Luis, Pedro, Curt shine in Fenway memories
One observer's Boston favorites as park turns 100 years old
I was at football practice in Groton, Mass., when Ted Williams bid adieu and homered in his final at-bat in September 1960. I was watching in a fraternity house in Chapel Hill, N.C., when Carl Yastrzemski completed his Impossible Dream against the Twins on the final weekend of the 1967 season, then listened on a transistor radio to hear George Brunet get Dick McAuliffe to hit into a double play to ensure that in a year of the improbable, the impossible did happen. Even from a distance, I understood that weekend changed a region's view of sports forever.
Ted's homers in the 1946 All-Star Game, Smokey Joe Wood's third win of the 1912 World Series, which gave Fenway Park its first championship, and the Babe Ruth-Carl Mays-Bullet Joe Bush pitching staff that beat the Cubs in 1918 -- and eventually led to a thousand choruses of "1918" by Yankee fans -- were all black-and-white lithographs in most of our experiences. I was in New York in June 1953 when the Red Sox scored 17 runs in the seventh inning against the Tigers. I was at Fenway in June 1961 when, down 12-5 with two out in the ninth inning, they rallied to win 13-12 against the Washington Senators.
In the first 20-odd years that Fenway Park existed on the corners of Lansdowne and Jersey Streets and Brookline Avenue, the team drifted into a post-Harry Frazee depression in the 1920s. A fire nearly destroyed Fenway, the team finished last nine times in 11 years and it wasn't until after The Great Depression hit did Tom Yawkey buy the team and begin the restoration, a restoration that has a constant reminder of a shamed workout for Jackie Robinson and the fact that the Red Sox were the last of the original 16 Major League teams to have an African-American player.
There were individuals' moments -- Mel Parnell and Dave Morehead no-hitters, Jackie Jensen playing right field, Dick Radatz finishing games and Williams' drive to make an ordinary Wednesday afternoon into something extraordinary. But 1967 changed everything, and a couple of years later the Taylor family that built Fenway and the championship teams from 1912-18 hired me for The Boston Globe, allowing me the memories of my 10 favorite Fenway Park moments of the past 40 years.
1. October 21, 1975, Game 6. It began in the bottom of the eighth inning. Cincinnati, with its vast talent and character and might, was winning 6-3 and was a mere four outs from their expected piece of history, a World Series championship, when pinch-hitter Bernie Carbo whacked a rising line drive into the center-field bleachers, a three-run homer that unfurled four magical innings and set off the ringing of church bells from Charlestown, N.H., to Cohasset, Mass.
The Red Sox had the bases loaded with none out in the ninth; Don Zimmer hollered "No, no!" on a fly to left. Denny Doyle thought he heard "Go, go!" and was thrown out. Dwight Evans then made an 11th-inning catch off a Joe Morgan rocket that may have been the single greatest play in the park's history, which brought them to Carlton Fisk's 12th-inning home run off Pat Darcy and a seventh game -- the last game played in the pre-Messersmith-decision, pre-free-agent era.
"You'd think the Red Sox won that series," Morgan once said. In a way, New Englanders viewed it as a victory, which made 1986 worse and 2004 even better.
2. October 17, 2004. Dave Roberts' steal. A couple of Spring Trainings later, in Scottsdale, Ariz., some Giants players were heckling Roberts about reliving Fenway Park memories with me. That winter, Roberts had been inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame for The Steal, an unforgettable moment in a postseason in which Roberts actually did not have an at-bat. "From the next morning right through this morning," Roberts replied, "in Europe, anywhere, not a day has gone by when someone didn't say 'Thank you.'"
It was Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. The Yankees had won Game 3 by the score of 19-8, and while no team had ever erased a 3-0 deficit, before the game Kevin Millar was telling people that if they won that night, "we can't lose with Pedro, Schill and a Game 7." In the ninth inning, three outs from elimination and down 4-3, Millar walked off Mariano Rivera. Roberts ran for him, stole second, Bill Mueller singled him in. Three innings later, David Ortiz homered and they didn't lose another game until 86 years of curses had been wiped clean.
3. October 2, 1978. Bucky Bleeping Dent. This past weekend, Jerry Remy was sitting in the home clubhouse when he said, "I still wish [Lou] Piniella had missed that ball." Indeed, had Remy's line single bounced past Piniella, who had his glove out and couldn't see it because of the sun, he would have had an inside-the-park home run, the Red Sox would have beaten the Yankees and Remy would have a statue in Boston Common.
It was a season that defined the two teams' history, of light and darkness, a 13 1/2-game Boston lead, a Yankees lead that the Red Sox wiped out in the final eight games to force the decisive game. Boston led 2-0 through six innings and would have led by more but for a brilliant play by Piniella off Fred Lynn with the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth. The came Dent's home run, Piniella's stab in the sunlight and, finally, Hall of Famer Goose Gossage popping up Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski with two on and two out in the ninth.
Eight years later, after the ball went through Buckner's legs, the door to the Shea Stadium press elevator opened and who was standing there ... but Mike Torrez. "I'm off the hook," he exclaimed. It ran that deep.
4. July 13, 1999. The All-Star Game and The Kid bids adieu, again. This was the way the Midsummer Classic is supposed to be. Nearly 10,000 people were in the Fenway streets the night before as Mark McGwire put on his Home Run Derby show, only to lose to Junior Griffey. The starting pitchers were Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling. But it was the pregame ceremony and the players circling Williams in his wheelchair that defined the history of the neighborhood park.
There were few dry eyes. Dwight Evans was a row from me behind home plate, and his weren't dry. This, of course, was the season after McGwire's 70 homers, and as the players gathered around, Ted motioned for McGwire. "What do you think Ted is saying to him?" asked someone in the stands. "He's asking him," I replied, "'Have you ever smelled the burn of the bat?'"
Ted once had asked Don Mattingly about that perfect swing, when the bat speed and the velocity and the seams on the ball produce a burn on a foul straight back, a burn that one can smell. Mattingly knew the smell, although today he says that because there is so much lacquer on bats, it couldn't happen.
After that night in '99, I asked McGwire if that indeed was what Ted had asked him. He nodded. "What are you talking about?" asked Mark Grace.
"It is the private language," I told him, "of the gods."
5. September 20, 1972. El Tiante. In the second half of what had been a season so boring that at times the Red Sox were in last place, Luis Tiant emerged as the greatest sporting figure in New England. He had what Hemingway called "duende," a flair and dash and bravado that teammates knew made him the soul of the team. As he led them into the race in September, there was a magic about him and that night, before he shut out the Orioles to complete a doubleheader sweep that put the Sox in first place, it caused the crowd to rise as he walked to the bullpen, chanting "LOO-EEE! LOO-EEE!" a chant that would be repeated on the walk back in. For the next five years, the chants were a part of the Fenway skyline, and, today, whenever he appears on the field, they begin anew.
New Englanders would see Tiant, Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez pitch for the Red Sox over the next 30-plus years. They argue that Pedro was the greatest pitcher in Red Sox live-ball era history, but the argument still rages: If you had one game to win, would it be El Tiante or Pedro?
6. June 4, 1999. Pedro. This was not about history or curses, this was about arguably the most electrifying player who wore the uniform in the old park. It was a Friday night Interleague game against the Braves -- once housed up Commonwealth Avenue and owned by Frank McCourt's grandfather -- with Boston in first place by a game and a half. Bobby Cox was told before the game to watch the crowd between innings. When Martinez's 5-1 victory over Tom Glavine was complete, Cox had seen what it meant to be at a Pedro Martinez event. "I've never been at a park where the crowd only goes to the concession stands when the home team is coming to bat," said Cox.
No one ever left his or her seat when Pedro was pitching, because Pedro might do something never before seen, and because he, Williams and Ruth are the greatest players to ever wear a Red Sox uniform in Fenway Park.
7. April 29, 1986. Roger Clemens. Clemens' 20-strikeout game was a night of brilliance and the overture to a historic career.
8. October 1-2, 1983. Carl Yastrzemski's final weekend. Yes, Indians pitcher Dan Spillner tried to groove a pitch in his final at-bat but Yaz, whose early career was tormented by comparisons to Williams, popped up, but his victory lap to the fans began a baseball tradition carried on by Cal Ripken and others, and two hours after the game he sat on a stool inside a gate signing autographs, with fans lined up down the block from Van Ness to Boylston Street.
9. August 1, 1973. The fight. This was the greatest fight in Red Sox-Yankees history, only there is no video (I have a picture on my wall) because it wasn't on television and the local stations would film a couple of innings and head back to the studios. The teams were tied for first place on this Wednesday afternoon. It was 2-2, top of the ninth, Thurman Munson on third, Felipe Alou on first, Gene Michael hitting, John Curtis pitching. Michael tried a suicide squeeze and missed. As Munson charged down the line, Fisk flattened Michael out of the way with an elbow, Munson crashed into Fisk, a wild brawl broke out and Fisk not only was punching Munson with the ball in his hand, but had Michael's throat pinned in the dirt with his forearm.
The Major, Ralph Houk, then the Yankees manager, later called it "the worst fight I ever saw." Jason Varitek's mugging of Alex Rodriguez in 2004 had more meaning because Mueller beat Rivera with a ninth-inning home run and it was a highlight of the end of 86 years, but the 1973 fight was the beginning of the entire Billy Martin/Bill Lee era.
10. Oct. 25, 2007. Curt Schilling. The Red Sox had rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the ALCS to beat the Cleveland Indians, and after rookie Dustin Pedroia took Jeff Francis into The Monster seats in the opener of the World Series against the Rockies, there was little drama in Game 1. But in Game 2, there was a 16-out performance by a Hall of Fame pitcher named Curt Schilling that defined his transformation from fireballer to winner and tells us why the man has three World Series rings. At that point in his career, Schilling was throwing in the mid-80s. To reassure him, the interns who kept the radar gun and posted the velocity on the scoreboard would put up 89s and 90s occasionally to fuel Schill's ego, but the man was throwing 83-85 mph and winning. He went 5 1/3 innings to get to Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon and send the Red Sox to Denver up 2-0 in the Series with the 2-1 victory.
People remember Ted and Rice and Yaz and all the runs scored, but watching Luis Tiant, Pedro Martinez and Schilling win huge games with guile, not style, provide some of the greatest memories of the past 40 years of what John Updike called "the lyric little bandbox."
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.