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The last was the toughest
Peter Gammons
September 24, 1979
No. 3,000 for Carl Yastrzemski was only a ground ball, but it set off fireworks
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September 24, 1979

The Last Was The Toughest

No. 3,000 for Carl Yastrzemski was only a ground ball, but it set off fireworks

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When it came, it came simply and—considering the occasion—undramatically, a routine ground ball just past the reach of Yankee Second Baseman Willie Randolph with two outs and no one on in the ninth inning of a 9-2 game. But the point was that it had come, at last, and as Carl Yastrzemski rounded first base shortly after 9:39 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 12, the celebration began. Horns blared, streamers sailed from the bleachers, and the message board blinked "3000/3000/3000." Yaz had his 3,000th hit, becoming the 15th player to get that many in the majors and the first American Leaguer to have 3,000 hits and 400 home runs.

As the game was stopped and teammates, Yankees, family, fans, photographers, owners, politicians, publicity hounds and security guards engulfed Yastrzemski, his face showed the strain of the previous few days. "I just wish it were over," he had said repeatedly to the horde of newsmen who had followed him. Now it was.

"I know one thing," Yaz said when he stepped to a microphone that had been brought to the first-base coach's box, "this one was the hardest of the 3,000." He laughed and continued, "I took so long to do it because I've enjoyed all those standing ovations you've given me the last three days." Then, seriously, "I've faced all kinds of pressure situations before, but none of them ever bothered me. This did. I was almost embarrassed I hadn't gotten it the last couple of days."

The ordeal had really begun two and a half months before. On June 30 Yaz homered off old friend Luis Tiant of the Yankees for a 3-2 Red Sox victory. That hit, in the season's 72nd game, was the 2,950th of his career and gave him a batting average of .306, with 16 homers and 53 RBIs. To his teammates it seemed certain that only those among them who held mid-August dates in the clubhouse pool on No. 3,000 had a chance of collecting the $210 in the pot.

But that day Yastrzemski's right Achilles tendon became inflamed, and soon the left one started bothering him, too. He limped through the second half of the season. The pain in his ankles became so severe that he played in sneakers. By Wednesday night he was playing first base with spikes on his left foot and a sneaker on his right. When he came to bat in the ninth, he had hit only .220 with five homers and 26 RBIs since June 30. Yaz, 40, was looking it.

Hit No. 2,999 had come on his last at bat on Sunday, Sept. 9, so that it seemed reasonable he would get the big one the next night. On Monday evening, scalpers were getting $50 a ticket on Yawkey Way, local pols came piling out of their limos, and as Yastrzemski stepped to the plate with two out in the first, everyone in Fenway Park stood and roared for him. A plane circled overhead flashing YAZ—3,000, and with each pitch from Baltimore's Dennis Martinez, thousands of flashbulbs flickered in the ball park.

Well, the flashbulbs kept flickering, pitch after pitch, for three days and 13 at bats. Yastrzemski flied out his first time up Monday and went 0 for 4 for the night, admitting, after going 24 games without a walk—and this is the man who is fifth on the alltime list in walks—that he was "anxious and swinging at pitches I normally would never swing at." In the first inning Tuesday he faced the Yankees and Tiant, whom Yaz calls "brother," and finally did walk, to begin an 0-for-3 night against Tiant, Ron Davis and Rich Gossage.

Yastrzemski tried to pretend that none of this was getting to him. At 4:15 each afternoon he threw batting practice to his 17-year-old son Mike and performed his usual clubhouse pranks, but the strain on him and everyone around him was beginning to show. By Wednesday night scalpers were getting only $12 a seat. There were no planes overhead, and only two banners remained in the bleachers. Yaz' four children were missing school in Florida. They were part of a family entourage of 26 that Yaz kiddingly said was "making this the most expensive hit of my career—they're costing me $600 a day."

Catfish Hunter walked Yastrzemski his first time up Wednesday and was roundly booed for it. But the standing ovations for Yaz continued, even as he made outs his next three times up against Hunter and Jim Beattie. After he hit a grounder to second in the sixth, Yastrzemski had had 12 plate appearances, and had gone 0 for 10 with two walks, since 2,999; he was 1 for 18 and 13 for 78 in the countdown. If he failed in this game, he would have to face Ron Guidry, who's murder on lefthanded hitters, the next night. If he missed then, he would have to wait a full week because Manager Don Zimmer had decided The Hit should come at home, and the Red Sox were about to embark on a seven-game road trip.

Beattie, who'd grown up in Portland, Maine idolizing Yastrzemski, tried a fastball, and Yaz pulled it past Randolph and into rightfield. With that, bedlam.

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