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Memories of '78 Red Sox Collapse Hang Heavily Over Boston

July 20, 1986|RICHARD L. SHOOK | United Press International

BOSTON — I've got a feeling we're going to blow this thing.

--Carl Yastrzemski in 1978

The weekend after the All-Star marks an anniversary for the Boston Red Sox.

The beginnings of an anniversary, actually. It is one which the current Boston Red Sox will be painfully reminded of in the weeks to come.

On the morning of July 19, 1978, Boston led third-place New York by 14 games and would increase its edge on runner-up Milwaukee to nine games that night with an 8-2 victory over the Brewers.

It was a good season for the Bostons--99-64, but 99-64 wasn't enough.

Loss number 64 came the day after the regular season was scheduled to end, the result of a playoff with New York. Shortstop Bucky Dent won it with a home run into the left field screen, relagating the Red Sox to another winter of "what if?"

The current Red Sox hold a healthy lead over their American League East Division rivals, the first time Boston has been in such command since--and here's the part that makes New England gulp--1978.

"People are going to say we'll blow it until we win one," frankly admits Bob Stanley, a fresh young reliever in those days and a battle-tested veteran in these.

Stanley, Jim Rice and Dwight Evans are the only members of that 1978 team still playing for the Red Sox.

"This is the best ballclub I've ever been on," Evans said. "Talentwise, we might be a little bit shy. But this is the best team I've ever been on. This is a better team than 1975 (league champion). This team gets the little things done. We move the guys over, get the sacrifice fly when we need it . . . "

"We're doing more fundamentals," Rice agreed. "We move runners up, go from first to third . . . "

Injuries and a stopper-less pitching staff in 1978 combined to take Boston from nine games up on Milwaukee (and 14 on New York) on July 19 to 3 1/2 behind first-place New York by mid-September.

It is also one of the curiosities of the selective memory that people tend to forget Boston won 12 of its last 14 to gain the tie and forge the playoff that still haunts the club.

"The key thing," in Stanley's memory, "was injuries to (Rick) Burleson and (Jerry) Remy and (Fred) Lynn. Most of the injuries on that club were up the middle--traditionally the most important part of your defense.

"And we didn't have a strong bench," said Stanley, whose second major league season produced a 15-2 log, 10 saves and a 2.60 ERA. "We got Frank Duffy to fill in for Burleson and he didn't do the job.

"I remember Yaz (Carl Yastrzemski) coming in after one loss and saying, 'I've got a feeling we're going to blow this thing' I think a lot of guys felt that. Plus we had a lot of individual guys on that team. They played for themselves. They didn't pull for each other. They didn't care if we won."

"In 1975," Evans said of the year Boston pushed Cincinnati to seven games before falling in the World Series, "we were together. In 1978 we weren't together. We did not jell for some stupid, strange reason."

For a team that didn't jell, Boston certainly made things sticky to the All-Star break in 1978, when it stood 57-26. (This year's team was 54-29 on July 11 after a similar number of games.)

But a hint of the future came on July 9 of 1978, when shortstop Rick Burleson strained left ankle ligaments sliding into second in the first inning of a game.

Boston went 6-12 while he was out, 25-24 from July 17 while New York was going 35-14 (30-13 after Bob Lemon took over from Billy Martin, who resigned).

On July 26 Yastrzemski hurt his back on a swing and missed five games. He missed 13 games with a right wrist sprain Aug. 10 and played thereafter with his wrist heavily taped to protect torn ligaments.

As every swing, especially the missed ones, was painful for Yastrzemksi, so was every throw to second agony for catcher Carlton Fisk, who had a cracked rib.

It was the season Butch Hobson drove in 80 runs and hit 17 home runs batting ninth--and made 43 errors at third, 27 on throws to first made tortuous by floating bone chips in his right elbow. That was in addition to cartilage and ligament damage to both knees.

Second baseman Jerry Remy went down Aug. 25 with a chipped bone in his left wrist suffered when California's Rick Miller slid into him stealing second in the first inning.

Jack Brohamer proved inadequate as a replacement for Remy, Duffy flopped as Burleson's sub and Fred Kendall didn't do well enough to allow Manager Don Zimmer to give Fisk much time off. And aged Bob Bailey had reached the end of the trail even before his road got to Boston.

Evans got dizzy when he ran, the result of an Aug. 28 beaning, and hit .161 (9 for 56) in September with one home run and three RBI.

Boston got dizzy at the start of September, when New York swept seven games between the two clubs in 11 days to shoot past the Red Sox into first place.

"The momentum was with the Yankees," Stanley recalled. "You could just tell they were up--more up for the games than we were."

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