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Wait until Earl Weaver gets to Jim Russo's scouting report on the Red Sox and reads " McNamara likes to bunt the cleanup hitter in Fenway...." The Boston Red Sox bunt the cleanup hitter? In Fenway Park? Earl has been away for a while, but he would believe Sylvester Stallone breaking box-office records playing Hamlet before he would believe that manager John McNamara would give both Jim Rice and Bill Buckner the bunt sign in the fourth spot in the order-twice in a span of six days. Earl would be even more amazed, given his disdain for the bunt, that each time it came in the middle of a game-winning rally.
The new Oriole manager will just have to see it for himself this week when the teams play a three-game series in Boston. Oh, he'll see the muscles and the potential three-run homers of Rice, Tony Armas, Dwight Evans and Mike Easler, all right. But he will also find that these aren't the Rambo Red Sox of old. After languishing near the bottom for the first seven weeks of the season, waiting in their traditional manner for home runs like farmers waiting for rain, they suddenly came charging through June with a transformed personality. In three weeks, after hitting bottom by losing all four games in Texas, the Red Sox jumped over three teams, swept a series each from Baltimore and Toronto and picked up 6� games on the first-place Blue Jays. The 16-2 binge was accomplished with last year's home run and RBI champion, Armas, out of the regular lineup and the aforementioned slugging foursome hitting sluggishly. "You can have all the sluggers, home runs and big names you want," says McNamara, "but in the end, winning comes down to pitching. And this club is developing the kind of pitching that can win."
As the Orioles learned in Boston's three-game June sweep in Baltimore that essentially ended Joe Altobelli's tenure—they were outscored 22-5—this Red Sox team has an entirely different cast of heroes. The manager and players were acknowledging that the club's most valuable player so far has been their 25-year-old catcher, Rich Gedman. In their hot streak, it was rookie Steve Lyons and Wade Boggs at the top of the order and Marty Barrett and Glenn Hoffman at the bottom who were in the middle of most of their rallies. In a period of eight days their winning rallies—honest, Earl—included a steal of third by Evans and two attempted bunts by cleanup hitters Rice and Buckner. "What we've learned," said Easler, "is that good pitching makes heroes of us all."
In the 18-game period after the fiasco in Texas, Boston starting pitchers had a combined earned run average of 2.49. Oil Can Boyd had risen to the eminence of New England folk hero, and pitching coach Bill Fischer was claiming, "We have as good a starting rotation as there is in the league." The last time a Red Sox pitching coach could make that claim, Babe Ruth was in the rotation—and that's also the last time the team won a world championship.
The Red Sox surge began May 27. At 4 a.m. on Memorial Day, the Red Sox returned home for a 2 p.m. game with the Twins after having lost four straight to the Rangers. They had fallen to 18-24, 10 games and five teams from Toronto.
"We weren't hitting, and the way this team was structured, with so many of the same kinds of hitters, we couldn't manufacture runs," says McNamara.
Pitching had also been a problem. The starters' earned run average was 4.63, and in the 23 games not pitched by Boyd or Roger Clemens, the starters had combined for four wins, 10 losses and an ERA that approached 6.00. By mid-June, however, the Red Sox' pitchers led the league in shutouts and were second in strikeouts and fewest home runs allowed, indications of just how different they were from the sinker-slider types that had plagued Boston managers since Dick Williams.
When Armas pulled a left calf muscle, Lyons had to be pressed into action as the centerfielder. "He's been our catalyst, the guy who got this whole team going," says Boggs of the 25-year-old rookie. Lyons' spark came from his speed and his Pete Rose hustle (opponents call it hotdogging). The first game Lyons replaced Armas, he hit two home runs.
When Toronto came to Fenway last Thursday for what amounted to Boston's first legitimately important series in two years, Lyons led off the first inning by bunting and diving safely to the bag around sprawled Blue Jays first baseman Willie Upshaw; three batters later, the Red Sox were ahead 2-0.
The Red Sox blew that early lead, but went on to win 8-7 when Gedman, playing against all pitchers for the first time in his career, doubled in the winning run off lefthander Gary Lavelle. Friday night Boyd pitched with a sprained wrist suffered while chasing his Doberman pinscher (SI, June 3) and won 4-1 on an 11-hitter.