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