- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Some people masquerading in Boston uniforms have been romping through the American League in this merry month of May. Whoever they are, they can't be the Bosox. Red Sox are always awesome hitters and awful pitchers, toe-to-toe sluggers who fail to go the distance. Red Sox traditionally are going, going, gone.
But so is their old image. The Bosox who led the AL East by one game at the end of last week with the best record in the league, 23-12, have been scoring runs politely, pitching exquisitely and fielding fetchingly. "We don't beat you to death anymore," says Pitcher Dennis Eckersley. "We just beat you."
Through Sunday these darned Sox had won 21 of their last 28 games. They were 10-5 in one-run games, as opposed to a 14-15 record in close calls last year, and they had come from behind in 11 of their victories. And the Red Sox now win away from Fenway Park; they are 13-5 on the road.
By the score of it, Boston's 10-5 victory at Kansas City last Saturday seemed like a game from the past, but it was fairly typical of the new Boston team. Only one of the runs came on a homer, by Dave Stapleton, as the Red Sox beat the Royals' Black (Harry) and Blue (Vida). Tony Perez, who had turned 40 the day before, drove in three runs, and Dwight Evans had two doubles, each good for an RBI, and four walks. Mike Torrez started for Boston, but after he gave up a three-run homer to George Brett in the seventh, on came Mark Clear, who shut down the Royals for his seventh save of the year.
The bullpen has been superb, with Clear, Tom Burgmeier, Bob Stanley and Luis Aponte having combined for eight wins, 11 saves and an ERA of 2,27 through Sunday. The defense had made only two errors in its last 12 games. One of the few familiar things about the Sox is the man they call Yaz. Although Carl Yastrzemski had missed seven of the team's last 10 games because of a pulled groin, he was hitting .330 with five homers and 21 RBIs, all team highs.
In a way, the Red Sox are the inverse of that old Branch Rickey aphorism, "Luck is the residue of design." General Manager Haywood Sullivan has assembled a well-balanced team somewhat by accident. He made an excellent trade after the 1980 season, sending Rick Burleson and Butch Hobson to the Angels for Third Baseman Carney Lansford, Centerfielder Rick Miller and Clear. Actually, Sullivan would have settled for another pitcher, Fred Martinez, who's no longer in the majors, instead of Clear, but Angel Vice-President Buzzie Bavasi was generous to a fault. The Red Sox also lost Centerfielder Fred Lynn, getting next to nothing in return, and Catcher Carlton Fisk, for whom they received zilch.
So what happened? Lansford batted .336 to lead the league in '81. Miller's average in his second tour with the Red Sox is about 50 points higher than Lynn's with the Angels. Platooning catchers Gary Allenson and Rich Gedman have given Boston more run production than Fisk has given the White Sox. Glenn Hoffman, a year removed from the pressure of replacing Burleson at shortstop, at week's end had 21 RBIs, 10 of which had either tied the score or put the Sox ahead, and was fielding quite nicely.
Sullivan's master stroke, though, was hiring 61-year-old Ralph Houk after the '80 season. The Major has proved to be an adept handler of pitchers and an even more adept handler of men. "I thought he would be too old," says Yastrzemski, of all people. "Heck, he's even younger than I am."
The players like Houk because he doesn't play favorites, second-guess or keep anyone in the dark. "He's a genius at motivating players," says Tony Kubek, who played for Houk in New York. "He never belittles you, but if you don't hustle, he has this very intimidating stare. He'd even give it to Mantle."
Houk's positive attitude caught on last year, when the Sox surpassed almost everyone's expectations by finishing a close second in the AL East in the second season. Theirs is a happy clubhouse, though not too long ago it was a snarling one. "No more jealousies, just pats on the back," says Evans. "If we'd been this together in the mid-70s, there's no telling how many games we would've won. It's all Houk, it's all him."