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They still have a Hawk, but instead of Yaz, there's Zup; the backup catcher is Melvin, not Howard; Tony C's place has been taken by Q; and the Boomer is now the Hit Dog. The names have changed, but for the denizens of New England, it's 1967 again.
That was the year of the Impossible Dream, a Boston Red Sox season that began with little hope and ended with an American League pennant. This year the Red Sox were again given little chance on Opening Day, and things looked hopeless as recently as June 21, when Boston was in fifth place, 13 games out in the American League East. Back then manager Butch Hobson's job was in danger, trade rumors were humming and Fenway Park wasn't.
A month later the fans in the Fens were humming an encore from Man of La Mancha ("To dream the impossible dream..."). As of Sunday, having won 10 straight games and 25 of their last 30, the Red Sox were in a three-way tie for first place with the New York Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays. Their 10th straight victory was an 8-1 drubbing of the Oakland A's, a team that once owned them, and it featured a grand slam by the Hit Dog, first baseman Mo Vaughn, and a two-run shot by the Hawk—outfielder-DH Andre Dawson, not Ken Harrelson.
It sure seemed like 1967 on Sunday as the players boarded the bus that would take them to the airport for a 13-game, 14-day road trip. Hundreds of the Bosox faithful waited around to shout their good wishes. The team left home with the fifth-best record in baseball, and Hobson had a new contract extension to go with his new reputation as a great manager to play for.
"We have a long way to go," says Hobson, "but I know what these guys are made of: nails and glass and grit and anything else you throw at them. I would love to have played with these guys."
He certainly loved watching them last week. In sweeping a three-game series from the California Angels and a four-game set from the A's, Hobson could thank everyone from A (rookie pitcher Aaron Sele, who won games on Monday and Saturday) to Z (spare outfielder Bob Zupcic, who drove in big runs on Monday and Friday).
Hobson was the third baseman on some pretty good Red Sox teams from 1976 to '80, but they were bashers. These Sox are part Fletcher, part Hatcher and in large part pitchers. Scott Fletcher and Billy Hatcher, two journeymen, are two of the biggest reasons the Sox are once again tilting at windmills. Fletcher, who was signed as a free-agent utility infielder in the off-season, is hitting .296 as the starting second baseman and leadoff hitter, playing well below his 35 years. The Red Sox are 44-21 in games he has started and 10-22 in games he hasn't.
Hatcher was acquired last year from the Cincinnati Reds (for pitcher Tom Bolton, thank you) as an extra outfielder, but the 32-year-old was starting in centerfield and hitting .318 at week's end, playing excellent defense and doing for the Red Sox what Kirby Puckett does for the Minnesota Twins. On Friday night Hatcher scored from second base on an infield out.
Red Sox fans, take note: Hatcher is a great guy to have for the playoffs. He had a World Series-record seven straight hits for the Reds in 1990, and he's a lifetime .404 hitter in the postseason. He has also become the spiritual leader of this Boston team, handing out the symbolic Hit Man Jacket after every win to the batter who most warrants the honor.
The blue warmup jacket with HIT MAN across the back is the property and inspiration of batting coach Mike Easier, who was known as the Hit Man in his playing days. "You wear it, you enjoy it, you deserve it," says Easier, who deserves much of the credit for the improved Red Sox offense. "You can do anything you want with it, but you can't take it home."