that his shoulder blade broke. The hairline fracture put him on the disabled list for two months, and by the time spring-training camps were ready to disband the following March, the Twins bade Luie good luck and gave him his release. Casting around, he accepted an arrangement with Atlanta whereby if he pitched for their Richmond farm club for a month or so and proved he still possessed a big-league arm, the Braves would bring him up. As it turned out, he proved himself not to the Braves, who released him, but to the Red Sox, who had been watching. They snatched him.

Their reasoning, as told by Eddie Kasko, was the essence of simplicity: Why wouldn't a onetime star be a good risk under a short-term contract to a club not exactly spilling over with pitching talent? "At Minnesota," says Kasko, "he'd had physical problems but not arm trouble. A fractured shoulder blade is not arm trouble. The guy who tears a muscle has troubles, but a fracture heals. Darrell Johnson, our manager at Louisville, told us, 'The guy is not sharp but he's sound.' So we said, 'Well, hell! A 20-game winner, sign him!' "

Easing Luie along at Louisville for less than a month and then polishing him in the Boston bullpen, the Red Sox kept him on a rigid year-round conditioning program that he followed to the letter, lavishing thank-yous upon Buddy LeRoux. Gradually Kasko saw Luie's sharpness return. Then, when starter Ray Culp had to undergo surgery last August, Kasko reached out and fetched his restored Cuban urn from the bullpen.

Fenway crowds are not let's-go-Red Sox crowds. Rather, they worship the cult of personality. Not since huge Dick Radatz stood on the mound gesturing with his massive arms had Red Sox fans had so flamboyant a pitcher they could embrace. On the night of Sept. 20, against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway, when Tiant entered the ninth inning of his sixth shutout, passions erupted with an intensity no Fenway oldtimer could recall. As Luie took the mound, leading 4-0, nearly 29,000 fans arose as one to deliver a pitch-by-pitch ovation to the very end.

"The Baltimore hitters were completely under his control," Reggie Smith remembers. "It was like he was pushing buttons or as though he had some kind of magnet that held their bats back. He'd go to 3 and 0 on a hitter, then strike him out. With 3 and 2 he was throwing sliders and curves. It was unbelievable."

Ponderous Boog Powell thrashed futilely at a third strike. Terry Crowley popped to the shortstop. Then Brooks Robinson walked but Don Buford, providing a suitably dramatic finish, went down swinging. The roar of acclaim that had begun with Luie's first pitch of the inning hung in the air like the smoke from a thousand saluting cannons. "I never seen nothing like that in baseball," Luie said not long ago, and for once, deeply touched, he was at a loss for words to elaborate.

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