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In a game that stresses individual talents, it is virtually impossible to explain how an entire team can suddenly, explosively, get hot. Baseball players do not block for one another; they do not set each other up for goals or basets or kill-shots; they do not exchange batons. They are seldom exposed to locker-room orations on the imperatives of winning one for the Gipper. They stand alone at their positions and at bat, drawing nothing more from their comrades than verbal encouragement. And yet baseball teams are more given to streaks, hot and cold, than those in any other sport. And there is simply no explaining this.
No one anywhere had been hotter lately than the Boston Red Sox. No, "hot" is not really the word. "Incandescent," maybe, "brilliant," surely, or even "radiant," or "luminous." And those blinded by their light could only blink in wonder. Pete Rose, the flower of Cincinnati and a man rarely lacking in elucidative skills, was one such blinking victim after the Red Sox shut out his Reds 6-0 in this opening game of the 1975 World Series.
"We'd hit the ball hard and they'd catch it," he said, bewildered. "They'd hit it hard and it would fall in."
"You open the door," said Rose's equally befuddled colleague Johnny Bench, "and they score runs."
Or more to the point, you open the gates of Fenway Park and they score runs, particularly behind Luis Tiant's pitching. In a ball park so snug that for most pitchers it is the stuff that nightmares are made of, Tiant has been unbeatable for a month. His win in the Series opener was his fifth in succession at Fenway, and he had not allowed an earned run in 36 innings. The smart, experienced, hard-hitting Reds were no more successful at solving his baffling assortment of off-and on-speed pitches than the smart, experienced, hard-hitting Oakland A's had been before them in the American League playoffs.
Tiant, however, is but one of a trio of Red Sox ancients who have found youth and inspiration in the pressure cooker of postseason play. The Red Sox are definitely a young team, but the over-30s—Tiant, Carl Yastrzemski and Rico Petrocelli—lighted their way Saturday. Both Yaz and Rico endured subpar regular seasons, partly because of illness and injury. Yaz played much of the year with a sore shoulder and Petrocelli's career was imperiled by an inner-ear ailment that has affected his balance. But aching and dizzy, they were at their finest in the Series opener, driving in runs at bat and preventing them in the field.
It appeared for a while that the game might not be played. It was a gray, damp, drizzly day and rain fell softly on the 35,205 in Fenway and the 50 or more perched on billboards outside it. But the rain never fell hard enough to stop play. And once the game was under way, it looked as if neither team would score, so taut was the pitching by Tiant and Cincinnati's Don Gullett. The Red Sox threatened frequently, but they were as frequently repelled by the outstanding Reds defense. In the first, Fred Lynn, the boy wonder centerfielder, got an infield single with Dwight Evans on second base, the ball bouncing crazily away from Joe Morgan. An alert Dave Concepcion finally retrieved it in time to toss out Evans, attempting to score. In the sixth, with one out, Lynn singled and Petrocelli doubled him to third. Rick Burleson was then walked to load the bases and set up a possible double play. But Cecil Cooper lofted a fly ball to short center field instead. Cesar Geronimo made a running catch and with singular dexterity threw home to Bench, who tagged out Lynn.
Tiant, meanwhile, was holding the Reds at bay with a little help from his friends. In the seventh, with a group of their fans brandishing pennants and calling for them to "Go," the Reds almost got in gear. George Foster led off with a ground single to left, the ball eluding Burleson's groping glove. Then Concepcion hit what appeared to be a bloop single to left. Unfortunately for him, this is where Yastrzemski is playing these days, and it is likely that no one has ever patrolled left field in Fenway the way Yaz does. Playing shallow in this shallowest of major league outfields, he hurried in and made a diving, rolling catch. Foster promptly squelched the little rally he started by getting thrown out by Carlton Fisk on a steal attempt. That, too, was unfortunate, since the next hitter, Ken Griffey, doubled down the right-field line. Only another fielding gem, this one by Second Baseman Denny Doyle on Gullett's tricky rainbow liner, preserved Tiant's shutout.
Angered by this impertinence, the Red Sox turned on the heat in their half of the inning. They had already gotten seven hits off Gullett, a left-handed fireballer, but all had been unproductive. No more. When you're hot, you're hot. Tiant himself opened the door with a lead-off single to left. It was his first base hit since Oct. 3, 1972. Gullett threw Evans' succeeding sacrifice bunt into center field, and Doyle bounced a single past shortstop after first failing to sacrifice. With the bases loaded, Yaz hit a soft liner to right that caught Griffey and, for that matter, Tiant in a moment of indecision, both operating under the delusion the ball would be caught. Griffey misjudged it and when he finally charged after it, he was tardy. When the ball dropped at his feet, Tiant was still standing on third, preparing to tag up after the catch. He eventually arrived home safely, but only one run scored when two should have.