"Where will I go when I die?" the rookie asked.
"That depends," the grizzled pitching coach said. "If you keep your fastball on the corners and don't hang your curve and stay ahead of the hitters, you'll go to heaven."
"What's heaven like?"
The coach smiled. "Heaven? Oh, heaven! It couldn't be better. It's 350 feet down the lines, 450 to center, and the wind is always blowing in. And they let the grass grow high in heaven. Ain't no AstroTurf there."
"But what if I don't make it to heaven?" the kid asked. "What happens then?"
"You can't let that happen, son. Because then you spend eternity at Fenway Park."
A pitcher can have a hellish time in Fenway mainly because of an occupational hazard in leftfield known as the Green Monster. Officially, the infamous Boston wall stands 315 feet from home, but an aerial survey three years ago confirmed what everyone had long suspected: it is actually much closer to the plate, 11 feet closer, to be exact. This makes the wall an inviting and frequent target for pop-fly home runs and ricochet doubles. If green walls could talk, this one would tell of the anguished cries and muttered oaths of pitchers trudging to the showers.
These days the Boston pitchers are making that painful walk much less frequently. The addition of some new arms and the revival of some old ones have suddenly given the Red Sox a staff their lusty hitters can be proud of. Unlike last year, when Boston needed eight or nine runs a game to keep the score close and the team in the race, the Red Sox have romped to a passel of lopsided victories, the best record (50-21) in the majors and a commanding 8�-game lead in the American League East.
Last week this potent mix of pitching and power gave the Sox five victories in six tries against New York and Baltimore, their closest pursuers, and extended their recent hot streak to 24 wins in 30 games. Boston not only got its usual abundance of runs—6.7 per game—but also strong pitching from starters Dennis Eckersley, Bill Lee, Luis Tiant and Mike Torrez. Earl Weaver, whose Orioles had bounded into Fenway with an 18-2 streak of their own, was not quite ready to concede the championship but he did admit that the Sox would be extremely difficult to catch. "With this pitching staff they aren't going to have the long [seven-and nine-game] losing streaks they had last year," he said. "The odds are with them."
The gods seem to be with them, too. Boston's four-man starting rotation has a combined 33-8 record, and the team earned run average of 3.37 is fourth best in the league—seven places and 0.80 better than at the same point last year—and the best by a Red Sox staff at this point in the season since 1968. Carl Yastrzemski calls the current staff the finest he has seen in his 18 seasons in Boston, and retired Third Baseman Rico Petrocelli says he can name three seasons, 1972, '74 and '77, when the Sox would have won "for sure" if they had enjoyed comparable pitching.