Monday, August 21, 2006

1978 'Boston Massacre'

On Sept. 7, 1978, there was hope for elusive peace in the Middle East as Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat were in secret meetings with President Jimmy Carter at Camp David. Pope Paul VI had just passed away and was succeeded by Pope John Paul I. Keith Moon, drummer for The Who, died on this day of a drug overdose.
It was the age of disco and "Saturday Night Fever." Olivia Newton-John was singing "Hopelessly Devoted to You" in the smash-hit "Grease." And hopelessly devoted to the Boston Red Sox were their fans who could not have known that it would be more than another quarter-century before they would win it all.

This was the start of a four-game series at Fenway Park against the rival New York Yankees, and what happened that week at a much different time in America obviously is not forgotten now. With the Yankees completing a five-game sweep of the Red Sox on Monday at Fenway Park, there are widespread mentions of baseball's original "Boston Massacre," even "Son of Massacre" references.

What happened in 1978 always would remain part of the lore of The Rivalry, for better or for worse, depending on who was telling the story. Here is a look at what happened:

Sept. 7: The Red Sox had built a lead as high as 14 games in midsummer and appeared poised to dethrone their rivals, who had just won the previous World Series to end their own 15-year drought. But the gap in the American League East standings had been narrowed to just four games entering this series, due to a combination of Boston injuries and a hot streak by the World Series champs. Billy Martin had resigned, and now the Yankees were cruising under the low-key managerial style of Bob Lemon.

Boston had gone 25-24 since July 24. During that same time, the Yankees had gone 35-14. "We're not thinking of a split," Yankees outfielder Mickey Rivers said. "We're thinking of all four."

Assigned to stop the bleeding back home at Fenway was Boston starter Mike Torrez, who was looking for his 16th victory. He faced Catfish Hunter in the opener, and the tempo was set immediately. Torrez lasted one inning. The Yankees had a 5-0 lead after two innings, 7-0 after three, and 12-0 after four. The final score was 15-3. Willie Randolph -- these days managing the Mets with no such divisional drama -- drove in five of those runs by himself. He was one of three Yanks with three hits, along with Thurman Munson and Roy White. Ken Clay was the winner, in relief of Hunter.

Sept. 8: This game pitted two rookie starters -- Jim Wright for the Sox and Jim Beattie for the charging Bombers. The destruction on the field and the tension in the stands was much the same. The Yankees collected 17 more hits, and the Red Sox committed an unfathomable seven errors. New York won, 13-2, and now the 14-game deficit was down to just two tenuous games.

In two games, the Yankees had cranked out 28 runs to Boston's five, outhitting the Sox 38-14. Worst of all were the combined nine errors by the home team.

"Boston's got the best record in baseball," Yankees super scout Clyde King said. "I could understand if an expansion team fell apart like his. It can't go on like this."

Sept. 9: Red Sox manager Don Zimmer put his best pitcher out on the mound for the third game of the series. It was future Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, who had been 16-6 and had won his last nine decisions at Fenway. It was the rough equivalent of the 2006 Red Sox summoning Curt Schilling to stop the bleeding in this latest reprisal.

The Yankees, however, were able to counter in that third game with Ron Guidry. He was 20-2 heading into this start, mixing his fastball and slider in a practically untouchable way that season. Boston could not touch him; this one was 7-0, Yanks.

One game back.

Even Carlton Fisk, the Red Sox catcher, was asking the question: "How can a team get 30-something games over .500 in July and then in September see its pitching, hitting and fielding all fall apart at the same time?"

On the opposite side, Reggie Jackson had an explanation of his own: "This team is loaded with tough guys. This team is loaded with professionals."

Sept. 10: The finale was the only game that could be construed as close in some manner. Rookie Bobby Sprowl started for the Red Sox against Ed Figueroa. The Yanks built a 6-0 lead through four innings. They held on to win, 7-4, for Figueroa's 16th victory, leaving Fenway tied atop the AL East with an identical 86-56 record after one of the greatest comebacks during a Major League regular season.

It was billed as the "Boston Massacre," and when it was all over, the Yankees had accounted for 42 runs and 67 hits (58 of them singles) in just four days. Boston had managed just nine runs and 21 hits, to go along with a dozen errors. The Yankees won all four games by an average margin of over eight runs.

In the four games, Lou Piniella was 10-for-16 with five RBIs, White was 8-for-15, Randolph 8-for-16 with six RBIs, Munson 8-for-16 with three RBIs, and Rivers 5-for-13. A Yankees shortstop named Bucky Dent was 7-for-18 with seven RBIs.

Of course, he would save his best for later that fall. A week after the Boston Massacre, the Yankees took two of three from the Sox in the Bronx to pad a division lead. Boston heroically fought back and forced a one-game playoff, at which point Dent put himself into rivalry lore by hitting the homer at Fenway that sent the Yankees on their way toward an eventual repeat World Series championship.

Red Sox fans probably could do without the history lesson, presuming such pages to be closed after what happened in 2004. But after what has happened these past few days at Fenway, the story must be told again.

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BallHype: hype it up! Posted by Steve Kenul at 4:21 PM


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