September 21, 2019

The Ultimate Seven-Game Fall Classic: Game Six

November 11, 2010 by · 4 Comments 

In part one of my Ultimate Seven-Game Fall Classic series, I featured Game One of the 1988 World Series between the Oakland A’s and Los Angeles Dodgers, won by the latter on Kirk Gibson’s walk-off two-run homer off Dennis Eckersley, ironic because it was Eck who coined the phrase “walk-off piece.” Part two featured an epic 14-inning battle between the Boston Red Sox and Brooklyn Robins in Game Two of the 1916 Fall Classic in which Babe Ruth went the distance. For Game Three, I stayed in the Deadball Era and featured Dickie Kerr’s surprising victory over the Cincinnati Reds in the 1919 World Series that was tainted by the Black Sox scandal.

For Game Four, I went with the Athletics’ amazing seventh-inning comeback from an eight-run deficit at the hands of the Cubs to an improbable 10-8 victory. Game Five was a no-brainerDon Larsen’s perfect game against the Dodgers in 1956. Game Six is widely regarded as the greatest game ever played on a baseball diamond, in October or any other time of the year, and knotted the combatants at three games apiece in what turned out to be an epic Fall Classic.

October 21, 1975—Cincinnati Reds at Boston Red Sox: The 1975 World Series between the Cincinnati Reds and Boston Red Sox is arguably the greatest Fall Classic ever played, and Game Six had a lot to do with that. After Boston cult hero and whirling dervish Luis Tiant blanked the “Big Red Machine” in Game One on only five hits for a 6-0 victory, the Series became a back-and-forth affair in which Games Two through Four were decided by one run. The Reds plated two in the top of the ninth of Game Two to win, 3-2; Boston scored two in the top of the ninth of Game Three to force extra innings, only to lose, 6-5 in 10 innings; then Tiant came back and tossed a gutsy Game Four in which he threw 163 pitches in a complete-game, 5-4 win.

Game Five went to the Reds, 6-2, behind staff ace Don Gullett, who went 8 2/3 innings before giving way to Rawley Eastwick, who earned the save. Heading into Game Six at Fenway Park, Cincinnati needed only one win to cop its first World Series title since 1940. The Red Sox needed to win the next two to grab their first championship since 1918.

Cincinnati had dominated the regular season schedule, going 108-54 and finishing 20 games ahead of second-place Los Angeles before sweeping the Pittsburgh Pirates in convincing fashion to earn its third pennant of the decade. Their 108 wins are still the third most in National League history (tied with the 1986 New York Mets), and the most since the Pirates won 110 in 1909. They boasted baseball’s best offense, plating 5.19 runs per game against a league average of 4.13; the third lowest ERA at 3.37; and the second most efficient defense behind the Dodgers at .717. The Reds’ roster included five All-Stars—Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Dave Concepcion, Pete Rose and Tony Perez–the N.L. MVP (Morgan), and four men who would eventually be inducted into the Hall of Fame—Bench, Morgan, Perez and manager Sparky Anderson—and a fifth, Rose, who would have been if not for his gambling problem.

The Red Sox went 95-65, their highest win total since the 1949 squad won 96, edged the Baltimore Orioles by four and a half games, then swept the three-time defending A.L. champion Oakland A’s in the ALCS. They led the league in runs per game at 4.97, but their pitching staff ranked 9th in the league with a sub-par 3.98 ERA, and they were only a hair above average in defensive efficiency at .704. Boston boasted only two All-Stars—rookie center fielder Fred Lynn and 15-year veteran Carl Yastrzemski—but had the league MVP and Rookie of the Year in Lynn and three future Hall of Famers in Yaz, Carlton Fisk and rookie Jim Rice. Unfortunately Rice was knocked out of action when his hand was broken by a Vern Ruhle pitch on September 21 and wasn’t available to the Red Sox in the postseason.

On the other hand, Rice’s injury forced Yastrzemski from first base and back to his old familiar left field spot, where he dominated the A’s with diving stabs, leaping catches at the Green Monster and laser throws that cut down Oakland runners on the basepaths or kept them from advancing. “I can play left field in my sleep,” Yaz reminded reporters prior to the ALCS. Indeed. The 36-year-old gunned down speedy shortstop Bert Campaneris at third base in the third inning of Game Two, then did the same to Reggie Jackson in the fourth inning of Game Three.

But it was his spectacular diving stop of Jackson’s hit in the bottom of the eighth that proved to be the back-breaker, as Yastrzemski was able to hold Jackson to a run-scoring single that put runners on first and third with one out, instead of a two-run triple that would have pulled the A’s to within one and put the tying run only 90 feet away. Joe Rudi bounced into an inning-ending double play and the Sox held on for a 5-3 win and an LCS sweep. Yaz’s play on Jackson’s hit was so impressive the slugger later waxed, “Only two people could have made that play: Carl Yastrzemski and God.”

The World Series had been dogged by wet weather and things got especially bad between Games Five and Six, forcing the teams to wait out a rain storm that soaked the Fens and caused the sixth tilt to be postponed three times before the Series resumed on October 21. “If we get rained out Saturday, it’ll just be a stay of execution,” bragged Joe Morgan.

After three days of waiting, Charles Maher of the Los Angeles Times tallied up the score: “Reds 3, Rain 3, Sox 2,” he wrote. The delay also allowed newspapers to print off-the-field news that covered everything from Boston southpaw Rogelio “Roger” Moret’s disappointment at not starting and desire to leave the organization to Rico Petrocelli’s fainting spells to a death threat leveled at umpire Larry Barnett and his family after a controversial call in Game Three went against Boston.

Moret had gone 14-3 with the Sox, splitting his time between the rotation and bullpen, and paced the junior circuit in winning percentage at .824. “I don’t know why I am sitting on the bench so much,” the lefty told Norman Unger of the Chicago Defender. “This year I win 14 games and lose only three. No one else on the club had a record that good. Now when the big one comes, I am going only in relief.” He may have had a point. In his 16 starts, Moret went 10-3 with a 3.49 ERA; in his 20 relief appearances, he went 4-0 but with an ERA of 3.97 that was almost a half-run higher.

Then the Puerto Rico native continued about his desire to play elsewhere after the season. “You know, brother, just like I do, that Boston is not the friendliest of cities in the United States,” Moret continued. “I say there is nothing wrong with things here, but I would be happier playing with another city.” Moret went on to explain that Tiant and Reggie Smith before him had had trouble with Boston fans because of their skin color and that was why Smith “had to get away.”

Petrocelli, however, had not had the kind of success Moret had or that he enjoyed from 1969-1974. At the age of 32, the BoSox third baseman suffered through his worst season of his career, batting only .239 with seven homers and 59 RBIs. Most of that was caused by blackouts, dizziness and fuzzy and cloudy vision caused by an accidental beaning he suffered against Milwaukee Brewers hurler Jim Slaton on September 15, 1974. “I never saw the ball,” Petrocelli told the New York Times‘ Dave Anderson. “It happened so fast. I saw his arm and bang, I was on the ground. I remember the pain and the buzzing, but even then I didn’t blame Slaton because it was my fault.”

Petrocelli came into his own in 1969 when the 26-year-old shortstop belted a league record 40 homers, the most among A.L. shortstops since the Red Sox’s Vern Stephens blasted 39 in 1949. From ’69 to ’74, Petrocelli averaged 23 homers and 81 RBIs and posted an OPS+ of 122. He batted only .167 against Oakland in the ALCS, but through the first five games against Cincinnati had rebounded nicely and was hitting .368 with three RBIs and two runs scored. Still, he was having trouble. “I drove my mother to the airport after [Game Two], and when I got back home, closing the garage, I blacked out,” he recounted. “I had raised my head quickly to pull the door down and any time I move my head quickly like that, when I’m fatigued, I can have trouble. I just fell down.” Petrocelli was taking six pills a day to combat the symptoms and contemplating retirement after the season.

But few players were drawing more attention from the media than Red Sox southpaw Bill Lee, an eccentric, witty flake who was quick with a quip and drove his manager, Darrell Johnson, coach, Don Zimmer, crazy. Nicknamed “Spaceman” for obvious reasons, Lee once claimed that he sprinkled marijuana on his morning pancakes, drawing the ire of then commissioner Bowie Kuhn, and asked upon seeing the Green Monster for the first time, “Do they leave it there during the games?”

Between Games Five and Six, Lee, who was scheduled to start Game Six, held court for whomever would listen. When asked about Joe Morgan’s base-stealing prowess—the Reds second sacker went 67-for-77 in steal attempts in 1975—Lee responded, “I know how to pick him off. I always look him square in the eye and he freezes for a split second, just like a possum.” In fact, Morgan was thrown out by Fisk in Game Two on an attempted steal of second with Lee on the hill. When asked if he was ready to go in Game Six, Lee responded in typical fashion: “I’ve only had five days’ rest, you know, and that’s not much,” he said, tongue in cheek. “I had twenty-six days to rest before my last start.”

That was because Lee stumbled down the stretch with elbow problems and was able to go more than five innings only twice in his last five starts. From August 31, a week after he earned his 17th win, to the end of the season, Lee went 0-2 with a 7.16 ERA in 27 2/3 innings, and didn’t make an appearance in the ALCS. So it was a bit of a surprise when Johnson named the outspoken portsider his Game Two starter. According to Tom Adelman’s The Long Ball: The Summer of ’75: Spaceman, Catfish, Charlie Hustle, and the Greatest World Series Ever Played, the idea to throw Lee came from Zimmer, who figured a soft-tossing lefty who kept the ball down would stymie the powerful Cincinnati bats.

If anyone would know that, it was Zim, known as “Popeye” or the not so affectionate sobriquet, “The Gerbil,” tagged on him by none other than Bill Lee. Zimmer managed the San Diego Padres from 1972-1973 and had a soft-tossing lefty by the name of Randy Jones, who went 3-1 with a 1.09 ERA against Cincinnati in 1975 and held the “Big Red Machine” to a miniscule .167 batting average. For the most part, Zim’s hunch paid off; Lee held the Reds to one run on only four hits through eight innings before coming out of the game in the ninth after giving up a lead-off double to Bench following a 27-minute rain delay. When Johnson went to the mound to take the ball, Lee gladly handed it to him but he was pissed. “When, in the memory of organized baseball, has a left-hander who’s already thrown eight innings come out to face a Hall of Fame right-handed batter after a rain delay like that?” Lee asked after the game.

Closer Dick Drago allowed the tying run to score on a hard-luck bad-hop grounder by Concepcion that went for an infield single, then the winning run came across on a double to the left-center field gap by Ken Griffey, Sr.

The days off between Games Five and Six favored Lee, who thought it would benefit his sore elbow, but it also gave him too much time to spew vitriol in Johnson’s direction. While on radio, he told an interviewer that the pitchers didn’t respect their manager. “Darrell Johnson has been falling out of trees all year and landing on his feet,” the southpaw told the interviewer during the layoff. The next day things really turned sour for Lee; the inclement weather gave Tiant the rest he needed to pitch again, and Johnson changed his mind and tabbed the Cuban righty to throw Game Six. “If a man put a gun to my head and said I’m going to pull the trigger if you lose this game,” Johnson explained, “I’d want Luis Tiant to pitch that game.”

Lee called bullshit and insisted Johnson made the switch to appease “certain elements” of the media. “If I lost tonight he’d get ripped,” Lee said of Johnson. “If I lost tomorrow it’s OK. Then he can’t be second-guessed.” But Johnson didn’t appear to be the type who cared about being second guessed. The Red Sox manager was described by Ron Fimrite in Sports Illustrated as “the personification of unsmiling Yankee severity,” who responded to the media’s questions “as if he were being asked to disclose a particularly embarrassing family secret,” and who insisted that he wasn’t there to explain to the press “what I put down on my piece of paper.” According to Fimrite, Johnson was “a hostile witness.”

In the opposing clubhouse, Sparky Anderson also had a decision to make. Anderson, like Johnson a mid-westerner, was the antithesis of Johnson. “The Reds’ Sparky Anderson is plain folks,” wrote Fimrite. “He is likable, self-effacing, sentimental, a spouter of homilies, an espouser of fairness,” who “speckles his speech with humble disclaimers.” Anderson decided to go with Gary Nolan, 15-game winner and change-up artist, who posted the second best ERA among Cincinnati starters at 3.16 and who allowed one run in four innings in his Game Three start against the Red Sox. Jack Billingham, another 15-game winner, was scheduled to start until the rain altered both rotations. Though he surrendered only one earned run in 5 2/3 innings in Game Two, Billingham ended up relegated to Cincinnati’s bullpen for the remainder of the Series.

Once the game finally began, Tiant, described by the Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell as a “short, awkward-looking, definitely overweight man with knock knees, flat feet, a half-bald head and the gentlest smile in baseball,” dispatched the Reds on 15 pitches, retiring Rose, Morgan and Bench around a one-out walk to Griffey. Nolan was not so successful, surrendering two-out singles to Yaz and Fisk and a three-run homer to Lynn to give the Red Sox an early 3-0 lead. Tiant and Nolan traded goose eggs in the second, but Anderson, known as “Captain Hook” because of his propensity to remove pitchers at the first sign of trouble, replaced Nolan with a pinch hitter in the top of the third after the righty had faced only nine batters.

Tiant was efficient in the third, using only eight pitches to set down Cesar Geronimo, pinch hitter Darrel Chaney and Ken Griffey, wrapped around a Pete Rose two-out single. With three lefties coming up in succession in the bottom of the third, Anderson turned to southpaw Fred Norman, who’d spent most of the season in the rotation and fashioned a 12-4 record with a 3.73 ERA in 34 appearances. Norman retired Cecil Cooper on a pop up to short, then surrendered a double to Denny Doyle before coaxing Yaz to pop to Morgan. An intentional walk to right-handed hitting Carlton Fisk put men on first and second, then an unintentional walk to Lynn loaded the bases and ended Norman’s night. Billingham was summoned and fanned Petrocelli to end the threat.

Tiant began the fourth by retiring Morgan and Bench on a groundout to second and a whiff, but Tony Perez singled to right, then went to third on a throwing error by shortstop Rick Burleson, who threw past Doyle on a force attempt on a George Foster ground ball. But Tiant squelched the rally by getting Concepcion to pop out to Cooper at first. Billingham also had to snuff out a scoring threat in his half of the fourth when Dwight Evans led off with a ground-rule double to right and Burleson walked to put runners at first and second with nobody out. Tiant sacrificed the runners to second and third, but Cooper and Doyle both grounded out to end the inning with the Red Sox still up 3-0.

The portly, herky-jerky Cuban’s luck finally ran out in the fifth, though, and one play almost lost the Sox their star center fielder. Geronimo flied out to Evans to begin the inning, bringing up controversial pinch hitter Ed Armbrister, who came in for Billingham. It was a bunt by Armbrister in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game Three that resulted in one of the most debated plays in World Series history and made home plate umpire Larry Barnett a household name. With Geronimo on first, Armbrister laid down a sacrifice bunt that Fisk quickly recovered and fired to second for the force. Fisk’s throw soared over second base and into center field, and the runners advanced to second and third with no outs and the winning run only 90 feet from paydirt.

Fisk and Armbrister collided on the play and it appeared as if Armbrister purposely stopped in front of the Boston backstop on his way to first, or was confused about how to proceed out of the batter’s box and on to first base. Either way, a brief collision ensued and the Reds benefited greatly from it. “Pudge, still thinking of the lead runner, of nailing Geronimo, runs into Armbrister, who has stutter stepped while exiting the box,” writes Adelman. “It’s a clumsy moment.” Then while running down the line to back up first, Fisk momentarily made contact with Armbrister again.

Pudge was livid and insisted Barnett call interference on the play. Johnson ran out to argue but got nowhere. Fisk will later be second-guessed as on-lookers wonder why he didn’t just tag Armbrister and take the easy out. Three batters later, Morgan singled in the winning run and the Reds went up two games to one.

Prior to Game Six, Barnett received a letter that threatened his life and those of his wife and daughter if he didn’t pay the writer $10,000 for a wager he lost due to Barnett’s call on the Armbrister bunt. The writer mentioned the “Boston gambling world,” and threatened to put a .38 caliber bullet in the umpire’s head if he didn’t pay up. “Deep down I’m afraid of the guy who might get an idea from reading about it and won’t bother making a threat, but just do it,” Barnett admitted. “I’m scared to death of that kind of guy.” Barnett turned the letter over to the commissioner’s office who forwarded it to the FBI. According to reports, when Barnett took the field to umpire at third base in Game Six, FBI agents were stationed in the stands nearby for precautionary measures.

This time, though, there’s no controversy; Armbrister walked on five pitches, went to third on a single by Rose, and both came home on a Griffey triple to deep center field that Fred Lynn appeared to have momentarily before crashing into the outfield wall. “…a hush fell over the crowd when Lynn rammed the wall and fell in a heap below the 379-foot sign at the crevice that divides the Green Monster in left field and a center field fence half as high,” wrote Richard Dozer in the Chicago Tribune. “With his legs sprawled in front of him, Lynn sat propped like a rag doll.” The Red Sox rookie later explained that he never lost consciousness but was numb from the waist down. But the former USC Trojan football player toughed it out and remained in the game.

After Morgan popped to third for the second out, Bench singled off the Green Monster to tie the score at 3-3. Then Tiant fanned Perez to end the inning. Thirty-four-year-old Clay Carroll brought his 2.62 ERA into the game in the bottom of the fifth and gave up a lead-off single to Yastrzemski before retiring Fisk, Lynn and Petrocelli in order. “El Tiante” walked a tightrope again in the sixth, surrendering two-out singles to Geronimo and pinch hitter Terry Crowley, but retired Rose on a pop up to Burleson to escape the jam.

Nine-game winner Pedro Borbon became Cincinnati’s fifth pitcher of the game when he took the mound in the bottom of the sixth, and except for a one-out walk to Burleson, he was perfect, setting down Evans, Tiant and Cooper. Tiant, Boston’s only pitcher of the evening so far, finally relinquished the lead in the top of the seventh on another extra-base hit, this time off the bat of George Foster who doubled with two outs and two on to plate Griffey and Morgan and give the Reds a 5-3 lead. After Tiant allowed hits to Griffey and Morgan to begin the frame, Johnson looked as if he might yank his starter from the game. “[Sparky] knows [Johnson’s] timidity about pulling starters,” wrote Adelman, “but Sparky fully anticipates that, by now, any reasonable manager would bring in a new arm. DJ doesn’t. He chats with Luis for a bit. He makes sure that his pitcher is all right. He leaves.”

Foster smoked the second pitch he saw off the center field wall for a go-ahead two-bagger, before Tiant coaxed Concepcion to groundout to the cannon-armed Burleson at short. Borbon needed only eight pitches to get through the seventh, 1-2-3, then Cincinnati increased its lead to 6-3 when Geronimo wrapped Tiant’s first offering of the eighth around the right field foul pole. “He made a bad pitch to Foster and then another to Geronimo,” Johnson explained after the game. “You can never tell how fast a man can lose it. Sometimes it just happens.” Tiant was finally removed in favor of Moret and left the field to a standing ovation and chants of “Loo-ee, Loo-ee,” a serenade Red Sox fans used to cheer on their favorite hurler.

Moret retired the side with relative ease, setting up one of the most exciting and memorable half-innings in World Series history. Borbon entered his third inning of work by allowing a single to Lynn and a free pass to Petrocelli, which brought the tying run to the plate in the form of Dewey Evans. Anderson yanked Borbon in favor of closer Rawley Eastwick, a 24-year-old rookie with a 2.60 regular-season ERA and a league-best 22 saves. Evans worked the count full before fanning for the first out, then Burleson lined out to left and it looked like the Reds would escape with their three-run lead intact.

But Johnson had an ace in the hole—Bernie Carbo, a left-handed slugger with a .483 slugging percentage and .409 on-base percentage who was drafted by Cincinnati in 1965 and finished second in N.L. Rookie of the Year voting in 1970. Carbo’s temper and half-hearted approach to the game earned him two less-than-flattering nicknames in the minors—“The Idiot” and “The Clown.” Sparky Anderson took Carbo under his wing, though, and the youngster blossomed in 1969 with Double-A Indianapolis, batting .359 with 21 homers and 76 RBIs in 111 games. Still, Carbo would never become anything more than a platoon player during his 12 seasons in the majors.

When Bernie stepped to the plate in the eighth inning of Game Six, he’d already made his mark on the Series with a pinch hit home run in the seventh inning of Game Three off Carroll. Now the man Bill Lee once described as “pure oxygen looking for a flame” had a chance to put his team back into another game. “I was just trying to make contact,” Carbo told reporters after the game. “All I kept saying to myself was ‘Don’t strike out. Don’t strike out.'” Eastwick knew his manager so well that he figured he’d be removed from the game in favor of lefthander Will McEnaney. Carbo knew his former manager so well that he didn’t bother going to the plate right away, figuring Anderson would go with the southpaw and Johnson would counter with right-handed hitting Juan Beniquez. Carbo was merely a decoy and a way to get the Reds’ best and hottest reliever out of the game, a man who pitched to a 1.16 ERA in his last 34 appearances and had three wins and a save already in six October appearances.

But Sparky went against the book and left Eastwick in to face Carbo. It wasn’t as risky a move as one might think, considering Eastwick was actually better against lefties than righties that season, and he made Carbo look absolutely foolish on a 2-2 pitch that Carbo barely fouled off with a swing that he admitted later was the “single worst swing in the history of baseball.” But the foul tip gave him life and he made the most of it. Eastwick’s next offering caught too much of the plate and Carbo lofted it deep into the night toward the center field stands where it finally nestled for a game-tying three-run homer. “With his second pinch swat [Carbo] became an instant Boston monument,” wrote Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post. Indeed. Carbo also tied a record set by Chuck Essegian, who turned the same trick for the Dodgers in 1959.

According to legendary sportswriter Red Smith, the drama that unfolded was the way the Red Sox had been doing it all year, “with a theatrical flair that has won them an impassioned following all through New England.” Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times was a little more succinct and slightly put off by the length of a fall game that would eventually reach 12 innings: “The trouble with the Red Sox is they don’t know how to take a 10-count,” he wrote. Eastwick struck out Cooper to end the inning and the game went into the ninth all knotted up at 6-6.

Johnson shuffled his lineup by bringing closer Dick Drago into the game, sending Carbo out to left and bringing Yaz in to play first, with Cooper going to the bench. Drago’s task was not easy. When he entered the game he was greeted by the heart of the Reds’ lineup, composed of three future Hall of Famers—Morgan, Bench and Perez. During an interview we conducted with Drago in May, he admitted that when he was warming up in the eighth he was simply going through the motions. “It was 6-3, we were losing by three runs and I was ready, I was kinda standin’ out there and there wasn’t a whole lot of adrenaline. We were on the verge of losing,” Drago recounted. After Carbo’s shot landed in the center field stands, however, Drago flipped the switch. “Game on,” he told himself, “you gotta be ready now. The game’s tied. That’s how you survive…that’s what makes a closer or not a closer, whether you can handle those situations.” Not only did he handle it, the mustachioed bullpen ace made it look easy, getting two pop ups to Yastrzemski and a groundout to Petrocelli at third.

Despite allowing Carbo’s homer in the eighth, Eastwick came out for the bottom of the ninth and ran into immediate trouble, walking Doyle and surrendering a single to Yaz to put runners at first and third with no outs. The amazing comeback was about to be completed. Anderson pulled Eastwick and called on McEnaney, who had the unenviable task of facing Fisk, Lynn and Petrocelli, Boston’s 4-5-6 hitters. Anderson ordered an intentional walk of Fisk to load the bases and set up a force at any base. A hit, a walk, or a long fly ball was all the Red Sox needed for a win and a 3-3 Series tie. Lynn was going for the long fly: “I was trying to hit deep to score Doyle from third.”

Instead he lofted one to shallow left, right down the line. Zimmer, coaching at third, told Doyle to tag up, but when he saw how shallow Lynn’s fly was, he held up his hands and shouted “No! No! No!” Doyle explained later that he heard Zimmer yelling “Go! Go! Go!” So he did, and was gunned down by Foster at the plate. Suddenly the Sox had two outs and runners at first and second. “I was right there,” Pete Rose said later. “And I know Zimmer did not give Doyle the sign to run. He was holding him.” McEnaney retired Petrocelli on a grounder to Rose and the game went into extra frames. “And with the score thus tied, the Sox threw away a glorious chance to win it all,” wrote Smith. “Normal teams can’t play ball like that. It demands a kind of studied madness.”

Meanwhile Murray was still agitated that the game was still going on. “If there’s anything I can’t stand,” whined Murray, “it’s an act that does not know when to get off. Now they’re starting to take two days to play these things.” It was still Tuesday, October 21 but before long it would roll into the early morning hours of Wednesday, October 22. Drago came out for the 10th and surrendered a one-out single to Concepcion, who then promptly stole second, but settled down to strike out Geronimo and retire pinch hitter Dan Driessen on a short fly ball to Carbo that he almost botched, probably because he was high, which Carbo claimed to be every day. “I played every game high,” Carbo admitted years later. “I was addicted to anything you could possibly be addicted to.” Before Game Six, Carbo speculated that he “probably smoked two joints, drank about three or four beers…took some amphetamines, took a pain pill, drank a cup of coffee, chewed some tobacco and had a cigarette” before his eighth inning at-bat.

In the bottom of the 10th, Anderson called his eighth pitcher into the game, 11-game winner Pat Darcy, who won only 14 games in a career that lasted three years. The skipper’s only other options were Clay Kirby and staff ace Don Gullett, who was penciled in as Cincinnati’s Game Seven starter. Kirby was in Anderson’s doghouse after posting a 5.67 ERA in his last 11 appearances dating back to July 20 and would most likely only be used if the game went well into extra innings. Gullett, on the other hand, shouldn’t have been available at all, at least in the minds of some critics, some of whom played for the Reds, because he should have been the Game Six starter. “…it’s an axiom in sports when you have your opponent on the ropes, you don’t clinch with him,” wrote Murray. “You throw your Sunday punch…you don’t punt when it’s your ball on the 10-yard line. You don’t hand over the dice when you’re hot…It was time to play the ace…” But all the ace could do was helplessly watch as a record eighth pitcher entered the game for Cincinnati.

Darcy and Drago battled to a draw for the next inning and a half, the only blemish to either’s pitching line a pitch from the latter that plunked Rose to lead off the top of the 11th. It could have been much worse for Drago and the Red Sox but for a spectacular circus catch and throw by Dwight Evans that Anderson later insisted was the greatest catch he’d ever seen. With Rose on first, Griffey laid down a bunt designed to move “Charlie Hustle” to second, but Fisk refused to concede and gunned Rose down for the force. It looked like the failed sacrifice attempt would be lost in time when Morgan jumped all over a Drago offering and lined it toward the rightfield seats for what appeared to be a go-ahead two-run homer. But Evans raced to the wall, tracking the ball over his right shoulder and moving toward the right field line. “I turned toward the line,” Evans recounted years later, “because the ball normally turns towards the line, too. Well, this particular ball didn’t turn. This ball stayed straight.”

Because of the path the future eight-time Gold Glover took, he had to leap and thrust out his left hand at the last moment, essentially reaching back behind his head to make the catch, made all the more difficult when Evans briefly lost sight of the ball. Evans then bounced off the waist high fence, turned and fired the ball to Yastrzemski, who ranged far off the bag and past the coach’s box to retrieve the throw, then tossed to an alert Burleson, who raced over to cover the first base bag and double off Griffey. Whether it would have left the park is debatable—Fisk said after the game that he thought it would “hit the wall low and bounce screwy for an inside-the-park homer”—but there’s no question the go-ahead run would have scored had Evans not made the catch, as Griffey tore around the bases expecting the ball to land safely. In fact, it was Griffey’s head-down, aggressive baserunning that allowed the Sox to turn a double play despite Evans’ off-line throw.

“I know they say that Evans is good,” Rose told reporters later, “but if that catch of his is any indication of just how good he is, well I hope I never hit another ball to right field. He must have a magnet in his glove.”

The game went into the 12th and rather than tax his closer any more, Johnson turned to staff ace Rick Wise, a supremely talented athlete who won a team-leading 19 games during the regular season and once belted two home runs in a game in which he also tossed a no-hitter. After averaging 15 wins a year from 1969-1973 and posting a very good 3.32 ERA in 176 games, Wise tore a triceps muscle in 1974, his first campaign with Boston, and made only nine starts. To make matters worse, he blamed Johnson for the injury after the Sox pilot had Wise throw a complete game in frigid weather almost two weeks after the righty had last thrown in spring training. After the layoff, Wise came back and won a career-high 19 contests in 1975, then won Game Three of the ALCS before being trounced by Cincinnati in Game Three of the World Series.

Since Geronimo’s homer in the the eighth, only two Reds had gotten to first base, Concepcion in the 10th and Rose in the 11th, but they put two of their first three hitters on in the top of the 12th. Bench popped up to Fisk, who battled the wind before hauling it in for the first out, but Perez and Foster rapped consecutive singles to put men at first and second with only one out. Concepcion flied to Evans in right but not deep enough to advance the runners, then Wise fanned Geronimo to end the threat.

The clock stood at approximately 12:30 AM when Carlton Fisk stepped into the box to take the first hacks of Boston’s half of the 12th. “This World Series is like a guy with a lampshade on his head who thinks he’s the life of the party and everyone wishes he’d go home,” wrote Murray. “We may have to turn off the electricity on this thing…” Fisk, a New England native, was born in Vermont, grew up in New Hampshire and played two of his four minor league seasons in Pittsfield, Massachusetts and Pawtucket, Rhode Island, so he was well aware of the Red Sox’s history of late-Series failures in Fall Classic play. But the husky former Rookie of the Year and three-time All-Star went to the plate with a plan, telling Fred Lynn that he was going to bang a shot off the Green Monster, and that it was up to the rookie center fielder to drive him in.

Fisk took Darcy’s first offering for a ball. Little did anyone know, the Boston backstop was within seconds of entering into the pantheon reserved only for World Series heroes. Darcy came back with a pitch down and in. Fisk went down and got it, golfing it high into the early morning sky and toward the left field foul pole. “I knew the wind was going out,” Fisk said after the game. “The wind did tricks to me when I chased that Johnny Bench foul that I was going to grab [in the Reds’ 12th].” But Fisk also knew how the wind typically reacted at Fenway Park and was afraid his fly ball would be pushed foul, so he instinctively began hopping up the first base line, waving his arms in a way that he hoped would somehow keep the ball fair, “like a man guiding a plummeting airplane around his house,” wrote Adelman. “He commands the shadows to part.”

And part they did. The ball struck the wire mesh of the foul pole high above the playing field for a game-winning, walk-off homer that sent the World Series to a seventh game. Red Smith called the heroic drive, “no more than punctuation, a period marking the conclusion of an utterly implausible tale.” Like the Kennedy assassination, the moon walk, the eruption of Washington’s Mt. St. Helens, most remember where they were when Fisk’s drive decided Game Six, 7-6. All of New England was in hysterics. Fans mobbed the field inside Fenway, and citizens mobbed the streets outside. Church bells rang in Charlestown, New Hampshire where Fisk grew up.

Implausible or not, Pete Rose summed up Game Six of the 1975 World Series best: “It had to be the greatest World Series game in history and I’m just glad I’ll be able to say I was in it.”

Sticking to the script, the Reds and Red Sox battled to a 3-3 tie through eight innings of Game Seven, taking the game into the final frame all knotted up in a winner-take-all battle. Gullett, the ace Murray wanted to see in Game Six, lasted only four innings and allowed all three Boston runs. Lee, the eccentric lefty who was skipped over in Game Six in favor of Tiant, went 6 1/3 innings and allowed all three Cincinnati runs. Finally, in the top of the ninth, Morgan drove in Griffey with a looping liner to center that dropped just in front of Lynn to give the Reds a 4-3 lead. When Yaz lofted an easy fly to Geronimo with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, the Reds had their first championship in 35 years.

The 1975 Fall Classic featured five games that were decided by one run, two of which went into extra innings, and four of which were decided in the winning team’s final at-bat, making it arguably the greatest World Series ever played.

On Deck: The Ultimate Seven-Game Fall Classic: Game Seven

Mike Lynch is the author of Harry Frazee, Ban Johnson and the Feud That Nearly Destroyed the American League and It Ain’t So: A Might-Have-Been History of the White Sox in 1919 and Beyond, and the founder of Seamheads.com.

Comments

4 Responses to “The Ultimate Seven-Game Fall Classic: Game Six”
  1. Erik Christensen says:

    This is complete BULLSHIT

    Game 6 in 1986 was a much better game with a finish that can’t be beat…

    The Mets 1 strike away from losing the series TWICE!

    But since some idiot behind a camera was watching a rat instead of the game we got that shot of Fisk “willing” the ball fair.

    The sox lost the next game, so staying alive in game 6 was a moot point… the Mets won it all in Game 7.

    Just because you hate the Mets doesn’t mean that game 6 in 75 was the better game.

  2. Mike Lynch says:

    @Erik Christensen – First of all, I don’t hate the Mets. They earned the ’86 championship with a great comeback, so kudos to them. Game Six of the ’75 Series is considered the greatest game ever played by many experts, other than myself, and it’s not just because of Fisk’s home run. Carbo’s pinch hit homer, Foster’s throw to nail Doyle at the plate and Evans’ catch also had a lot to do with that. Just because the Mets strung together a handful of hits and benefited from a Bob Stanley/Rich Gedman wild pitch/passed ball (that’s debatable) and Bill Buckner’s error does not make Game Six of the ’86 Series better than Game Six of the ’75 Series.

  3. Mike, this series has been like digging into one of my boxes in the basement and pulling out some old issues of Baseball Digest or Sporting News…three hours later, my wife is wondering when I’m coming up with the dog food. Well done.

  4. Mike Lynch says:

    Originally Posted By John Cappello
    Mike, this series has been like digging into one of my boxes in the basement and pulling out some old issues of Baseball Digest or Sporting News…three hours later, my wife is wondering when I’m coming up with the dog food. Well done.

    Thanks, John. That’s the nicest thing someone has said to me all day. :-)

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