In a city that considers any structure erected after 1776 Art Deco, Fenway Park, circa 1912, scarcely rates as a historical landmark. None of the thick red lines painted on Boston sidewalks to direct summer patriots toward the various cradles of liberty is aimed at the old ball park. And that is an oversight, for last week, at least, history was repeating itself there so faithfully that even such a living monument as Johnny Pesky, circa 1942-52, could remark, "This reminds me of the old days."
What jogged Pesky's memory was a four-game series between the Red Sox and the Yankees that had all the elements of the confrontations of a generation or more ago when he was the Boston shortstop and the two teams were perennial contenders. No matter that it was only late June, less than halfway through the long season. First place was the prize, individual honors were at stake and the fans, red lines or no, were finding their way to Fenway in standing-room numbers. And this intimate little brick stadium, when filled or even half filled, lends itself to more excitement than any of the concrete colossi that pass for ball parks in cities with less regard for tradition. Fenway's fans are so close to the field that their own reactions become a part of the action, inspiring heroes, discouraging foes.
True, there was no DiMaggio in either center field this time, no Ted Williams guarding the left-field wall and breaking down the right, and no Peskys, Rizzutos or Doerrs manning the inner defenses, but these were the best teams the two old rivals had fielded in some years. The Red Sox are especially blessed, having such superb young players as Centerfielder Fred Lynn, 23, the American League's runs-batted-in leader with 54; designated hitter Jim Rice, 22, a .291 batter with 10 home runs; First Baseman Cecil Cooper, 25, who hit .538 for the Yankee series; and shortstop Rick Burleson, 24, a fine fielder and near-.300 hitter.
In one sense, the two teams are defined by their catchers. For New York there is Thurman Munson, squat, roughhewn, aggressive. For Boston there is Carlton Fisk, angular, patrician, vulnerable. Munson is a scrambler, rooting about behind the plate, belly-sliding on the bases, punching out timely, if unspectacular, hits, playing, despite two .300 seasons, in relative anonymity. Fisk is as famous for not playing as Munson is obscure while playing. He is the master of the comeback, who, after an outstanding rookie season three years ago, has been unable to repeat his triumphs because of a succession of improbable injuries. He hurt his knee less than halfway through last season and then, while still recuperating in spring training, broke his throwing arm. He returned to the lineup last week in the grand manner, slugging a home run in the opening 6-1 win over the Yankees Thursday night as Munson, his frustrated rival, quietly seethed.
" Munson and I have been running one-two for the past few years," Fisk said charitably. "Anytime we play against each other, it's a big thing personally. I don't know whether it's contagious with the rest of the players."
"I have no ill feeling toward Carlton," said Munson, although the two came to blows two years ago after a collision at home plate. "I feel sorry for anybody who gets hurt the way he has. The only thing I've ever said detrimental about him is that he seems to get more publicity while I'm having better years. I've played six years, a couple of them pretty good ones. He's really only had one good year. I'm not jealous of anyone. I don't want to take anything away from him. I just don't want anything taken away from me."
Being shortchanged by the media seems an odd complaint from an athlete playing in New York, particularly from one who is hitting .341, but Munson, despite his bulldog skills and his refreshing candor, appears to be about as well received by the big town's press as Mayor Beame's budgets. He also seems to have a flair for the undramatic. On the night Fisk hit his comeback home run, Munson hit a ball nearly as far that was fielded deftly off the high wall by Carl Yastrzemski and fired into second base ahead of the Yankee's frantic slide. Fisk had a homer; Munson had a long single—and an out.
The Yankees do have some glamorous players, such as Catfish Hunter and Bobby Bonds, but for the most part they have become, as Boston Pitcher Bill Lee characterized them, "a team of vagabonds with bad wheels." Only eight of their 25 players were reared in the farm system, and they have played for much of the season with a crazy-quilt lineup, the result of injuries which, at one point, felled the entire starting outfield of Roy White, Elliott Maddox and Bonds, all with bad legs. Maddox is still out and Bonds and White are playing hobbled. Still, entering the Fenway series, the Yankees were in first place in the American League East, 1� games ahead of the Sox, and had a 19-5 won-lost record for June, testimony to the excellence of a pitching staff bulwarked by the crafty Hunter.
But pitching was their weakness in the first two games of the series and it was the strength of a Red Sox staff that had a collective earned run average of 4.32. On Thursday night, before 34,293, the largest Fenway crowd of the season, the Yankees scored one run in the first and then were blanked the remaining eight innings by paunchy, 34-year-old Luis Tiant, he of the corkscrew windup. Even the lone run cannot be credited to a power attack; paradoxically, it was scored as the result of a sensational Boston fielding play. Walt Williams, the foreshortened outfielder who with some justification is called "No-Neck," led off the game by being hit with a pitch. He advanced to second as the limping White walked. Chris Chambliss then hit a scorching liner to right field that looked to be a three-run homer. But Bernie Carbo made a running one-hand catch before colliding with the fence. Carbo fell backward, stunned, as Williams tagged up at second and continued home before Bernie could regain his feet.
This minuscule advantage was soon dissipated, however, as the Red Sox scored three times in both the fourth and seventh innings. Lynn was responsible for three of the runs with a two-run triple past a flailing Williams and a run-scoring single.