The Boston Red Sox have lately been gliding along in what tennis players refer to as "the zone," an altered state of confidence in which you feel you can hit whatever you want, wherever you want, whenever you want. Nothing, it seems, can go wrong. In the case of the Red Sox, this condition resulted in bushels of baseballs being smashed over American League fences in the past two weeks.
From June 14 until last Saturday, when Yankee Pitcher Mike Torrez finally managed to take the long ball away from the Sox, Boston's sluggers established a major league record for the most home runs hit over a span of 10 games: 33. The Red Sox began setting records by unloading 16 homers in Games Three, Four and Five of the streak—a total that included four in one inning off New York's Catfish Hunter. And because they added at least one home run in each succeeding game, they kept setting a major league record every day for a week. American League fans had not witnessed anything on a par with this since 1963, when the Minnesota Twins, led by Bob Allison, Harmon Killebrew, Jimmie Hall and Don Mincher, blasted 19 home runs in five games.
"So many of the Red Sox were hot, there was no way to pitch around them," said Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver, whose pitching ace, Jim Palmer, was rocked for five homers in one game during the Boston barrage. "You don't want to walk Fred Lynn to get to Jim Rice, do you? Or Jim Rice to get to Carl Yastrzemski? Or Carlton Fisk to get to George Scott? It was a joke."
Weaver must be developing a macabre sense of humor, because while hitting all those home runs, the Red Sox moved from a half game ahead to four games in front in the American League East. That certainly was no laughing matter to the contending Orioles or Yankees. During three games in Boston, the Red Sox outhomered the Yanks 16 to none, while sweeping the series by scores of 9-4, 10-4 and 11-1. The change from Fenway Park to Baltimore's more spacious Memorial Stadium at the beginning of last week made little difference to the Sox, who slammed out nine more while sweeping four games, 4-0, 7-0, 7-4 and 7-3.
"They were all hit well," said Oriole Shortstop Mark Belanger, "No cheapies. I was getting whiplash from looking over my shoulder."
Only three straight losses in New York at the end of last week prevented Boston from whiplashing its way to a huge lead. But even if the Sox' slugging did not settle the American League East race, in the minds of most Boston opponents it did settle the issue of whether this year's baseball is livelier than the '76 model (SI, June 13). The question Sox players were rightly asking in return was, "If it's just a case of a rabbit in the ball, why isn't everybody setting slugging records the way we have?"
Here is how the Sox socked their way to the records:
?June 14, Boston—In the fourth inning against the Chicago White Sox, Scott launched a 430-foot drive into the centerfield bleachers. Two pitches later Bernie Carbo tagged another one way over the wall in left. Scott added a three-run blast in the eighth to seal a 7-1 victory.
?June 16, Boston—Scott and Designated Hitter Rice each socked his 15th home run of the season, but the White Sox won 7-3, stopping a six-game Boston winning streak.
?June 17, Boston—Lead-off batter Rick Burleson's first-inning fly over The Green Monster in left may have been wind-aided, but the shots that followed in that inning against the Yankees' Hunter would have been out of the Grand Canyon. Boom! went Lynn into the bullpen in deepest right. Boom! Boom! went Fisk high over the screen in left. Boom! Boom! Boom! went Scott even higher over the screen in left-center. Yastrzemski and Fisk stroked two more homers, back to back, in the seventh off Reliever Dick Tidrow.