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It was only a matter of time before one of Boston's finest would approach the young couple relaxing on a blanket beside the Charles. Like the other sun worshipers stretched out along the river from the Hatch Shell to the Harvard Business School, these kids were guzzling the nectar of the gods at an intoxicating rate and listening to a pocket transistor radio that was turned up loud. But they were sunning themselves in the nude, and while au naturel may be acceptable at Big Sur, it is banned in Boston. So now the policeman stood next to the naked couple, and what did he say? "Hey," he said, pointing to the blaring radio, "how're the Sox doin'?"
Man, the Sox are doin' just fine. They are impersonating some of those aggressive teams over in the National League and, with a 4�-game lead over Cleveland on Sunday, scenting victory in the American League East. What the Red Sox really are doing, though, is ruining the summer vacations of millions of New Engenders. Families still flock to beaches along the jagged Maine coast and down on the Cape and out on Narragansett Bay, and they still swarm to the cool mountain lakes up north, but life wears a worried face when the Sox are locked in a pennant fight. They are the Sox, mind you, not the Red Sox. If you call them the Red Sox, people know immediately that you are from New Jersey or Kentucky or Utah or maybe some other world.
In the summer of '74 New England man takes his radio or his portable television set with him wherever he goes. Golfers keep radios in their bags or on their carts to check on the Sox score between strokes, improvising still another excuse for a poor shot: "I shanked that ball at the seventh because Yaz had just hit into a double play with the bases loaded." Yaz, not Carl Yastrzemski. If you say Carl Yastrzemski in New England, people know you are from Mississippi or Saskatchewan. One sun addict at Popponesset Beach on Cape Cod watched a Sox game on television while sitting with his feet in the ocean, thanks to what must have been the world's longest outdoor extension cord—to be precise, seven 50-foot wires spliced together and running from a kitchen outlet across the dunes and down to the water's edge.
Despite their flaming love affair with the Sox, the people in New England don't seem to understand them anymore. "These guys are really different," said super fan Henry Berry, sounding almost like a jilted lover. Berry lives in Darien, Conn. and is vice-president/historian of the BLOHARDS. The Benevolent Loyal Order of Honorable and Ancient Red Sox Diehard Sufferers make occasional chartered-bus trips from Connecticut to Fenway Park to see their Sox live, and last week Berry sat there in stunned disbelief as he watched the Sox play the Minnesota Twins. "These aren't the old Sox," he intoned.
O.K., call them the Boston Reds Dodgers. In the old days, like last season, the Sox won games only when they beat down The Wall in left field with line drives, which was not very often. Running? To the pay window, maybe, but not on the field. Defense? That's the position Bobby Orr plays for the Bruins. Spirit? The Sox clubhouse was the scene of so many subversive plots that the CIA, the FBI and the CYO could not have kept track of who was doing what to whom.
The new Sox play daredevil baseball. "We're a National League team," claims Reggie Cleveland, who had pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals the four previous seasons. In a July game against Baltimore, Outfielder Dewey Evans stole home while the Orioles were preoccupied trying to prevent Catcher Bob Montgomery from stealing second base. Montgomery, who lumbers, already has stolen three bases, or two more than he had pilfered in the last eight years. In a game against the Yankees the Sox worked a boldly successful two-strike suicide squeeze with Bernie Carbo at the plate and Rico Petrocelli, no Lou Brock, chugging down the line from third base. And they beat the Athletics 2-1 when Rick Miller scored shortly after stealing second and then Tommy Harper raced around from first with the winning run on a blooper down the left-field line.
"We make things happen now," says Yastrzemski. "We don't wait for the long ball off The Wall anymore." Yastrzemski and Evans gleefully befuddled the Twins last Saturday with base running that produced a score for the Sox. Yastrzemski was at second and Evans was at first, and brash rookie Shortstop Rick Burleson bounced a routine double-play ball to Minnesota Second Baseman Jerry Terrell. Rather than flip the ball to the shortstop for the forceout, Terrell tried to tag Evans. But Evans stopped abruptly, began to backtrack—and the confused Terrell had to throw the ball to first base to retire Burleson. Craig Kusick then tossed the ball to Terrell, who noticed that Yastrzemski had rounded third base and was headed for the plate. Forgetting Evans, he pegged the ball home in an attempt to get Yastrzemski, but Yaz beat the throw easily. Evans smartly continued to second base and then scored on Doug Griffin's single to left field.
For Sox fans still haunted by the memories of such blunderers as Bootsie Buddin and Stonefingers Stuart, the new look is astonishing. It was planned that way. When Darrell Johnson replaced Eddie Kasko as manager, he said the Red Sox would be a go-get-'em team with solid pitching, tight defense and no—repeat no—palace revolts. In rapid order the Sox traded away Reggie Smith and Lynn McGlothen, among others, acquired Pitchers Rick Wise, Diego Segui, Juan Marichal and Cleveland; promoted Burleson, Centerfielder Juan Beniquez and Designated Hitter Cecil Cooper from Pawtucket; and produced a new uniform design that features bright red socks instead of blue socks with red and white stripes. The Red Sox are the red socks at long last.
What Johnson did not know as he planned his order of battle was that Wise would prove to be practically useless because of a variety of arm ailments; that arm troubles would also keep Marichal disabled for 10 weeks; that Cleveland would throw home-run pitches instead of strikes; and that Catcher Carlton Fisk, the player the team could least afford to lose, would suffer crippling groin and knee injuries and end his season in June. "If it were not for our injuries," says Yastrzemski, "I don't think there would be any race to worry about right now."
Marichal has returned with a kicking flourish, winning three games and permitting only one run in his last 26 innings. He admittedly had poor stuff during the six innings he worked against the Twins last Friday night, but he bewildered them with an assortment of off-speed pitches and screwballs that he released from a dozen different positions in his delivery. Marichal is probably the only righthander in the American League who throws a screwball, a pitch that breaks sharply down and in against right-handed batters and down and away from lefthanders. Marichal faced Rod Carew three times, and each time he double kicked and got him out with a screwball that left Carew wondering what that baseball was doing behaving like that.