The image of Carlton Fisk trying to will his long drive to left field fair with his body are familiar to anyone that followed the 1975 Red Sox, and virtually every baseball fan in the country. Fisk’s 12th inning home run won what many have maintained is the greatest World Series
game ever for the 1975 Red Sox over the Cincinnati Reds. But how many people actually remember how the Series got to that point, and the eventual fate of the 1975 Red Sox? Without the heroics of several players on both sides, Game Six between the Reds and the 1975 Red Sox would just have been another post-season contest.
The 1975 Red Sox were a mix of young players like rookies Jim Rice and Fred Lynn, and savvy veterans such as Carl Yastrzemski and Luis Tiant. They held off the Baltimore Orioles to take the American League East by four and a half games, and handily dispatched the defending champion Oakland A’s in a three game sweep to win the pennant. Yastrzemski batted .455 in the American League Championship Series, and the pitching staff of the 1975 Red Sox gave up only 19 hits in the three games to Oakland. The Reds were in the middle of their “Big Red Machine” dynasty, having been to the Series in 1970 and 1972, losing both times. Their 108-54 record was 20 games superior to the second place Dodgers in the NL West, and the Reds easily beat the Pirates for the National League pennant in much the same way that the 1975 Red Sox had handled Oakland.
The two teams met for Game One in Boston’s Fenway Park with one very important element missing. The 1975 Red Sox were without the services of first year slugger Jim Rice, who had been hit on the wrist with a pitch while playing the Tigers late in the season. Rice had been instrumental in the 1975 Red Sox rise to power, with 22 homers and 102 RBI. Rice actually tried to talk his way into the lineup, but it was obvious that he was not anywhere near close to playing shape and the 1975 Red Sox continued on without him.
Game One was a cakewalk for the 1975 Red Sox, as Luis Tiant, the colorful Cuban, baffled the Reds with an array of pitches from every angle. Tiant had gone 18-14 at age 34 for the 1975 Red Sox, and when Boston batted around in the sixth and scored a half dozen runs, “El Tiante” coasted to a five hit shutout. The Reds were on the verge of going down 2-0 to the 1975 Red Sox in the second game, when they scored two ninth inning runs off of Dick Drago with two out on hits by Dave Concepcion and Ken Griffey Sr. As exciting as this contest was, the next one would be as controversial.
In Game Three Dwight Evans poled a two run home run in the ninth inning at Cincinnati to pull the 1975 Red Sox even with the Reds at 5-5, but the Reds won the game in extra innings with one of the most debated plays in World Series history. With Cesar Geronimo on first with a single, pinch hitter Ed Armbrister tried to sacrifice him to second. What happened next depends on what team you rooted for. If you were a fan of the 1975 Red Sox, batter interference should have been called when Armbrister’s bunt was fielded on a bounce by Fisk, who then attempted to throw to second to force the runner. However, Armbrister did not clear the batter’s box, and Fisk threw the ball into centerfield after he got tangled up with him. Geronimo went to third and Ed was safe on first as the 1975 Red Sox argued to no avail that Armbrister interfered with the throw. Pete Rose was walked intentionally, and after Roger Moret got a strikeout, he gave up a single to Joe Morgan and the Reds had a 2-1 series lead when they could easily have been down 3-0 to the 1975 Red Sox.
The 1975 Red Sox sent Tiant out to pitch Game Four, and he survived an early onslaught to pitch a complete game. He walked four and gave up nine hits, but his courageous performance was enough to win when the 1975 Red Sox scored five times in the fourth inning, keyed by big hits by Evans, shortstop Rick Burleson, and Tiant himself. The Series was at 2-2, but not for long as Don Gullett hurled into the ninth inning the next night and Tony Perez homered twice in an easy 6-2 Reds victory. The 1975 Red Sox headed home needing to win both tilts to become champions.
Things started well in Game Six when Fred Lynn hammered a three run homer off of Gary Nolan to stake the Red Sox to an early advantage. Lynn would be named the American League’s Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player when the season was over, the only player to capture both honors in the same season. He sprayed line drives everywhere, had decent power, and made spectacular catches seemingly every day. He and Rice had been dubbed the “Gold Dust Twins”, both coming up together from the Boston farm system.
Boston was pitching Tiant once more; he was fully rested since there had been rainouts that forced the Series to wait for clear weather. Tiant struggled mightily, but kept the Reds off the scoreboard until the fifth, when Griffey tripled in a pair and Johnny Bench singled him home to tie the game. When George Foster doubled home a couple of runs in the seventh off of Tiant, and Geronimo homered to open the eighth, the Red Sox were staring at a 6-3 deficit with just six outs left.
Lynn singled to open the bottom half of the eighth, and when veteran third baseman Rico Petrocelli walked, the 1975 Red Sox had something cooking. But Rawly Eastwick relieved and promptly struck out Evans, and Burleson lined out to left. Up to the plate stepped Bernie Carbo, a former Cincinnati outfielder who had hit 22 homers in 1970 for the Reds. In 319 at-bats for the 1975 Red Sox, Carbo had hit 15 home runs. In one of the greatest moments in Red Sox history, Carbo took an Eastwick delivery and turned it around, sending it into the centerfield bleachers for a game-tying three run home run.
The game went to extra innings, where Dwight Evans stabbing catch of a Joe Morgan drive to right headed over the short wall, and subsequent throw to first to double off Griffey, not only saved a home run, but ended the inning. Rick Wise came in to pitch the 12th for the Red Sox, and worked into, and then out of,9 a jam. Fisk then led off the Sox 12th with his drive right down the left field line off of Pat Darcy. The ball stayed fair for a home run, and a cameraman in Fenway’s rat trap of a scoreboard unintentionally followed Fisk out of the batter’s box and caught on tape his now classic body English to keep the ball fair, only because he was trying to avoid a rat that must have decided to take a look at the proceedings for himself.
Now with the Series even and a Game Seven looming, the Red Sox turned to flaky left-hander Bill Lee to take the mound against Reds’ ace Don Gullett. The game was scoreless until the Red Sox tallied three times in the third; Yastrzemski’s single the big hit of the inning. Lee was working well, in little trouble until the sixth. With Pete Rose on base, Lee decided to throw Tony Perez what can only be described as a lob pitch. Perez provided all the power, and drove the ball over the Fenway “Green Monster” in left to bring the Reds within one run at 3-2. When Series MVP Pete Rose, who hit .370 for the seven games, singled Ken Griffey home in the seventh off of Roger Moret, the score was tied. It would remain there until the top of the ninth.
The 1975 Red Sox were managed by Darrell Johnson; he would be fired in ther middle of the next season, mostly because of his decision to bring in rookie Jim Burton to pitch the ninth with the Red Sox on the verge of a title. Burton had thrown a bit over 50 major league innings, and many thought that Johnson should have turned to Reggie Cleveland, or not pinch hit for Jim Willoughby in the eighth and let him try to close out the Reds. Burton immediately walked Griffey to start the ninth, and Geronimo bunted the father of a future Hall of Famer to second. Pinch hitter Dan Driessen grounded out, moving Griffey to third. Burton walked Rose, and then Joe Morgan blooped a soft single to center to bring in the lead run. Cleveland came in to get Perez on a fly ball to right, and the Red Sox were down to their last three outs.
This time the magic bag was empty, as Will McEnaney came in to get the 1975 Red Sox out in order. Yastrzemski made the last out, a fly ball to center. Ironically, he would foul out to third to end the dramatic Red Sox-Yankees playoff game three years later and never get a ring. Fans of the Red Sox were left with a winter chock full of what-ifs. What if Rice had been healthy? What if the Red Sox hadn’t blown the second game in the ninth? What if Armbrister was called for interference in Game Three? What if Johnson hadn’t brought in Burton? Ah, Jim Burton. The poor fellow, who had been guilty only of letting Joe Morgan lift a little fly off the end of his bat to beat the Red Sox, would pitch exactly one more time in the big leagues, in 1977, and faded away from the sport, a cruel reminder that for every hero in the game of baseball, there has to be a goat.